Former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard tweeted Sunday night, “Neal Brown is the most significant independent, not brought with HC (head coaching) staff, coordinator hire that I can recall in 40 years of my fandom.”
He’s right, and I’m a bit older than Freddie.
Yes, Neal Brown has a deep connection to UK. He is from Kentucky, starred as a wide receiver at Boyle County, then walked on at UK.
But new coach Mark Stoops has no connection to Brown. The two have never worked together, their paths have never directly crossed. For Stoops to lure one of the nation’s hottest young coordinators — Brown is just 32 — who game-planned the nation’s No. 2 passing offense last season is a definite coup for the first-year head coach.
It shouldn’t be surprising, however, for a couple of reasons.
No. 1, Stoops might not have a connection to Brown, but he does have a connection to the Air Raid offense that Brown learned from Hal Mumme at Kentucky.
When Mark’s brother Bob left Florida to become offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, the first thing Bob did was hire Mike Leach off Mumme’s staff to run the Sooners’ offense.
When Mark’s brother, Mike, became head coach at Arizona, where Mark was defensive coordinator, Mike Stoops hired Sonny Dykes, another former Mumme assistant at UK, to run the offense there.
It is obvious that the Stoops brothers like the Air Raid attack.
No. 2, as with the coaching search that ended with Mitch Barnhart hiring Stoops, Tim Couch played a major role in bringing Neal Brown back. Couch helped sell Brown to Stoops and helped persuade his former teammate to return to Lexington.
Stoops is the one who closed the deal. I’m hearing that the new head coach encouraged Brown to interview for the head coaching jobs out there to better prepare Brown for his future. That helped the two form a good working relationship on which both can build.
In fact, Stoops is putting his trust in Brown to the point that the new OC is expected to bring former UK players Chad Scott (running backs) and John Schlarman (offensive line) with him as assistants. Scott coached with Brown at Troy and Texas Tech. Schlarman coached with Brown at Troy, where former UK assistant Tony Franklin was offensive coordinator.
The Neal Brown hire also shows that UK is serious about hiring an SEC-quality staff. Brown is interviewing for second-level head coaching jobs now. If all goes well, he will get one of those jobs in the near future. And the guess here is that he didn’t come cheap, nor should he.
After all, he might be the most significant assistant coach hire Kentucky football has made in a long, long time.