Looking At Kentucky’s New Assistant Coaches

Looking At Kentucky's New Assistant Coaches: An in-depth look at the three new coaches heading to Lexington who are all on the offensive end.
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Fresh Faces to Jump-Start the Offense

There’s an old saying in sports that “coaches are hired to be fired.” These days it seems there are as many coaches switching schools as players going through the “transfer portal.” For Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats, it’s no different as once again they are replacing three assistants from last year’s staff. In hopes of freshening up the offense, they are all on that side of the ball. In addition two of them come from the NFL. As we begin looking at Kentucky’s new assistant coaches let’s start with the new head man on offense.

A Change in Direction

For anyone that’s followed Kentucky over the last couple of years saying the offense “struggled” is putting it nicely. The Cats ranked 115th out of 127 teams in college football averaging 318 yards per game. However, they were even worse passing the ball, sitting 122nd with only 121 yards per game. Go back to 2019 and the offense was again a picture of futility. If not for Paul Hornung Award winner Lynn Bowden and his SEC-leading 1,468 yards things would have been much worse.

As a result, Stoops parted ways with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darrin Hinshaw following a victory over South Carolina. He found a replacement in the NFL hiring Liam Coen for the job. Coen spent the last three years with the Los Angeles Rams first as assistant wide receivers coach in 2018 and 2019 then assistant quarterbacks coach this past year. Working with Jared Goff, the Pro Bowl selection threw for 3,952 yards and 20 touchdowns. In addition, Coen helped the Rams’ produce two 1,000 yard receivers in back to back seasons. That’s the first time in almost 20 years for the franchise.

He’ll take what he learned under Sean McVey and bring it to Lexington. He’s going to have some great weapons at his disposal. With the announcement Wan’Dale Robinson was transferring back home to Kentucky Coen has an instant home run threat. In addition, Josh Ali’s decision to play one more year gives the Cats a 1-2 punch they haven’t had in years. Coen also coaches the quarterbacks and his first item of business is finding a starter, whether it’s Joey Gatewood or Beau Allen.

As we continue looking at Kentucky’s new assistant coaches let’s look at the one with arguably the easiest job.

A Strong Group of Players

Jemal Singleton is Kentucky’s new running backs coach after two years with the Cincinnati Bengals in the same position. He first became acquainted with Stoops and the Wildcats at UK’s pro day last year. Further, he and defensive coordinator Brad White coached together with the Indianapolis Colts. In 2016 while coaching in Indy he helped guide Frank Gore to the first 1,000-yard season for the team in nine years.

Before heading to the pros, Singleton spent over a decade in the college ranks first at Air Force then Oklahoma State. In his last season with the Air Force the Eagles ranked second in the nation with 306 yards a game. They also tied a Mountain West record of 41 touchdowns in a season.

Everywhere Singleton has been he’s produced results that bode well for an already strong Kentucky running game. Look for huge numbers from the 2020 season’s leading rusher Christopher Rodriguez, who ran for 785 yards despite missing two games due to COVID. Behind Rodriguez is Kavosiey Smoke, who gained 227 yards in limited time last season. In addition to those two, Kentucky has Jutahn McClain and Travis Tisdale. With much of the “Big Blue Wall” returning Kentucky’s at the top of the SEC leaderboard in rushing.

Singleton is also heading the special teams in addition to coaching the running backs. Following Dean Hood’s departure for the head coaching job at Murray State, the Cats didn’t have an official special teams coach. It certainly showed at times last year as Kentucky had several breakdowns at the most inopportune times. Having a dedicated coach helps shore up a problem area in 2020.

Big Shoes to Fill

In the hiring of a new offensive line coach, Stoops went back to a familiar area; Youngstown, Ohio. Eric Wolford, who was at South Carolina for the last four years, heads to Lexington. Wolford takes over for long time offensive line coach John Schlarman, who died in November following a two year battle with cancer. With three members of the “Big Blue Wall” returning Wolford has a strong foundation to work with. As Youngstown natives, he and Stoops have known each other for a long time. Now they have a chance to work together once again.

This season at South Carolina his group paved the way for Kevin Harris to lead the SEC in rushing with 1,138 yards, who was just the ninth player in school history to gain that many yards. In addition, he crossed the century mark five times and 200 yards twice. He joined George Rogers and Marcus Lattimore as the only players in Carolina history with multiple 200-yard games.

During his 25 year career Wolford has a proven track record of improving offensive line play wherever he goes. He’s also considered a strong recruiter as Rivals named him one of their top 25 coaches following the February 2018 signing date. At his introductory news conference Wolford said he was “blessed to have the opportunity to coach the Big Blue Wall.” He also wants to continue the legacy of John Schlarman. “He was a wonderful man and we’ll remember him in our room, always.”

Changing Things Up

Heading into 2021 Stoops hopes the new hirings help move the Kentucky offense into a better group. With the addition of Coen look for the Cats to switch things up and run a more pro-style attack. While they won’t get away from the strong running game finding a better balance is priority one.

Thanks for looking at Kentucky’s new assistant coaches here at Last Word On College Football. Have a comment? Leave it in the space below. Coming up we’ll look at the upcoming February signing period and get you ready for (fingers crossed) spring football.