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Kentucky's climb up recruiting rankings earns Mark Stoops a raise

The Wildcats are getting better, and their head coach has gotten a raise and extension. But how long until they're good enough to actually challenge?

Streeter Lecka

In the University of Kentucky's eight-paragraph official release on head coach Mark Stoops' contract extension and raise (up to $2.65 million in 2018), some version of the word "recruiting" appears six times. The release references recruiting rankings three times, including a description of its 2014 class as "UK’s highest-rated class in the Internet era of recruiting evaluation."*

Stoops has indeed improved Kentucky's recruiting. The Wildcats' six prior classes averaged a ranking of 44 in the 247 Sports Composite, while 2014's ranked No. 22. Stoops and company did this in part by using his ties to Ohio in order to raid one of the most talent-rich states outside the SEC footprint and by landing Kentucky native and four-star quarterback Drew Barker, one of the country's best passers.

But Kentucky, a state without many blue-chip prospects, won't be the home of a top-10 quarterback every year. Without Barker, UK's 2014 class would've ranked No. 25 on the Composite, and that's ignoring other prospects who might've committed in part due to his pledge. So while Stoops' first full class at Kentucky was impressive compared to the program's history, it's hard to say at this point that it's bound to improve annually.

2015's early returns don't necessarily mean another top-25 class is in the works. After a weekend commitment, the Cats currently rank No. 27 on the Composite with nine months to go. So a second-straight showing could be on the way, but it's far too early to say.

Even still, knowing how much recruiting matters, are we sure that a top-25 class moves the needle in the SEC? Kentucky's 2014 class ranked No. 10 in the SEC and No. 5 in the SEC East. So far, 2015 ranks No. 12 and No. 6, respectively. Lagging behind by only a little bit instead of a lot is improvement, but can Kentucky repeat that big step forward?

We can agree Kentucky's on the right track. It's probably going to take another few years for the talent upgrade to mean much on the field -- UK went 2-10 in Stoops' first year, and the return of Bear Bryant wouldn't have meant a much better record. Overhauling one of the country's farthest-fallen AQ-conference schools is going to take even a strong program-builder a while.

Based on one full year's worth of evidence, Stoops fits the profile of the guy to raise Kentucky football to the upper half of the SEC every few years (note: this is high praise). And giving him an extension is only going to help recruiting, since prospects like to see evidence that coaches will be in place for a while.

He's both a very good coach and possibly the right coach for Kentucky. Fired-up UK fans have shown up for two straight spring games. But why a raise after one 10-loss season and one good recruiting class?

* Did you ever think you'd see an SEC school cite the internet's approval as a reason to pay a coach more money?