Kentucky coach Mark Stoops went to mega-agent Jimmy Sexton with a request: come up with a formula that would generate a list of the most efficient offensive coordinators in college football over the past three years.
As Stoops explained it, he wanted to put an emphasis on first downs, third downs, time of possession, yards and points as he began targeting candidates to replace his former playcaller, Shannon Dawson.
“There were a bunch of things we looked at,” Stoops said.
What came out of that fact-finding endeavor was a name he was all too familiar with: Eddie Gran.
Stoops and Gran were both assistants at Florida State from 2010 to 2012, and when Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, Gran left to become the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati. While Kentucky’s offense was plagued with inconsistency under the direction of Neal Brown and Dawson, Cincinnati flourished with Gran calling plays, averaging 33 points over three seasons. The Bearcats’ 490.3 yards per game ranked seventh among all FBS teams over that time.
According to Stoops, that was enough to put Gran at the top of Sexton’s chart of efficient coordinators. Soon the two were on the phone and Gran agreed to make the move to Lexington.
“With my relationship with Eddie, it ended up being a no-brainer,” Stoops said.
But beyond the numbers and beyond the relationship, the hiring of Gran represents an important change for Kentucky. Where Brown and Dawson were disciples of hurry-up no-huddle spread systems, Gran’s foundation is with a more pro style. There will be some uptempo, but Gran said he learned under Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville that sometimes you have to slow down and give your defense a break.
Drew Barker, who is taking first-team reps in Kentucky's quarterback competition, said that while many of the formations from previous seasons remain the same, the offense has changed to more NFL concepts.
“It’s more quarterback-friendly,” he said.
Said Gran: “Multiple formations, multiple personnel groupings. That’s what we want to do.”
Unlike Brown and Dawson, Stoops liked Gran’s SEC experience, which totals up to more than 10 years at Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss.
In Gran, Stoops got someone who would understand that “the space that we get in this league is different than the space we get in a lot of other leagues.”
“It’s not a lot of green grass,” Stoops explained. “You’ve got to create your space.”
Gran said he wants to stretch the field both ways: vertically and horizontally.
Overall, Gran has been pleased with the talent on campus, which he said is a “night and day” difference from when Stoops first got to Kentucky.
“You look at Kentucky four years ago, and not saying anything about anybody, but it’s just the facts,” Gran said. “They’ve been able to get even with some people, I believe.”
Whether Kentucky can start pulling ahead in some of those battles and finally reach that first bowl berth under Stoops remains to be seen, however.
Gran knows the SEC and knows Stoops well.
Now the question becomes whether he knows how to help get Kentucky to the next level.