CRAWFORD | Lamar Thomas scratches his name into Kentucky-Louisville rivalry footnotes
Louisville wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas took the same job at the University of Kentucky this week. Eric Crawford responds.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — As far as I can tell you, this is only the second time in my sports journalism career that I’ve written about a wide receivers coach.
But I keep being asked what I think of Lamar Thomas leaving as University of Louisville wide receivers coach for the same job at the University of Kentucky, so I’ll write about it.
I guess the short answer is, so what? UK has hired professors from U of L. And U of L has taken a basketball transfer from UK. Kentucky has a Louisville alum on its basketball staff (Kenny Payne). U of L has a former UK coach running its basketball program. And a former UK professor as its president. And a UK grad as its play-by-play man.
So, you know, a wide receivers coach is a relatively small blip on the radar.
But there are no such things as small blips on the radar of this rivalry.
As a result, most people around U of L will tell you that Thomas wasn’t an essential cog. And, at UK, they’ll act as if Vince Lombardi has just joined the staff. That pretty much played out on Wednesday. In UK’s release, the first player mentioned as being under Thomas’ mentorship was DeVante Parker, whom Thomas coached for six games. So it goes.
I can’t claim any inside knowledge of what Thomas’ contributions were or were not at Louisville. I have no reason to believe he was anything other than a coach who was doing his job. I do know that WDRB’s Rick Bozich wrote on Dec. 19, a month and a half ago, that he was hearing Thomas would be on the move. So this isn’t entirely a surprise, even if the destination is.
Was it a smart move? My understanding is that Thomas has known UK coach Mark Stoops for some time and likes him, and that makes the move understandable. He’s getting more money, $270,000 versus the $200,000 he was getting at Louisville. Had they wanted, could Louisville have matched or bettered that offer? I’m sure they could have. Louisville paid its staff about $700,000 more than Kentucky paid its staff last season. And my guess is that whoever takes the Louisville job will probably be making at least $275,001.
In my career, I’ve covered only two wide receivers coaches who made an impression on me in that position. I was on the University of Louisville football beat, so that’s my background in the position. (Perhaps that means I was a lazy beat writer. But we’re not here to talk about me.)
One of them was the wideouts coach when John L. Smith was coach. His name was Jim McElwain. He’s now head coach at Florida. He had some guys named Arnold Jackson, Deion Branch, Zek Parker. He was good, and a nice guy.
The other wideout coach who made an impression on me was Paul Petrino. He was the loudest wide receivers coach I’ve ever seen. He would sprint down the field chasing his own players, yelling all the time. If somebody dropped a pass, guys who played other positions would drop down to a knee to pray. I wrote my one wide receivers coach story about him back in my Courier-Journal days. I’d share it with you, but I’d have to charge you, or make you take a survey or something.
Petrino did a great job with Mario Urrutia. At the time he and his brother Bobby and that staff left, Urrutia was on pace to become the NCAA’s all-time leader in yards per reception. Think about that. The next year, the staff (and new offensive coordinator-receivers coach Charlie Stubbs) started throwing him wide receiver screens and that was it.
Petrino today is head coach at Idaho.
Two other guys coached wide receivers at Louisville and moved on to decent head coaching jobs. Gary Nord was a receivers coach under Howard Schnellenberger and went on to coach four years at Texas-El Paso.
Steve Mariucci was a wideouts coach for two seasons under Bob Weber and went on to coach at Cal, then was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers for six seasons and the Detroit Lions for three.
Kentucky has never had a wide receivers coach move on to become a head coach somewhere else, that I could find — but it has had a receivers coach become a head coach. Joker Phillips coached wideouts at Kentucky, and had some good ones. He went on to become coach-in-waiting at UK, then head coach. Then after being let go, coached wideouts at Florida.
So that’s the extent of my knowledge, and beyond the bounds of my interest, in wide receivers coaches.
I’d only say that it’s easy, it seems, for fans to forget that these coaches are actual human beings, with lives to live, and may have reasons all their own for preferring one situation to another. There are good people involved with both football programs.
If a person changes jobs within a city or state, it can foster some hurt feelings. I’ve certainly seen that.
But to get worked up over a wide receivers coach? Even for this rivalry, that seems a bit much.
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