Chuck Smith is entering his eighth season as an assistant coach at Kentucky and has had at least one linebacker make the all-Southeastern Conference team the last six years.
However, he goes into this season with four new starters and also knowing that expectations for the team are down after consecutive losing season. Smith, who is also UK’s recruiting coordinator, admits he “kind of enjoys” the low expectations others have for the Wildcats.
“IÃ?Â¿never let those kind of things bother me when I was a coach at Boyle County or even at Kentucky. As a coach I know what we have to do and know what we can do,” said Smith. “That’s really all that matters and all I focus on.
“I don’t focus on what everybody says you can’t do or you are supposed to do. IÃ?Â¿don’t really worry too much about those things because once you start (the season), you are 24/7 and don’t have time to worry about all that other stuff.”
What about the players?
“I don’t know. They might pay more attention to it. IÃ?Â¿think if everybody stays focused on the task at hand, then IÃ?Â¿don’t how they can be worried about everything on the outside,” Smith said.
Question: Since you use the Kentucky fan support as a plus in recruiting, is this a season that the team could use even more fan support to help on the field as well as in recruiting?
Smith: “They need to keep supporting. That makes a big difference when those players come into that stadium and that fan base is up cheering. It gives them that extra motivation.Ã?Â¿Of course when it is not, it is a downer for them. I think that is way the fan base can participate and use what they can control to help us get over that hump and to the next level.
“Our history has been strong. Our fans love Kentucky basketball. They love Kentucky football. I just think that they get frustrated sometimes, but they don’t get any more frustrated than we do as a coaching staff. We just need to pull together and get this thing turned around.”
Question: Do true freshman Khalid Henderson or Kadeem Thomas have a chance to play this year in some role like Woodyard, Johnson, Trevathan and Kelley all did?
Smith: “Yes, but IÃ?Â¿think Henderson probably especially. Pancho (Thomas) I think is nursing some injuries, but IÃ?Â¿think Khalid has a chance. IÃ?Â¿have not got to see them much this summer, but just based on what I know and what IÃ?Â¿have heard through the strength coaches, he could have a chance.”
Question: What did you like about Henderson when he was being recruited?
Smith: “Just his explosiveness more than anything. His desire, his effort to play hard. Besides the fact that he has skills.Ã?Â¿He can run, he can strike. He has got great instincts. He has a chance to be a really good player.”
Question: How good offensively is Louisville going to be?
Smith: “They are a good football team, a very nice team. They have a lot of players back from last year. The quarterback is going to be even more experienced and he was pretty good last year. They are going to be a tough opening game for us.”
Question: Do you like opening with Louisville or do you prefer the years when it is the third game of the season?
Smith: “Honestly I don’t really care that much whether it is the first game or not. There will be a lot of hype around it being the first game, but both teams plenty of time to prepare. We will just have to wait and see.”
Question: Why have verbal commitments picked up so much in recent weeks to the point UK now has 10 players who say they will sign scholarships in February?
Smith: “It goes in seasons. First you have guys who will commit early. Then you have guys who will commit after the junior days. Then it usually shuts down for spring ball and then it picks back up in the summer because guys are visiting schools and going to camps. There will be another wave of commits. Now watch and see, it will shut down again pretty soon and then it will start back and you will get a couple more during the first couple weeks of the season and after that it will pretty much shut down until December. It is always that kind of trend.
“It is based on the opportunities for kids to come see the schools. During junior days they are visiting different schools and see what they need to see to make a decision. They are doing the same thing in the summer if they have not committed by then. Some will wait for first couple of weeks of season to make sure they are making the right decision and maybe even come to a game or two before they make the commit.”
Question: Has the emphasis on recruiting in Florida changed since five of the 10 commits are from Florida?
Smith: “It’s just one of those years. We have hit Florida pretty hard, but we have before too. It kind of goes in cycles.”
Question: Is that true for Kentucky as well since UKÃ?Â¿has just one verbal commitment from an in-state player?
Smith: “Yeah, that just happens even in the state. Some years there are not as many players in Kentucky, but we always hit Kentucky kids first. That is our priority. If they can play for us and help us win, we want them. That is who we want no matter if bunch or small amount. But we still hit the same areas outside Kentucky. In the state of Kentucky there is not enough every year to build your program around. You are going to have to have players from Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Ohio,Ã?Â¿Indiana. Those states have to provide a lot of players, to. You never slack them when it is a big year or a down year in Kentucky. It just is all part of the process, but Kentucky kids are always a priority for us.”
Question: Who is the best linebacker you have coached at Kentucky?
Smith: “That is a tough question. I don’t know if I could single out one because all of them had different qualities that made them a little different from the other guy. Like Wesley (Woodyard) was nothing but character. He was just a character guy. Great talent and everything, but he was just a character guy. He wasn’t going to be denied.
“Danny (Trevathan) was great instincts. Micah (Johnson) had great physical ability. I could just go on and on and on about the different qualities that each of them had. I don’t know if there is one specific guy, but we have had some good ones.”
Question: What does it mean to have one of your former linebackers, Braxton Kelley, back on the staff as a student-assistant coach?
Smith: “He has been a great help. The kids relate to him and still remember him. He communicates really well with them.Ã?Â¿I was really, really impressed with his coaching ability in the spring. That was the first time he was with us, but he’s going to be a big asset to us and especially to me.”
Question: Do players maybe come to him and ask him things that are not sure about or may be more hesitant to ask you?
Smith: “Yes they do that quite a bit. First of all, they have a lot of respect for him because of who he is and what he has done. He was a four-year starter and they all know that. They will corner him a lot, especially on stuff that they don’t understand for sure and want to see what he thinks before they come ask me.”
Question: Could you envision him as a successful college coach 10 years from now?
Smith: “I do. He would be a good coach and recruiter. He is a good-hearted person.”