WILLIAMSBURG - Former NFL quarterback Chad Pennington likes the hire of Mark Stoops at Kentucky and also thinks the system new offensive coordinator Neal Brown employs will help UK be more competitive in the Southeastern Conference.
“I know UK fans were really excited after the press conference. I think coach Stoops having the experience he does as well as being able to lean upon his brothers for advice when he comes to being a head coach and that type of thing, I think he will do just fine,” said Pennington, who spoke at the National Guard Border Bowl banquet Friday night and worked as a color analyst for Fox Sports South at the game Saturday when Kentucky rallied to beat Tennessee. “I listened to him at his press conference, and you could tell he has the right demeanor and attitude, and I think good things will happen.
“Kentucky needs an offense that will spread things out. I just don’t think at Kentucky you can line up and play power football in the SEC. This new offense should help UK a lot.”
Pennington grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., and played his college football at Marshall. He was the first quarterback picked in the 2000 draft with the 18th pick a year after the Cleveland Browns made Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch the first overall pick in the draft.
Pennington played 11 seasons with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins and completed 1,632 of 2,471 passes for 17,823 yards and 102 touchdowns.
He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award twice — 2006 and 2008 — and finished second in MVP voting to Peyton Manning in 2007. He is the NFL's all-time leader in career completion percentage at 66 percent among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 pass attempts.
He has recently moved to Woodford County with his wife and three sons, and even though he remains a solid Marshall fan, he has paid more attention to the Kentucky program recently.
Does he wonder why the Wildcats have not won more consistently over the years?
“I think a lot of people ask that. Everyone knows it is a big basketball state. Football-wise, they have had their moments, but certainly it has been tougher consistently to win,” Pennington said.” Of course, you are playing in a tougher conference than most schools, too. It certainly is a place where you can be successful, absolutely, and build a program long term, and that seems what Stoops has the pedigree to do.”
Pennington even says he will see a Kentucky game “every once in while this season, but I still bleed green and white (for Marshall).”
“I am going to support Marshall, but I have friends that are UK fans and supporters, so I certainly will go to a game or two and watch them play. I think they could be fun to watch,” he said.
Pennington and his wife Robin had been looking for different places to “settle down” after he decided last winter to end his NFL career. He injured his shoulder on Nov. 14, 2010, in the Dolphins’ game against Tennessee. He made another comeback attempt in 2011 but tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing pick-up basketball.
He spent the 2011 season working as a NFL analyst for Fox Sports, and on Feb. 12, 2012, he announced he would retire rather than attempt a comeback following his fourth shoulder surgery.
“We had certain criteria that we wanted to meet in where we lived. Lexington just kept coming up and answering all our questions,” he said. “I’m from Knoxville, she’s from Madison, W.Va., and it was a pleasant middle place and gave us close proximity to both of our families and to Marshall. Also had good schools for our kids.
“We have been there since August. I was at the Marshall spring game in April and had some time before my flight left on Sunday. I drove to Lexington, looked at about four properties and really liked them. I called my wife and set them up for her to see, and by next week she had looked at in and by June we had closed on it and by August we were here. It was either come now or wait a full year because our kids (ages 8, 6 and 3) are in school.”
Pennington says more people in Woodford and Fayette counties are starting to figure out who he is.
“It depends on whether they are football fans or not. Word is starting to get around that we live in the Woodford County area,” he said. “It has been a really nice transition, and we have met some really great people in Woodford and Fayette County. The transition has been real smooth so far because of the great people we have met in Kentucky.”
Pennington won’t say that he would never l ike to coach, but he says his priority now is for his family.
“They had to follow me around when I played. Now I want to settle down and being able to do more things with my boys,” Pennington said. “But I don’t know what might be out there for me. I’m glad I got to be part of the Border Bowl. What a great event for football in the state. So hopefully there will be more opportunities out there for me.”