photo credit UK Athletics
It’s a good thing Liam Coen is familiar with winter weather. Kentucky’s newly minted offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is a native of Rhode Island, played his college ball at UMASS, and coached in Maine. For the past three years, however, the thirty-five-year-old Coen has been living in Southern California paradise in his position as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams. I don’t know about you—but arriving in Kentucky in the dead of winter would make me want to pack up my bags with a one-way ticket back to the Hollywood Hills.
Fortunately for Wildcat fans, it appears as if Coen tends to stay awhile. The affable rising star made an appearance on Just The Cats this morning and survived the initial inquisition with Michael and Shannon. To no one’s chagrin, the guys didn’t serve up many softballs and cut right to the chase.
Coen said all the right things out of the gate. He credited what Eddie Gran had built, he acknowledged UK going to bowl games, and he emphasized how the program was producing some exceptionally good football players. But he was also extremely specific about the reason he was hired, and what he could personally add to the mix.
“My goal is to just take this thing to the next level,” Coen explained. “To really try to get this thing moving in a direction where we’re a little more balanced. They have a physical dominant run game that they’ve established over the years, and that’s something we need to continue to do—that’s really the backbone of the team. But we definitely need to develop the skill positions and the quarterback position.”
Coen hasn’t had much time to spend with the quarterbacks just yet. He’s only allowed two hours a week with the likes of Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen outside of their individual workout programs. He has watched a ton of practice film and a lot of game tape.
“Ultimately it all starts with the quarterback,” Coen said, when asked to evaluate the importance of the quarterback position. “If you can’t get the ball to the guys, it’s really difficult to catch it. There’re some skill development things there that we can all improve on, but I believe it all starts with the trigger guy. We need to improve the quarterback position for us to get anywhere we need to go.”
Most Kentucky fans would agree that when Mark Stoops first came here—if he could run the ball every time—he probably would…and often times did. The UK head coach claims now he wants a more balanced attack. Why the sudden change?
“You look at any of these [SEC] teams that are having success in putting points on the board, it’s really difficult to do it being one dimensional—whichever way you do it.” Coen acknowledged. “If you’re only throwing the football [ala Mississippi State], you’ll only have to defend in practice and game plan the pass. If you’re only really efficient in running the football, you’ll only have to game plan and practice against and scheme up the run. Ultimately, you hurt yourself by becoming one-dimensional.”
That’s music to fans’ ears. Most of us have been calling for a vertical passing game for years. But is Kentucky’s existing personnel capable of carrying out that sort of aerial attack?
“It’s not really going to be an aerial attack at the end of the day,” cautioned Coen. “We just need to improve the pass game so that we’re not dead last in the SEC in passing. Throwing for 110 or 112 yards per game at any level of football is not what you’re looking for.”
Touché! One dimensional, dead last in the SEC in passing, 110 yards per game? Talk about telling it like it is. I’m starting to like this guy more and more.
Despite his outspokenness, Coen knows exactly who his boss is. Last year’s Kentucky offense stunk it up. There was a lot of chatter about who to blame. Many said Eddie Gran was handcuffed by Mark Stoops’ conservative play calling. So in moving forward, will Stoops be calling the shots, or will it be Coen?
“At the end of the day, he’s the head football coach and I’ll do whatever he asks me to do,” Coen wisely answered. “If he wants to run, you’re going to call run. From everything that I’ve seen with Coach so far, he’s been nothing but supportive and understanding of implementing some of these things that we’re talking about. He understands that we have to improve to get where we want to go as a team—not just as an offense. I believe in his vision and everything he’s talked about so far.”
There you have it. What’s not to like about UK’s new offensive coordinator? He’s confident, personable, truthful, and apparently not afraid to speak his mind. He’s also newly engaged.
“I definitely outkicked my coverage for sure,” Coen said, when asked about his fiancée. “She’s one of kind, so I got lucky in terms of that. It just shows that I can recruit, right?”
Move over Big Dog. For guys cheering for Liam Coen, football season can’t come soon enough.