The University of Kentucky’s football team, known as the Kentucky Wildcats, participates in American football. They are a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and belong to the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The Wildcats’ home games take place at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky, under the guidance of head coach Mark Stoops. Their fans are affectionately known as the Big Blue Nation.
Kentucky Wildcats History
Before around 1913, the modern University of Kentucky was known as “Kentucky State College,” while Transylvania University was referred to as “Kentucky University.” In 1880, the first intercollegiate football game in Kentucky was played between Kentucky University and Centre College. Kentucky State formed its football team in 1881 and competed against Kentucky University.
The team was revived in 1891 but had unknown coaches for both the 1881 and 1891 squads. The 1891 team adopted blue and light yellow as their colors, later changing light yellow to white. A student’s question about the shade of blue led to the adoption of Kentucky’s current blue color. In 1892, A. M. Miller became Kentucky’s first head football coach, guiding the team to a record of 2–4–1.
The most successful team during this period was the 1898 squad, known as “The Immortals,” who finished the season undefeated, untied, and without conceding any points. They were led by coach W. R. Bass and achieved a perfect 7–0–0 record despite being relatively lightweight. In 1903, head coach Jack Wright led the team to a 7–1 record, with their only loss against rival Kentucky University. Other notable coaches during this era include Fred Schacht, J. White Guyn, and Edwin Sweetland.
From 1915 to 1916, John J. Tigert coached the Wildcats, with Charles C. Schrader being recognized as All-Southern in 1915. In 1916, the team tied the Tennessee Volunteers, who were co-champions of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA).
The team’s only loss that year was a 45–0 defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores, led by Irby Curry. Quarterbacks Doc Rodes of Kentucky and Curry were both selected as All-Southern players. Coach Harry Gamage achieved a 32–25–5 record during his seven-year tenure from 1927 to 1933. A.D. Kirwan, who later became the university president, coached the team from 1938 to 1944, while Bernie Shively, the longtime athletics director, served as head coach for the 1945 season.
The legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant was the head coach of the Wildcats for eight seasons, during which they achieved significant successes in various bowl games and attained high rankings in the final AP polls. Bryant won SEC Coach of the Year honors in 1950 before leaving to become the head football coach at Texas A&M.
Several assistant coaches under Bryant at Kentucky went on to become head coaches themselves. Notable players during his tenure include Howard Schnellenberger, Jim Mackenzie, Jerry Claiborne, Steve Meilinger, George Blanda, Vito Parilli, and Bob Gain.
Blanton Collier, an assistant coach for the Cleveland Browns, was hired as Kentucky’s head football coach in late 1953 after Bryant’s departure. Collier achieved a winning record of 41–36–3 in eight seasons but was eventually fired due to struggles in recruiting.
Charlie Bradshaw, another Bear Bryant assistant, replaced Collier but had a disappointing tenure with a 25–41–5 record in seven seasons. Bradshaw is remembered for coaching the “Thin Thirty” team and recruiting Nate Northington, the first African American to play in an SEC athletic contest.
John Ray took over as head coach in 1969 but faced challenges in producing strong offensive performances. His teams had solid defenses but struggled overall, resulting in a 10–33 record during his four seasons. Ray’s contract was not renewed after the 1972 season.
Fran Curci Era (1973-1981)
Kentucky brought in Fran Curci as head coach from Miami after John Ray’s departure. In 1976, the Wildcats achieved their first winning season in 13 years and won the Peach Bowl, earning a No. 18 ranking in the final AP poll. However, Curci’s tenure was marred by NCAA probation due to recruiting and amateurism violations. The Wildcats faced a two-year postseason ban and live television restrictions in 1977.
The most significant long-term consequence was the limit of 25 scholarships in 1977 and 1978. In 1977, despite going 10-1, undefeated in SEC play, and sharing the SEC title, Kentucky couldn’t participate in a bowl game due to the sanctions. Despite finishing No. 6 in the AP poll and defeating Penn State during the regular season, Kentucky was ranked lower than Penn State. The reduced scholarships hindered Curci’s ability to build another winning team, leading to his dismissal after the 1981 season.
Jerry Claiborne Era (1982-1989)
Jerry Claiborne, an alumnus of Kentucky, returned as head coach from Maryland. After a winless 1982 season, Claiborne led the Wildcats to the 1983 and 1984 Hall of Fame Bowls, defeating a ranked Wisconsin team to finish with a 9-3 record and a No. 19 ranking in the final polls.
Claiborne earned SEC Coach of the Year honors in 1983. Under his leadership, the quarterback position saw frequent changes, but Claiborne retired after the 1989 season. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999 and was the last coach to defeat Tennessee until Joker Phillips in 2011 and Florida until Mark Stoops in 2018. Claiborne’s overall record at Kentucky was 41-46-3.
Bill Curry Era (1990-1996)
In a surprising move, Bill Curry left Alabama to become the head coach at Kentucky in 1989. Despite high expectations, Curry’s teams did not achieve significant success. The best season during his tenure was in 1993 when the Wildcats played in the Peach Bowl against Clemson, marking their only winning season in seven years. On the other hand, the 1994 team had a dismal 1-10 record, the worst in modern program history.
Curry was asked to resign during the 1996 season but refused, eventually being fired. He was allowed to coach the remaining five games of that season. Overall, the Wildcats had a 26-52 record under Curry.
Hal Mumme Era (1997-2000)
Hal Mumme arrived at Kentucky from Valdosta State and introduced an electrifying, high-scoring offensive system called the “Air Raid,” which heavily relied on passing. Under his guidance, the Wildcats participated in the 1998 Outback Bowl and the 1999 Music City Bowl.
Guy Morriss Era (2001-2002)
Following Hal Mumme’s resignation, Guy Morriss, the offensive line coach, was promoted to head coach of the Wildcats. In 2001, under Morriss, the team finished with a 2-9 record. The following year, they improved to 7-5, but were ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions stemming from Mumme’s tenure. One notable event during Morriss’ tenure was a memorable loss to LSU known as the Bluegrass Miracle. After the 2002 season, Morriss accepted an offer to become the head coach at Baylor.
Rich Brooks Era (2003-2009)
Rich Brooks, the former head coach of Oregon, was hired as the next head coach of Kentucky in December 2002. In his first season, the team finished with a 4-8 record. Notably, they had a marathon seven-overtime game against Arkansas, which ended in a 71-63 loss. Brooks’ teams showed gradual improvement, going 2-9 in 2004 and 3-8 in 2005. In 2006, the Wildcats had an impressive 8-5 regular season, including an upset victory over defending SEC champion Georgia.
They also secured their first bowl game appearance and victory since 1999, defeating Clemson in the Music City Bowl. In 2007, Kentucky reached a ranking of 8th in the nation and achieved a historic triple-overtime win against No. 1-ranked LSU. Under Brooks, the Wildcats went to four consecutive bowl games, winning the first three.
They triumphed over Florida State in the 2007 Music City Bowl and defeated East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl in 2008. However, they suffered a loss to Clemson in a rematch in the 2009 Music City Bowl. After seven seasons, Brooks retired with an overall record of 39-47.
Mark Stoops Era (2013-present)
Mark Stoops, the former defensive coordinator at Florida State and brother of renowned former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, became the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats on November 27, 2012. One of his initial moves was hiring offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who reintroduced the “Air Raid” offense. In his first season, the team struggled, matching their 2-10 record from the previous year.
Their wins came against winless Miami (OH) and FCS opponent Alabama State. The following year, the Wildcats broke their 17-game SEC losing streak with a victory over Vanderbilt and finished the season with a 5-7 record. Stoops and his staff signed the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history during their first year. In subsequent seasons, the Wildcats achieved a 5-7 record in 2015 and continued to make improvements.
In 2018, Kentucky ended a 31-year losing streak against the Florida Gators with a win in Gainesville, marking their first victory at The Swamp since 1979. They went on to defeat Mississippi State and climbed into the Top 25 rankings for the first time since 2007. The Wildcats had a successful season, finishing with a 10-3 record, including a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
This marked only the third 10-win season in school history. In 2019, Kentucky had a noteworthy season with wide receiver Lynn Bowden taking over as quarterback and ending with an 8-5 record. The 2020 season was challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Wildcats managed a 5-6 record and secured victories against notable opponents such as Tennessee and North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl.
In 2021, Kentucky had a historic season, finishing with a 10-3 record for the second time in program history. They achieved significant victories over rivals such as Florida and Louisville, and capped off the season with a win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.
Coach Stoops surpassed Paul “Bear” Bryant as the winningest coach in Kentucky history. In the current season, the Wildcats maintained their momentum and secured their seventh consecutive bowl eligibility with a 7-5 record. They defeated the Florida Gators for the second time in three attempts and clinched a winning record for Stoops for the first time in his coaching career.
The Wildcats have shown consistent improvement under Mark Stoops, and their success has included multiple bowl appearances and notable wins over conference rivals.
Kentucky State formed its football team in 1881 and competed against Kentucky University.
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Kentucky Wildcats Stadium Name & Location
The Wildcats play at Kroger Field – Lexington – Kentucky. (If you happen to be visiting from out of town, you might like our useful guide to Hotels near Kroger Field Lexington KY).
Kentucky Wildcats Hall of Famers
|Inductee||Position||Class||Team and Career|
|George Blanda||QB, K||1981||Chicago Bears, 1949, 1950–58 – Baltimore Colts, 1950 – Houston Oilers, 1960–66 – Oakland Raiders, 1967–75|
|Dermontti Dawson||C||2012||Pittsburgh Steelers, 1988–2000|
Kentucky Wildcats FAQs
Where do the Kentucky Wildcats play their home games?
The Kentucky Wildcats play their home games at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky.
Who is the mascot of the Kentucky Wildcats?
What are the Kentucky Wildcats valued at?
The Kentucky Wildcats are not a publicly traded company, so their value is not easily determined. However, we can get a rough estimate by looking at the value of other college sports teams. According to Forbes, the University of Kentucky’s athletic department was valued at $720 million in 2022. This makes them the 14th most valuable college athletic department in the country.
Who are the owners of the Kentucky Wildcats?
The Kentucky Wildcats are not owned by any individual or group of people. They are owned by the University of Kentucky, which is a public university. This means that the Wildcats are owned by the state of Kentucky and its taxpayers.
Who are the main rivals of the Kentucky Wildcats?
The Kentucky Wildcats have several main rivals, but the three biggest are:
Louisville Cardinals: The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is one of the most intense in college basketball. The two schools are located just 75 miles apart, and the games between them are always heated. The rivalry dates back to 1916, and the two schools have met 222 times. Louisville leads the series 110-102.
Tennessee Volunteers: The Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry is also a heated one. The two schools have met 222 times in men’s basketball, with Tennessee leading the series 69-53. The rivalry dates back to 1893, and the games between the two schools are always played in front of raucous crowds.
Indiana Hoosiers: The Kentucky-Indiana rivalry is a bit less intense than the other two, but it is still a significant one. The two schools have met 202 times in men’s basketball, with Kentucky leading the series 105-97. The rivalry dates back to 1909, and the games between the two schools are often close and exciting.
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