LEXINGTON, Ky. — If you merged the Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder coaching trees, the Stoops brothers and their assistants would cross several limbs. New Kentucky receivers coach Michael Smith would be one of the branches.
Smith played at Kansas State under Snyder from 1988-91. Bob Stoops was Snyder’s defensive backs coach then and would later become defensive coordinator. Mike Stoops joined the Kansas State staff in 1992. While Mark Stoops never coached under Snyder, he, Mike and Bob all played at Iowa while Snyder was Fry’s offensive coordinator.
It’s quite the tree.
“I’ve known the Stoops family since I was 18 years old,” Smith said Monday in his first media availability since joining Kentucky’s staff.
Smith, who enrolled at Kansas State as a walk-on, finished his career as the Big Eight’s second leading receiver with 179 receptions. That mark ranked 40th in NCAA history at the time. He finished his career with 2,457 receiving yards.
“I played against Mark my freshman year when he was at Iowa,” Smith said. “I was a freshman receiver at Kansas State. Got to meet the family, play with a bunch of guys from Cardinal Mooney at Kansas State. Just always been real involved with that family. Mrs. Stoops, Mark and them’s mom, is a great woman that was a big fan of mine when I was playing.”
Unfortunately he and Mark never matched up when they played against each other in 1988.
“I was in the slot, he was way back,” Smith said of Stoops. “He didn’t want to cover me. I will say this, they beat the crap out of us that day. It was one of those days he probably played the first half and didn’t play too much anymore.”
For the record, Iowa beat Kansas State 45-10 that day. Snyder’s Wildcats would finish 0-11 in 1988.
Although wins were rare in Snyder’s early days in Manhattan, Kan., the now 78-year-old coach shaped Smith’s coaching career.
“It’s everything I am as a football coach,” Smith said of Snyder’s influence. “It’s everything I am as a man. Him and my father, my two most influential males that I’ve had in my life. He had an opportunity to take me in as a sophomore and as a player and then go on in my coaching career to get me started … I owe everything that I am as a football coach to Bill Snyder.”
Smith was a student assistant at Kansas State in 1993 and a graduate assistant in 1995 and 1996. He was Kansas State’s running backs coach from 1997-2005, and returned to Snyder’s staff as receivers coach from 2009-12.
Smith was Bret Bielema’s receivers coach at Arkansas from then until accepting the same position at Kentucky last month.
But there was a stop at Arizona in between his Kansas State stints, and that’s where his ties to the Stoops brothers crossed again. Mike was Arizona’s head coach, and Mark was his defensive coordinator.
“I go all the way back to him playing at Kansas State,” Mark Stoops said. “I knew ‘Smitty’ all the way back from that time. We’ve crossed paths.”
Stoops parted ways with former receivers coach Lamar Thomas, so it’s Smith who will lead an unproven receivers corps. Only two Kentucky receivers — senior Dorian Baker and junior Tavin Richardson — have caught a touchdown. The Wildcats lost five receivers and signed four in their 2018 class.
“Like anything else, you’ve got to have patience,” Smith said. “You’ve got to understand they’re 17 and 18-year-old young men who are trying to find their way, not only on the football field, but in life itself.”
Smith recruited Richardson when he was at Arkansas, but that’s where his familiarity with Kentucky players stops. He’s still learning names.
Smith is sure to tell his new players about his story. Where it all started, as a walk-on receiver playing for a then-unproven coach at Kansas State.
“I’ve even gone on and shown them highlight tapes of myself,” Smith said. “I did. It’s just like I said, ‘I want to be like you, Coach.’ Well, here it is, brother, I was pretty good. So you’ve got some big shoes to fill if you want to be like me.”
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