LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Jay Boulware and Mark Stoops became friends on the recruiting lane.
From 2009 to 2012, Boulware was the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Auburn, while Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida State. The couple’s paths often crossed while scouting for high school athletes.
In 2013, Stoops became the new coach of Kentucky. Boulware left Auburn for Oklahoma to work under Stoops’ older brother, College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bob Stoops.
During this phase with the Sooners, Boulware said he was “re-introduced” to Mark Stoops. In the years that followed, Boulware watched the Wildcats from afar and admired how the younger Stoops took on a dead program and made it a staple of the bowl season.
Boulware wanted to work with Mark Stoops but the timing was never right; The Wildcats coaching staff had no vacancies.
That was until the 2022 Kentucky regular season ended and Stoops fired John Settle, who had served as the team’s running backs coach and assistant special teams coordinator for two seasons.
Coincidentally, these were the two roles Boulware excelled in during his seven-year run (2013-19) with the Sooners, a streak that saw the program win five Big 12 championships and make four college football playoff appearances.
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Requires Settle’s successor Mark Stoops named Boulware. The couple talked and visited, then continued talking.
Boulware had only one condition before agreeing to move to Lexington.
“I wouldn’t take this without having complete control,” he recently told The Courier Journal. “I didn’t want to come here and just be a running backs coach and have the title of special teams coordinator, but it’s not all I can do.”
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The challenges facing Boulware at the end of last season were clear: improve the Wildcats’ running back depth after the departure of one of the best players in school history (Chris Rodriguez) and shore up one of the worst special teams in the nation (The Wildcats had Blocked five kicks in 2022, which ranked 124th on the 131-team FBS, and he needs to address those areas while also being a force in the recruiting path (Settle has never been credited with signing a single player during his tenure).
Boulware’s final college job was at his alma mater in Texas, where he served as the team’s assistant head coach, tight ends coach and special teams coordinator for a single season in 2020. A brief stint outside of the collegiate game — spending with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL — gave Boulware “a different perspective” on his coaching style and philosophies.
“I’m in it now more than anything because of the relationship aspect,” he said. “I like working with some of the players I’ve had over the years. You’re not going to get every player right, not every player is going to think the best of you, and I’m fine with that.
“But the ones you touch, the ones who still call you, the ones who still wish you a happy birthday, those are the ones that mean the most to me.”
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He also brought a page from longtime Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s playbook to Lexington. Not a football strategy, but an interpersonal one.
Boulware, who chimed in for one of the NFL’s most famous franchises, noticed something: Every time Tomlin walked into the team’s facility, he went out of his way to make everyone’s day better.
“I want to invest in children and people like that. I’m a fat guy, so I bring donuts on Fridays,” Boulware said, laughing. “A donut puts a smile on someone’s face. … It’s thoughtfulness, man. I want to be that for my players and for this university. I value this opportunity and want to make the most of it.”
Reach Kentucky basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.