LEXINGTON — When he had a chance to come back to Kentucky, it was an easy move for former UK offensive lineman John Schlarman to join Mark Stoops’ coaching staff and be reunited with offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Schlarman, a former All-Southeastern Conference offensive guard in 1997 and graduate assistant at UK, had been the offensive line coach for six years at Troy University — where he first worked with Brown. Troy ranked among the nation's top 26 in total offense in five of Schlarman’s six seasons. Schlarman coached eight first-team All-Sun Belt selections, including at least one first-teamer each season. One player, James Brown, went on to the National Football League.
Schlarman, a three-time All-SEC academic pick, coached at Bourbon County in 1998 and 1999 before returning to UK as a graduate assistant for three seasons. He became head coach at Campbell County in 2003 for two years and then moved to Newport for two seasons before offensive coordinator Tony Franklin brought him to Troy.
Schlarman, a Fort Thomas native, is married to the former Lee Anne Federspiel, daughter of former UK linebacker Joe Federspiel of Lexington.
As happy as Schlarman is to be back, he knows others are even happier to have him, his wife and three boys (Joseph, Benjamin and Matthew) back in the Bluegrass.
“I think the grandparents are the happiest to have the three grandboys back close to them. It has been a 10-hour drive for them the last six years,” said Schlarman. “All of our family — brothers, sisters, cousins — are all glad to have the boys closer to home. I don’t know if they love having us here, but they are glad the boys are back. The only one born here was Joe. The other two were born in Troy and that’s all they knew. But it will be nice to be able to see our family so much easier now.”
Kentucky starts spring practice Monday and Schlarman shared his thoughts on a variety of other matters
Question: Did you think you might get to come to Kentucky as soon as Brown was hired as offensive coordinator?
Schlarman: “It was kind of funny. I was out recruiting and saw Stoops got hired. I had met him one time. I just kind of jokingly texted Neal that when Stoops’ brother was hired at Oklahoma as head coach he hired somebody that ran our offense. We went back and forth. Then when it became more of a reality that Neal might get hired, I thought I might have a chance. Obviously, it was an exciting time for us. You never know if you will get the opportunity to come back and coach where you played and know the people and how great the fan base is. When the talks got serious, we all got fired up and hoped this would work out for me and (running backs coach) Chad (Scott). It was nerve-wracking, but I couldn’t be happier.”
Question: Do you stay in touch with Tony Franklin, the former UK offensive coordinator who brought you, Scott and Brown all to Troy to work for him?
Schlarman: “I stay in touch with Tony. He has had a tremendous impact on my career. He is the reason I got the opportunity to go to Troy. It was his call. It’s hard to stay in close touch far away (Franklin is now offensive coordinator at California), but we talk periodically. We got to be not only coaching co-horts but friends. If not for Tony, I would not be here. I knew he was hoping this would work out this way for all of us. He brought us together at Troy and has been a big part of each one of our careers. It doesn’t surprise me he is excited for us. That’s just the type person he is. He has done a lot for me over course of the last six years and even when I was a GA here and he was the running backs coach.”
Question: Why does this offense that Franklin taught Brown and Brown has now modified work so well?
Schlarman: “It has evolved over the years. No. 1, spreading people out and getting matchups in space, that been good for it since the days of coach (Hal) Mumme. We have added dimensions with our high tempo style of offense, with the zone read running game and options it brings to the table. Being multiple as far formations and personnel is another aspect that has come a long way from when we first ran in it 1997 at Kentucky. No different now than what you see in the NFL where a quarterback not only has to throw but also have the ability to run as a big dimension to the offense. It is a systematic approach, not just a grab bag of offense. What we do is very structured from day one of installing the offense to when we play a game. I think all guys here believe in it and to have success as a player or coach believing is important.”
Question: What’s the key for a lineman to be able to play in this offense?
Schlarman: “For offensive linemen, it is important to be athletic and important to be able to move. With the schemes we have in the run game, you have to move and get in space to block linebackers. On screens you have to get out and move. Pass protection you have to protect against ends that you see in the SEC. Athleticism is key. You have to have certain size requirements. I like guy to be strong, smart, tough. All those are important. It’s really important to be athletic up front.”
Question: It is hard to find linemen that are athletic as well as smart and tough?
Schlarman: “That is good question. There are certain elements you can instill in guy but it is something you got to have inside of him to make him go. When we get guy that is 18 or 19, it’s hard to instill. You have to be tough and physical in our system just like in a pro style offense. Toughness is not something to overlook. Toughness is not a distant second to athleticism
“A lot of time when you research and watch film you can tell a lot about a guy’s character and toughness and some things that do not show up on field. One thing I always think is hard to tell is how will a guy get from high school to this environment where it is more competitive, happening faster and all the guys are bigger. How will he do in this environment? That is one of hardest thing to project. Some guys turn it up a notch, others do not respond. You can tell lot about toughenss and how physical a guy is from recruiting but ability to transfer it to the next level is hard to project.”
Question: Does he have returning players slotted into a depth chart going into spring practice?
“We have watched some film and what players have done in the past just so we can a good idea where to start everybody off. But we basically go into this with a clean slate and open mind. I don’t want to hold too much against a guy if in past he has not looked as good as I would like or give a guy too much credit for what did in the past. I went through it as player when coach Mumme came to Kentucky and I have to prove myself all over. If a guy has done well and has to prove himself again it is not a great thing, but guys that are true competitors do not mind and will crank it back up. It is a mix that you watch what they have done but you also go into the spring with an open mind to find out who can do what running the offense that we do.”
Question: Does it worry you going into spring practice that you don’t have a center with experience?
Schlarman: “Ideally you would like to have a guy that has a little experience, but at the same token we have got some guys that can definitely show us what they can do in that role. We will probably try two or three that have not played and see how they perform. It is a key position for what we do. Usually the center is a guy that leads us up front and makes all the calls. He is our quarterback on the offensive line. I am anxious to see some of the guys that step in and show what they can do.”
Question: What do you think about the buzz for Kentucky football going into spring practice?
Schlarman: “I came here as a freshman in 1993 and I can’t remember when there was this much talk about it at this time of year. It is a lot of fun. It is exciting. I am glad the fan base is fired up. We are all excited to get out there. But we have one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedules in America. We have a lot of work ahead. It’s going to be fun, especially being a guy that played here and is from Kentucky, to see all this excitement build. We are using that already in recruiting. The fan base really helped recruiting. Social media is so big with recruits that helped in our signing class. Now we have to build on it.?
Question: How big is social media in recruiting, even for an offensive line coach who is a bit old school with his philosophy about toughness?
Schlarman: “Social media is a real big part of it for kids. I know 20 years ago just thinking about e-mail was fun. It was my second or third year at Kentucky before I even got an e-mail account and now that is a thing of the past. Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. It makes fun and exciting for prospects to get that information out there where in the past you did not where they were going or who was doing what. Now you do. It just adds excitement to the process. Sometimes it adds nerves to the process, too. But it is still fun and makes it a lot more enjoyable of an experience, or at least more enjoyable for recruits and fans.”