By LARRY VAUGHT
Every time Kentucky lost to Florida, it bothered Chuck Smith. However, it really bothered him from 2005-2012 when he was the linebackers coach at Kentucky for coach Rich Brooks and then Joker Phillips.
Smith, a former UK linebacker, played on Kentucky teams that won 14-7 in Gainesville in 1977 and again 31-3 in 1979 – the last time UK won at Gainesville before last week. The two times UK lost to Florida during his UK career were both close losses — 18-16 in 1978 and 17-15 in 1980.
“It probably bothered me more as coach because I was an ex-player,” Smith said of the losses to Florida each year he was a UK assistant coach. “I kept thinking it was ridiculous to go this long and not get a win in the series (with Florida). As an ex-player, I couldn’t get past that.”
He can now because Kentucky finally beat Florida 27-16 Saturday night to end a 31-game losing streak to the Gators. Like other former UK players and coaches, Smith was delighted.
“It was pretty exciting,” Smith, now the head coach at Boyle County High School, said. “I had a chance to watch it and loved it. Long overdue. For all Kentucky people it was very satisfying to end that ridiculous streak. It was a great win and great game for Kentucky football.
“Our program is better than the streak and should be better than that. There was no excuse for that ridiculous losing streak. Now Kentucky has got the monkey off its back and I really feel like they can move another step ahead now.”
Smith doesn’t remember a lot about either game Kentucky won at Florida when he was playing. He was a freshman who played special teams on the 1977 team that had stars Derrick Ramsey, Art Still and Warren Bryant among others.
“I was on the travel team,” he said. “I remember in 77 it was a really hot day and (defensive lineman) Jerry Blanton got hurt. They took him in (to the dressing room) but he came back out and played a great game. I don’t even remember the score from either game. I just remember we were really excited to win and it was a great atmosphere to play in.”
Smith was Kentucky’s recruiting coordinator from 2009 to 2012. He believes the Florida win not only will help recruiting in Florida where Mark Stoops and his staff are making inroads but will also benefit recruiting in general not to have the nation’s longest losing streak to one team hanging over UK’s head.
“You have got that awful streak behind you now. Your program is ready to take the next step and maybe go to an even higher bowl game,” Smith said. “I think it will definitely help recruiting and why everybody associated with Kentucky football or who has ever been associated with Kentucky football is so happy. They have done a really good job the last few years and now that can take it even a step beyond that with this win.”
One of Smith’s players, 180-pound running back Landen Bartleson, has a Kentucky offer already along with ones from Louisville, Colorado and Purdue. Another player, receiver Reese Smith, has offers from Troy, Cincinnati, Austin Peay and Ball State along with definite interest from Kentucky and Michigan State. Chuck Smith says Tennessee has also called recently about wanting both players to come to a game this season.
Bartleson has 51 carries for 275 yards and 10 scores this season while Smith has 24 catches for 436 yards and three scores for the unbeaten Rebels. On defense, Smith starts in the secondary and has 17 tackles, one fumble recovery and one interception in four games.
“They are both getting a lot of attention but I just pass it on to them,” Chuck Smith said. “They are both really good players and if they keep doing what they are, they’ll get more attention and everything will work out for those two. But right now they are really focused on our team because I require a lot of them, just like I do every player.”