Sunday, December 7, 2003
& lt;a href=mailto:email@example.com & gt;By BRIAN RICHESSON & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Certainly, the late Ron Stoops Sr. would be proud of the family's latest ascension within the college football coaching ranks.
Mike Stoops' hiring one week ago as the head coach at the University of Arizona is, no doubt, cause for celebration.
But, in the eyes of Stoops Sr., that wouldn't change family values or structure or the way the kids lived their lives, which they were taught while growing up in Youngstown.
"He would be like, 'Hey, don't let it go to your head,' " said Ron Stoops Jr., the oldest of four brothers and two sisters in the Stoops family.
" 'Make sure you're taking care of things around the house with your wife and kids and make sure you get to church on Sunday,' " Ron Jr. continued. "He had a great influence on us. It was about being humble, working hard and being thankful for the good things that have happened to us."
End of an era
Add another "good thing" to the list. Saturday night, Mike Stoops ended a five-year run as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, under brother Bob Stoops, to coach his own team.
Mike will try to revitalize a struggling Arizona program and make it a power in the Pac-10 conference. In beginning a new chapter of his life, Mike brings his strong roots and his family's successes with him to the desert.
"You go back to Youngstown, and our parents taught us to excel in whatever we did," Mike said.
"They instilled those qualities of work ethic," he added. "That came from my mother's work ethic at home -- raising six kids and how extremely difficult that had to be -- and my father working constantly to support his family."
The Stoops family grew up on Detroit Avenue on the south side of Youngstown. It was in their Cape Cod home that Ron Jr. (now 46), Kathy (45), Bob (43), Mike (41), Maureen (40) and Mark (36) grew up under the guidance of their parents, Ron and Dee Stoops.
"The environment they were raised in, ego wasn't important," Dee said. "Teamwork was emphasized and groomed; they learned and appreciated and loved being team players, and they resonated that and carried that with them."
The four boys grew close to one another, sharing an upstairs bedroom. They spent their childhood days playing outside at Pemberton Park with other neighborhood kids, and that was where their love of competition began.
"The outdoor environment helped them," Dee said. "They were highly competitive, and that competition level raised the expectations of themselves."
When the boys grew old enough, they reaped the benefits of their father, the coach, who showed them another side of sports.
"Dad was very good at including them with everything in his life," Dee said of her husband, who coached football and baseball. "That's how they grew to love the element of sports and competition."
Learning the game
The Stoops boys played their high school football at Cardinal Mooney for former coach Don Bucci, under whom Ron Sr. served as an assistant coach.
"A lot of it [their success] came from the atmosphere they grew up in," Bucci said. "They saw how Ron enjoyed coaching and was able to still have a good family life."
Instead of watching film at school, Ron Sr. often broke it down at home, Bucci said.
"Their father taught them what can be achieved by studying the game," he said. "He's at home working on film all the time. They had an opportunity to see that."
And it paid off. Bob, Mike and Mark played their way onto the University of Iowa football team as defensive backs. Mike even spent a short time with the Chicago Bears.
"My kids weren't the best or most talented, so they had to work hard to see the field at every level," Dee said. "They didn't mind that because the gratification of winning is everything, and that's what drives them."
After working his way up the coaching ladder, including three years under Steve Spurrier at Florida, Bob was hired at Oklahoma in 1999 and led the Sooners to a national championship the following season, with Mike by his side.
"[Remembering] the first day we got there and the horrible state the program was in and how quickly we were able to change attitudes and minds" was one of Mike's greatest highlights there, he said.
Mark also won a national championship in 2001 as the defensive coordinator at Miami, and Ron found additional success as a defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney.
But 2003 will be remembered in the Stoops family as a year in which everything changed.
As coordinator of Oklahoma's top-ranked defense, Mike had captured a reputation as a winner and a motivator, someone who could run his own team. It seemed like only a matter of time before he'd get that chance.
"If the right opportunity came along, I thought it would be possible," Mike said. "The more success you have, the more your name gets out there and the better your opportunities are."
Then, John Mackovic was fired at Arizona after a 2-10 season -- the worst in school history -- and the administration sought a replacement who could make a difference, someone who already had helped to turn a dormant program, such as Oklahoma's, into a winner.
Mike Stoops was introduced as the Wildcats' coach one week ago.
"I'm overwhelmed, just like Mike probably is," Dee said. "I have a lot of faith he'll be successful."
Since he accepted the position, Mike has been emotional about his departure from a program that has meant so much, one that has been defined by relationships, stability and success.
"Change is difficult," he said. "We've never been guys to move around a lot. We like to stay in one spot and develop a program and be loyal. I've felt like I've done that."
Those closest to Mike say he's a perfectionist, one who will examine every detail and prepare himself and his team to the fullest of their ability.
"He's very demanding of himself. He expects excellence," Ron Jr. said. "He has the ability to push players to a high level of performance, and at the same time be compassionate and caring."
Bucci added, "He's very competitive, very much like his dad. He gets after you. He's a student of the game. He studies it. He'll do whatever is necessary."
Mike is leaving one brother, but he's joining another. After his hiring, he asked Mark to be his defensive coordinator. The two will plan to get started right away.
"The emotions you go through to share it with your friends and family are what make it special," Mike said, when asked about working with Bob.
"We've had a lot of good moments together, a lot of success together and it's been fun.
"You learn to grow with a job," Mike added. "It will be a great comfort having Mark with me."
Although Mike's time at Oklahoma had been based on defense, he will not necessarily make the Arizona program defensive-oriented. Instead, Mike said, he will build the team based on the personnel around him.
And he'll work to help the Wildcats make up lost ground in the Pac-10 and throughout the nation.
"They're excited to win again, and they feel like I give them the best opportunity" to do that, Mike said. "Hopefully we'll have an impact with those kids and hopefully we'll enjoy success."
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