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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Stoops peaked after he brought Arizona back from the dead

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Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats and No. 14 Oklahoma State go head to head in the Valero Alamo Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. At halftime, the Cowboys lead Arizona 23-7.

Mike Stoops did exactly what he was supposed to do.

He lifted Arizona football out of the gutter and turned it into a legitimate program, bringing the Wildcats from a two-win team in 2003 to three consecutive bowl games for only the second time in program history.

He made Arizona football relevant again, which seemed impossible nearly a decade ago.

“Coach Stoops did what he was hired to do,” said former defensive end Ricky Elmore, who was surprised to hear of the firing. “He came in and turned the program into a winning program again.”

In his first head-coaching job, Stoops was never expected to turn the Wildcats into Rose Bowl contenders.

He wasn’t supposed to compete with Oregon and Phil Knight’s wallet, USC and its 11 national championships, or Stanford’s prestige. Jim Livengood brought the coach to Tucson nearly eight years ago with the sole purpose of making Arizona football competitive.

From that standpoint, mission accomplished.

“Coach Stoops did a lot of great things for this program,” said athletic director Greg Byrne. “He took over a challenging situation and made things better. We certainly want to thank him for all of his efforts.”

The 2011 Wildcats are 1-5. They’ve looked tissue soft with little to look forward to, and the majority of that is on Stoops. But Stoops’ eight-year tenure is about much more than the 2011 Wildcats.

Over the course of the last three seasons, Arizona entered the year legitimately talking about making a Rose Bowl run — they were one 2009 Oregon win away from making that a reality.

He brought national attention to Arizona football as well.

Would ESPN GameDay have ever come to Arizona Stadium two years ago without Stoops? Would the Wildcats have ever opened the season with four consecutive national TV games as they did this season?

Probably not.

Stoops proved to be the perfect transition coach — like Denny Green was for the Arizona Cardinals.

He made Arizona relevant again.

With all of that said, it was time for Arizona football to move on.

Stoops lost the team over the last year. Any coach who goes winless against its last 10 FBS opponents deserves to get canned, and Stoops wasn’t the right coach to elevate Arizona to elite status.

After the Wildcats defeated Iowa at home last season to move to No. 9 in the country, expectations became too high. Arizona was expected to compete with the elite conference opponents, and Stoops didn’t have the tools for wins like that. His strengths lied in schematics, not player management or motivational speaking.

But when people look back at Stoops’ era years from now, they’ll see how he was the perfect steppingstone for the Wildcats.

“When I took this job, I was hoping to be the first coach to lead this program to a Rose Bowl,” Stoops said in a statement. “Although we fell short of that goal, we made significant progress.”

Arizona definitely did. The Wildcats have four and five-star recruits that would have never traveled near Tucson in the early 2000s, a quarterback and a wide receiver with a chance to go in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft.

Between his sideline antics and inability to win big games, Stoops is easy to hate. #FireStoops hit Twitter, while students posted Facebook statuses hoping for losses to get Stoops fired.

But Stoops did everything he was supposed to do.

“I think a lot of guys will look back and see what coach Stoops did not only for the program but for the players,” Elmore said. “If I saw him I’d go up to him, shake his hand and say, ‘Thank you for making me become a better football player.’”

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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