Stoops was the last man standing
The 2011 football season began with several Pac 12 coaches sitting on hot seats. The flame was high for Rick Neuheisel, Paul Wulff, Dennis Erickson, and Mike Stoops. They needed to win, and do it often, or suffer the consequences of another unimpressive four months. Three of the four responded with records of at least .500 or better at the midway point. The fourth was a loser of five straight, and ten of his last eleven.
By the time we entered week six, the music stopped to show Mike Stoops as the last man standing. The others, through team performance, managed to remain seated in their chairs of uncertainty for more weeks to come. But with each passing game, and each loss recorded, temperatures made the Stoops chair unbearable for rest. The eighth-year coach was forced to stand and face the exit, and a final loss to previously winless Oregon State would inevitably pushed him through it.
Stoops’ stay in Arizona was an extended one. He spent more years under scrutiny than he did with approval. The former defensive coordinator arrived with a hard nose and stingy philosophy, but still managed only 12 wins in the first three seasons. By 2007, he hired spread guru Sonny Dykes away from Texas Tech, and a year later the Cats were winners of eight and victors in the Holiday Bowl. In 2009, Arizona finished second in conference, and notched a signature victory in defeating Pete Carroll and USC. But the program began to spiral in reverse last year, losing its offensive coordinator to Louisiana Tech, and also losing a defensive presence that was the staple of early Stoops teams.
After building a team around defense, Stoops’ unit was on steady decline. Arizona had an overall total defense ranking of 24th in 2008, which dropped to 25th in ’09, and 32nd in ’10. As the emotional sideline skipper now leaves the desert, the Wildcats find themselves ranked 115th in total defense through 6 games of the 2011 season.
Much can be credited to a murderous schedule, which saw the team play Oregon, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and USC twice, accounting for eight of the 10 losses since last November. But the loss to Oregon State, who was earlier defeated by FCS Sacramento State
and everyone else in cleats before the sixth week, was unacceptable and inexcusable.
Arizona now has a head start against the field in its coaching search, but will lack the shine, dollars, and recruiting prowess to lure a big fish.