Stoops deserves credit among mixed results

Mike Stoops will be remembered for both the good and bad at Arizona. Read on to see why he deserves credit, despite numerous shortcomings as head coach.

Mike Stoops was relieved of his coaching duties at Arizona on Monday in a decision that was somewhat of a surprise in terms of timing. With a 1-5 start, many were speculating on Stoops' job security but most figured that he would be given until the end of the year before a decision was made.

Athletic Director Greg Byrne decided to make the move sooner rather than later. After a loss to a previous winless Oregon State team, Byrne decided that the UA coach had run his course in Tucson and figured it would be wise to start looking in a different direction.

Let's rewind to a little over 11 months ago. Arizona was 7-1, in the top-15 of every major poll and was a legitimate Rose Bowl contender. UA was widely thought to be a rising program and Stoops was in the good graces of the fans for the most part. The Wildcats were coming off two consecutive eight win seasons and had an offense that could score on anyone in the country.

Fast forward to today. Arizona hasn't won a game against a BCS opponent since then and has been blown out on several occasions. While many will point out the fact that UA has had a very tough schedule over its past 11 games, nobody should ever expect a team to get destroyed in big games on national television as much as the Wildcats have.

It may not even be those losses that rub the Arizona faithful the wrong way. It wasn't too much of a shocker to see UA lose its games against tougher competition. What really did Stoops in was the way his team lost; not to mention losing to seemingly lesser opponents.

In 2010, when the Wildcats dropped their final five games, two of those defeats coming at the hands of opponents Arizona should have taken down.

After defeating USC on their home field in 2009, many thought UA should be able to beat the Trojans the following year at Arizona Stadium. Both teams returned with virtually the same talent as the year before. Nick Foles was a year older, the receiving core was one of the best in the country, the running game was solid and the offensive line was a group of experienced upper classmen.

The defense had the majority of its starters back as well, but UA couldn't stop Marc Tyler and had trouble putting the ball in the end zone. The Trojans defeated Arizona by three that evening and the loss seemed to suck any last shred of confidence the players had out of them despite standing at a 7-3 record.

Following a blowout loss at Oregon to fall to 7-4, UA faced an ASU squad that was extremely inconsistent for the previous two-and-a-half seasons. The Wildcats were supposed to end their slide against the Sun Devils at home and finish the regular season with an 8-4 record, but that's not how it went down.

Neither team played particularly well early in that game, but Arizona looked like a team determined in the second half and turned a six point deficit into an eight point lead in the third quarter. Unfortunately Arizona went stagnant on both sides of the ball afterwards and allowed ASU to take a late lead in the fourth.

The Wildcats should have won that game without question, but instead, two blocked extra points ultimately cost the team the game and once again left Arizona fans shaking their heads.

What seemed to be the final straw for Stoops was this past weekend's loss to Oregon State. The Beavers had not won a game in 2011 up until Saturday - losing four straight contests to open the season, including a loss at home to FCS school Sacramento State.

Arizona went down by 21 points in the first half and gave up 27 points in the second quarter to a team that was averaging 16.8 points per game heading into the matchup. OSU nearly blew the game and UA showed a lot of resilience in the second half, but it wasn't enough to save the game or Stoops' job.

The end of Stoops' tenure at Arizona isn't going to be remembered fondly by the fans, but when people recall Stoops as a head coach, they should remember what he built virtually from the ground up and not his shortcomings over the past 12 months.

It was a rough start to the Stoops' era. UA had a combined record of 17-29 over his four years, but his teams looked improved on a yearly basis despite the record. Before his arrival, the Wildcats were the worst team in the Pac-10 and the future was bleak.

Former head coach John Mackovic was under fire for many different issues that arose during his tenure. When a group of his then-current players went into the athletic department to voice their displeasure with their head coach it was only a matter of time before he was let go. Mackovic was fired during the middle of the 2003 season and Arizona finished it with a 2-10 record.

There wasn't much enthusiasm surrounding the UA football program on a national level, but it was in good position to hire a good coach. Stoops was one of the highest regarded assistants in the country at Oklahoma, where he was able to win a national championship as the Sooners' defensive coordinator in 2000.

Stoops was given the job as UA head coach in November of 2003 directly after the conclusion of the regular season. His hiring sparked much enthusiasm from the fan base due to his success as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma. His presence was felt in recruiting the first few years on the job, but the results in the standings were only marginally better than before he arrived.

Things really began to take off for Stoops in 2008 when he hired offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes to bring new life to a struggling unit. The Wildcats adopted the spread offense while retaining Stoops' strong defense and Arizona parlayed the success of that season into its first bowl appearance in a decade. UA defeated BYU that season in the Las Vegas Bowl and the popular conception was that Arizona was a program ready to leap into BCS Bowl discussion.

The following two seasons were relatively successful in comparison to the way Stoops' era began, but the lack of improvement led many to believe that the Arizona head coach had reached his limit in terms of potential. Now that the Wildcats have dropped 10 straight to FBS opponents, it has confirmed that opinion to those that believed in it.

Stoops' time in Tucson will be remembered in a variety of ways, but one thing you cannot leave out is how he was able to build the program back to respectability. Of course the way it all ended will be one of the vivid memories of the Stoops era. But to ignore what he had when he took over and what he turned the program into would be a very big omission.

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