At the beginning of the twentieth century, Youngstown was delivering high-grade steel products to American commerce as well as the not so pleasant by-products of an industry unregulated by environmental restraints.
One civic leader did not apologize when asked about the possibility of cleaning up the suffocating smoke and soot, but matter-of-factly stated, "Everybody breathing dirt, eating dirt — they call it "pay dirt," Youngstown clean would be Youngstown out of work..." said Frank Bohn, 1915.
Regardless of the environmental consequences, the 'pay dirt' meant plenty of employment opportunities that drew a steady stream of new workers to the area. Many of these were immigrant families, at least one of which carried the Stoops family name from Ireland. At the end of World War II, Youngstown had cleaned up, however the legacy that shaped it's inhabitants was not as easily removed.
By the late 1970's, the male descendants of the founding fathers and immigrant workers were no longer covered by grime, but they remained as tough as the steel products their ancestors formed in the intense blast furnaces. Their interests were now centered on sports — primarily football and baseball. The energy and intensity of bitter Youngstown battles between steelworkers and industry leaders was now transferred to cross town opponents on the diamond and gridiron, and none was more intense than the one between Boardman, a public school, and it's archrival Cardinal Mooney, a parochial school with a propensity for success.
Stoops admits the rivalry was special and tough.
"Yeah, both schools were really good, and it always seemed to come down to Boardman and Mooney. It was real intense and often spilled over to fights in the back alleys and to the McDonalds in Boardman. But I think it was probably even tougher with my brother Ron and Bob's group."
Two 'bookend' coaches, both great motivators, passionate and competitive, led Mooney football. Don Bucci served as head coach and had the legendary Ron Stoops as his assistant and defensive coordinator. The trademark of Mooney football under Bucci and Stoops was three-hour practices and a work ethic that accentuated preparation. The formula produced an unparalleled 28 year legacy of success that included five Ohio State Championships.
To have a coach of the stature of Ron Stoops as an assistant was a luxury unknown to most programs, then and now. Ron Stoops' initial notoriety was generated by a stellar athletic career that placed him among the best athletes of his generation in and around the Youngstown area, already well-known for it's legacy of phenomenal competitors.
In the post war era, America's pastime was baseball, and following a tremendous high school career, Stoops was drafted for the first time, but instead chose a college education. After starring and being named MVP at Youngstown State, Ron was again drafted and this time yielded, playing in the Washington Senator organization. However, after only a few years, with a wife and one child, and another on the way, Ron put the needs of his young family ahead of his personal goals and chose the life of a coach with a small but certain paycheck over possible, but uncertain stardom.
Mike remembers the times that followed.
"We weren't rich in material things, but we had enough. Mom and Dad provided us with a loving, caring family. I definitely think we pick up characteristics of our parents. And they certainly gave us great role models to imitate. They had a tremendous impact on their community and their church; they instilled the values of faith and family in all of us. Without question, my dad equated success simply as a happy, healthy family built on a foundation of faith."
The blue collar neighborhood was seldom void of pick-up football, basketball and baseball games, and those contests overflowed with talented athletes: the Stoops brothers; Ed Muranski, who would go on to become an All American at Michigan and Ray Mancini, (who later would be known to the outside world as 'Boom Boom Mancini'), all lived within a few hundred feet of the Stoops clan. And, several blocks away, the Kosar family with Brian and Bernie could provide a few athletes to put some points on the board as well.
There had to be more than fluoride in the neighborhood water supply, as evidenced by this quote: "You knew where you were with him. He walked out, dipped low, and threw punches until the time came to stop. No half measures, no excuses, just effort and plenty of it."
Although the quote refers to Mancini, it could just have easily been applied to any of the Stoops brothers, or Muranski, or the Kosars. That's exactly how Ron Stoops and Don Bucci coached, and how all of these amazing athletes from one single community competed.
According to older brother Ron Stoops (Jr), Sunday and Monday nights were 'film nights' in the small, neat house at 865 Detroit Avenue.
"Dad would get out the projector and set it up on the dining room table. He'd open those cans of film and the refrigerator would serve as a makeshift screen — sometimes the images would run right over the 'Frigidare' nameplate. There he'd break down opponents tendencies and look for areas to exploit. We'd be interested — for a while, and observe and help out. That's how we learned to coach."
Following a stellar career at Mooney, where Mike is remembered as one of the toughest defensive backs to play for the heralded program, Stoops was recruited by Michigan State, Indiana and Iowa, but it was 'no contest.'
"Bob was two years ahead and just beginning to have some real success at Iowa, and he liked it. So it was a pretty easy decision for me, as I thought it would be nice to team up with Bob in Iowa City, and at least have someone I knew to look out for me."
At Iowa Mike would be coached by legendary Iowa defensive coordinator Bill Brashier, who also coached the defensive backs. Although he worked under coaching greats Hayden Fry at Iowa and Bill Snyder at KSU, Mike credits coach Braisher at Iowa and his brother Bob as having the most influence on his aggressive coaching philosophy and style.
Like his brother before him, Stoops flourished under Brashier and was honored as All Big Ten twice, leading the conference in interceptions in 1983, and was named an All American in 1984.
After his playing career was over, Stoops knew he'd follow the family legacy and get into coaching. In 1986 he quickly signed on as a Graduate Assistant at Iowa under Fry. However his biggest challenge was not the enormous workload and the coaching responsibilities of a graduate assistant, but rather the phone call he'd take from brother Ron on October 7, 1988. That evening Mooney was playing Boardman in a tight game that went to overtime. But his brother was not calling to report on the final score. Tragically, their dad had suffered a massive heart attack and had collapsed on the sidelines in the fourth quarter of the game and died quickly afterwards.
"The loss was so shocking and sudden," said Mike, recalling the painful experience. "I was a graduate assistant at Iowa, and he'd come to the Iowa game the week before. It was totally unexpected as dad was only 53, 54 and in excellent health. It was very hard on all of us, particularly my mother, but we had to go on."
In 1992 Stoops got his first big break when he was named the secondary coach at Kansas State for $ 37,000 under Bill Snyder.
Remembering his humble start, Stoops says, "I'll never apologize for the salaries some coaches make. There's absolutely no job security, your job is on the line every week, and the hours on the road are beyond belief and really begin to wear on you."
By 1997 Coach Snyder had turned the defensive reigns over to Mike and he did not disappoint as the Wildcats led the league in total defense in '98.
Regardless of what has been said or written of the relationship, Stoops respects and admires Bill Snyder, and also has a fondness for the Kansas State program that extends to present.
"It's not easy playing them. We've not played particularly well in those three games. But we know each other so well, it makes it very difficult to have any success."
Mike recalls the 'return to Manhattan' game in 2000, where signs littered the campus and stadium proclaiming 'the Stoopid brothers,' and the Wildcats waited to extract revenge on the coaching trio that had rejected them for Oklahoma almost two years earlier.
"It wasn't at all personal," said Stoops. "It was more a product of our intense competitiveness. Oftentimes you're misquoted, and your words are twisted. But I'm very proud of the mark I left on that program, and I still take a great deal of pleasure in seeing that work pay off for them."
After a pause he quietly adds, "I'm most sorry for how it ended up there — we were so close, but we failed at the end. We almost won it all but just saw it slip away."
Perhaps there is one area where Mike differs from his father, and that's in his desire to someday be a head coach. It is not based on ego or a craving to grab the spotlight.
"Sure, someday at the right place, right time. Most assistants would like to be a head coach. It's true, primarily because it's your belief that somewhere you could make a bigger impact. It's a challenge that burns within most all of us, a confidence that you'd make a difference. But then again, I see what Bob goes through and I don't know.he has to put up with so much, almost all of his time is taken, and it takes a huge toll on his family."
When asked about his proudest moment at Oklahoma, without hesitating Stoops offers, "It had to be winning the National Championship. That's a great story about what you can accomplish with hard work and determination. You don't need superstars — football's totally a team game, a team effort. It's about who we are, what we do, and what great players and great coaches can achieve when working together."
The conversation turns to what his dad would most enjoy about the current situation at Oklahoma if he were still living.
"He'd be honored and thrilled to participate in our success, and to just watch us operate. And because he possessed a great defensive mind, I believe he'd probably be most interested in the strategies, the details that we employ during the game."
After being asked if he has changed during his tenure in Norman, Mike reflected and answered, "No, not much really. But on the other hand, I have a family now. A wife, a daughter, and maybe I appreciate things more now; I focus on the important things. I can tell you that after a loss it's sure a lot easier to go home. You tend to see things totally differently — family matters most now."
Just like dad.
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