NORMAN, Okla. — Mike Stoops will coach his last game as the Co-Defensive Coordinator of the Sooners Saturday in the Big 12 Championship game against Kansas State. After that game he will take off to Arizona to hit the recruiting trail and to build his coaching staff. We caught up with Coach Stoops on Wednesday to get his thoughts on the Arizona program and the defensive legacy he has built at OU.
JH: Mike, congratulations on your new job, but I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn't sad that you weren't going to be around here any longer.
MS: "Well, I have made a lot of friends here over the last five years here and this is an extremely difficult place for me to leave. Obviously, I have always said that I would not leave unless it is the right situation for me. I think it is a good time at Arizona as they need a change and need a little life into that program. I think I can bring that and bring a great staff with me to assist in that process. I will not be able to do it alone, so it is an exciting time for me. I just want to get things going one thing at a time, and honestly most of my energy is on Kansas State."
JH: Your ability to focus on what is immediately in front of you is amazing. I have watched you practice and you are totally focused on beating the Wildcats.
MS: "That is the only thing you can do. This is a really important game for us. We would like to go out and finish this season the right way with an Big 12 Championship. I am glad all of this is out of the way so I can concentrate on what we need to do on Saturday night. It is going to be a great game. Kansas State presents a lot of challenges, but I feel like we have a great gameplan in already. We have some change-ups in and we feel good about our preparation."
JH: You were rumored as the leading candidate at Arizona for quite some time, but was there ever a point where you didn't think you were going to get the job?
MS: "They had to interview everyone in the process and they had to run the entire process. You never feel good until you actually sign the contract or you get officially offered. Obviously, I wasn't officially offered until, I believe it was Friday evening, and then it was a negotiation process that had to take place as well. You never feel good until you sign a contact. I flew out there Saturday morning and didn't actually finish the contract until after the press conference. So, everything worked out well and the contract turned out really good, so we were happy with everything."
JH: I am glad that contract worked out, because that would have been a bad deal to do the press conference and then the contract not work out, wouldn't you agree?
MS: "I didn't feel good about things until I got that contract signed. I don't plan on getting fired here in a month or two, but I thought it was a pretty good idea to sign a contract."
JH: The most emotional you got at the press conference was when you talked about your players and I have seen that time and time again. That had to be difficult to tell your players that you were leaving?
MS: "It is a tough position, and at this level you have to be really skilled and actually know what you are doing. We work extremely hard every day at reparation and I am hard on those guys a good part of the year. They understand when they are younger how you play this game. It is almost harder for the young kids to teach them the toughness aspect of the game. That is an aspect of the game that they are just not familiar with, because they are all such great players in high school and they don't get pushed to the limits of what they are capable of doing. That comes with our responsibility and mine with it in the secondary. And you know me, I pushed those guys to higher limits.
"The only way you can do that though is if they trust you and they know that I work as hard as I can to get them into the best situations to run the best defenses that we can put out there on the field. As long as they know that you have worked hard for them, then they are going to work hard for you. We just have a great trust in this year's group. This group has been the best as a whole that I have coached anywhere. The continuity we have played with, the energy and the ability to make plays is something that I will never forget. This is a very special group, and we still have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. I look for us to play a strong game Saturday night and finish this thing out."
JH: Mike what kind of program at Arizona are you taking over?
MS: "It is a program that is unorganized right now James. They haven't been real demanding. I don't know if they have had a great relationship between the head coach and the players, so there are a lot of bridges that need to be mended. But ultimately, we are going to be very demanding and expect that we do things right. Hopefully, they will understand what it takes to win. We are going to lay it out there for them, then if they have the character that I hope that they have they will step up to the challenge. If not, then it is going to take a lot longer to get this thing turned around. But if they buy into it quickly, then I think we can turn this thing around quickly."
JH: Where are you as far as putting together a staff?
MS: "It is going to take some time, because there are a lot of people still playing games. I have my brother Mark who will be coming with me and I will be making a couple of hires this week (OL coach at North Texas is going to be one). I will make that public news as we move along, but I am going to take my time and find the best possible coaches that I can find that fit in to what we want to do."
JH: What kind of offense do you want to run at Arizona?
MS: "We are going to spread it out, but obviously in the physical part of the game we have a lot of catching up to do. Chris Heavner is a great quarterback and started as a true freshman. I had a chance to watch him play against Arizona State and I loved the way he competed. The things I saw from him were that he showed a lot of positives, and hopefully we can build our team around him. He seems to be a great leader, and that excites me a lot and hopefully we will build it around him. However, we will spread it out and make people defend the whole field and attack in a variety of different ways. We definitely need to stretch the whole field and make people defend the whole field."
JH: You have been coaching one of the best defenses in college football history that will go against a Kansas State offense that is one of the best in the country. What are your thoughts on Kansas State?
MS: "They present an unbelievable challenge. They, obviously, have a bunch of weapons when you look at Sproles, Ell Roberson and James Terry. They have a great receiver, a great running back and a great quarterback in a great system that complements those great players.
"They make you defend a lot, but having two weeks to prepare has really helped us to get acquainted to everything that they do. They have different sets and different motions from their shifts. The extra time has really helped us and we have put some things in that we picked up from the previous times we played them. Hopefully, we will be better prepared than the times we played them before. They have stretched us to the limit every time that we have played and we have been fortunate to win all three of them."
"I think people are seriously underestimating the team we are about to play. Again, it is going to be another great game. We are going to have to play well in all phases of the game. And if we do that, we will have a great opportunity to win. If we are not on top of our game, then they are going to be tough to beat."
JH: You have built quite a legacy here at Oklahoma, and I am sure that you feel the defense will be in good hands with Brent Venables, Jackie Shipp and Bobby Jack Wright staying on in their same positions.
MS: "There is no question that Brent is ready. He has waited patiently to run his own defense and he has passed a lot of great opportunities to do that elsewhere. I personally couldn't be more happy or excited for him. I know it is a challenge that he looks forward to and us being together for along time makes the transition comfortable and smooth. Bob won't bring in anybody that is going to destroy the chemistry that we have. I think Brent will do fine. Our system is in place, our kids do a great job with it. He will guide them down the same road that we have always have been down. Again, I think it is an exciting time for him as well. That is why I think it is important that he sets up the gameplan and he gets to make the calls, so it will be a good time for him as well."
Mike Stoops focused on Kansas State
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