When first-year Arizona head coach Mike Stoops leads his Wildcats against Barry Alvarez and the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday, it will be another chapter in a rather interesting personal history.
After all, it was Alvarez who recruited Mike Stoops the player when he was an assistant coach under Hayden Fry at Iowa. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops played at Cardinal Mooney High School, where his father was the defensive coordinator.
"My first year at Iowa, I was responsible to recruit western Pennsylvania and Ohio, primarily eastern Ohio, which included Youngstown," Alvarez said. "Mike's father was a defensive coordinator and his uncle was a head coach at Youngstown South. His brother was an assistant at Boardman . . . so the natural tie for me was to go back and visit with him about players and use them as resources. So I got very close to the family."
The Stoops household became a frequent stop for Alvarez, who served as the Hawkeyes' linebacker coach from 1979-86 before leaving for Notre Dame.
"Every time I went back to the area, I'd go by the house," Alvarez said. "I think Mike was in our second recruiting class. And then his younger brother, Mark, who is the defensive coordinator on the [Arizona] staff, I recruited him my last year there. But I've known that family very well, all the uncles and aunts, and have a very close relationship with the entire family."
At Iowa, Stoops joined his older brother Bob. A safety, the younger Stoops played four years with the Hawkeyes, from 1981-84. In his career, Iowa appeared in the Rose, Peach, Gator and Freedom bowls. A two-time first team All-Big Ten pick, Stoops led the conference in interceptions in 1983.
"Well he's been a great friend for many, many years," Stoops said of Alvarez. "It goes back to when Bob and me were playing and he recruited the area. My father was at Mooney and my uncle was at South and he recruited players from both schools. That was kind of back when we were getting started at Iowa. So we have a lot of great memories."
After his playing days with the Hawkeyes came to a close, Stoops entered what has become a family profession, coaching. He became a graduate assistant for two years at Iowa, then a volunteer assistant for another four. From Iowa City, it was on to Manhattan, Kan., where Stoops became defensive ends coach at Kansas State in 1992. After four years at that post, he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator by Bill Snyder in 1996. His title was changed to assistant head coach in 1998.
In 1999, Stoops left Kansas State to join his brother Bob's staff in Oklahoma as an associate head coach. After an incredibly successful run that included a national championship and undefeated season in 2000, he was given the opportunity to become a head coach for the first time and left for Arizona in November of 2003. Throughout his coaching career, one person he has been able to turn to is Alvarez.
"He's a tremendous coach and great motivator and a great friend," Stoops said. "He's been very supportive of us pretty much throughout our careers. Been a close friend and somewhat of a mentor. I know a guy that Bob really conferred a lot in. He's a neat guy. It is easy to see why he has had great success. I think he's a great communicator with young people and a great motivator."
In many respects, Stoops' current situation is not all that different from the one Alvarez found himself in when he took over the Wisconsin program in 1990. The Badgers were coming off a four-year stretch in which they had managed just nine wins to 36 losses.
Stoops inherited an Arizona program fresh off a tumultuous 2003 season that saw the Wildcats stumble to a 2-10 record. And like Alvarez, who was Notre Dame's defensive coordinator before coming to Madison, Stoops was the architect of a highly-successful defense at Oklahoma.
"You know, it's his first job, it's a big-time conference, prestigious conference," Alvarez said. "In your first job, you want to make it go, so I don't want to get back and compare where our program was or where his program is, but in all those states, it would be very similar—defensive coordinator, a very successful program taking on his first head coaching job at a very prestigious university and conference."
What is left to be determined is whether Stoops can enjoy the same sort of success Alvarez has as a head coach. Given his track record, Arizona has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Stoops, Alvarez no strangers to each other
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