Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
When is a win more than just a win? When it's not just an upset of your most hated rival, but a benchmark for a new beginning to a program that had all but hit rock bottom.
Congratulations to UA football head coach Mike Stoops, his staff and, most importantly, the Wildcat players on their 34-27 victory over nationally-ranked Arizona State last week.
More importantly, however, kudos to Stoops for what now can truly be called a successful first season atop the previously embattled and seemingly eternally doomed Wildcat program.
Stoops' early success can't be measured in just one game, and certainly not by the Wildcats' 3-8 overall record and eight-place finish in the Pacific 10 Conference race.
The steps Stoops and his staff took early on to publicly embrace a dejected crop of returning players - their spirits left for dead after the saga that was John Mackovic - and a fading fan base were evident as could be Friday afternoon. More fans packed Arizona Stadium - 55,095, to be exact - than had been in Tucson for a UA contest since the team's first home game of the 2000 season, four head coaches and 38 losses ago.
Arguably the game's most important plays came at the hands of seniors who'd just about seen it all in their four, five or, in one case, six seasons as Wildcats. Senior Steve Fleming caught a 54-yard touchdown. Senior Carlos Williams forced two fumbles; senior Kirk Johnson recovered a pair on his own.
But Stoops' rejuvenation project, while on the path to greatness, is nowhere near reaching fruition.
The Wildcats have won two of their last three games and, if Friday's postgame soiree at midfield is any indication, players and fans alike are itching for more.
Winning comes with expectations, and its safe to say fans won't be satisfied with another two- or three-win season a year from now.
And nor should they be.
Stoops will be expected to sell Tucson, the UA campus and the Arizona football family heavily to new recruits over the next two seasons, re-stamping Southern Arizona on the national football map. The passionate head coach will also be expected to cap his in-game sideline hysterics, antics endearing of a rookie head coach but potentially perplexing when seen in a veteran football mind.
Stoops' early success may not be visible by simply viewing the Wildcats' 2004 record.
But given time, patience among UA supporters and even more effort out of the coach during his sophomore season, Stoops and Co. will be on the fast track to national prominence, both on and off the football field.
Staff editorials are written by the Daily Wildcat opinions board. Its members are Susan Bonicillo, Nate Buchik, Evan Caravelli, Brett Fera and Andrea Kelly.