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Open Mike

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Head coach Mike Stoops has managed to increase the UA fan base, convince blue-chip recruits to come play for him in Tucson and earn the respect of his players, all before his team has played a single game.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
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"You have to want to win, you have to know how to win and you have to expect to win." - Mike Stoops

Ask UA football coach Mike Stoops if his team wants to win, and how would he respond?

If every single player staying in town to attend voluntary workouts this summer is any indication, Stoops' answer would be a resounding yes.

Ask Stoops if the Wildcats expect to win, and the reply would be similar.

The coach walked into his December 2003 press conference cool and confident, ready and willing, even if he had yet to speak with a single Arizona player. Surely he always expects to win. If he didn't he wouldn't be a coach.

Ask Stoops if his new team even knows how to win and, well, the answer may not be so simple.

Sure, Arizona can win games. It won two games last year, and four the year before that. But it also lost 18 games over that same span, the worse such slump in school history.

For Stoops, knowing if his new team can win, win and win some more - like his teams at Kansas State and Oklahoma did week after week, year after year - may require a longer wait.

And what a wait it will be.

"It's not any different from when I was at Oklahoma or Kansas State," Stoops contends about his time spent coaching under his brother Bob at OU and the legendary Bill Snyder at KSU. "I approach every game the same and expect the same things of our players and of myself. Be prepared and ready to play."

Now in his 19th season coaching on the collegiate level, Stoops is just days away from the first time he'll step on the award-winning hybrid Bermuda turf in Arizona Stadium to coach the Wildcats in a game.

He's just days away from hearing 50,000-plus UA faithful screaming his name at the top of their lungs in unison the first time he's announced as the Wildcat's top dog. He's just days from finding out if this team is ready to give him the answer he wants to the answer to the question everyone is asking: Can his kids actually win?

Mike Stoops' Coaching Resumé

1986Graduate assistant coachIowa
1987Graduate assistant coachIowa
1988Volunteer assistant (linebackers/DB)Iowa
1989 Volunteer assistant (linebackers/DB)Iowa
1990Volunteer assistant (linebackers/DB) Iowa
1991 Volunteer assistant (linebackers/DE)Iowa
1992Defensive ends coach Kansas State
1993Defensive ends coach Kansas State
1994 Defensive ends coach Kansas State
1995Defensive ends coach Kansas State
1996 Co-defensive coordinator/DE Kansas State
1997Co-defensive coordinator/DB Kansas State
1998 Assistant head coach; DC/DB Kansas State
1999Associate head coach; DC/DB Oklahoma
2000Associate head coach; DC/DBOklahoma
2001Associate head coach; DC/DBOklahoma
2002 Associate head coach; DC/DB Oklahoma
2003Associate head coach; DC/DB Oklahoma
2004Head Coach Arizona
· Produced the nation's top defenses over the past five years
· 15 Bowl Games as a coach
· 4 Bowl Games as a player
· 2000 National Championship (Oklahoma)
· On staffs posting 55-9 record over the last five years
· Overall record as an assistant:168-48-2

"I would imagine they'd be anxious to play," Stoops said last week. "It seems like we've been practicing forever."

Forever may only be a month of actual practices, preceded by weeks of voluntary summer workouts and a couple of days of Spring Ball, but Stoops' point is well taken.

But does Arizona know how to win?

The Wildcats used to know how, better than any other team on the West Coast.

Under former coach Dick Tomey, now an assistant at Texas, Arizona won more games in the 1990s than any other team in the Pacific 10 Conference. A preseason favorite to compete for the national title in both 1994 and 1999, Tomey's "Desert Swarm" defenses put teams to shame, like college football power Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and Nebraska in the 1999 Holiday Bowl.

The defense-wins-championships premise was all but abandoned under embattled former coach John Mackovic, fired at midseason last year after Arizona started 1-4 overall. Stoops understands he'll need the Wildcats to return to their defensive roots in order to compete, but that doesn't mean he's ready to forego any other part of the game to do so.

"We just have to be disciplined and understand what our responsibilities are and play what we're taught to do. Nobody has to go out and be Superman," he says. "It's a team game, it takes an offense, defense and kicking game to execute. If one guy breaks down it breaks down the whole team."

Stoops has placed an emphasis on defense and won over his new players, demonstrated by their newfound dedication to getting better.

But the question still stands: Can this team win?

Arizona is heavily favored this weekend, and it doesn't bother Stoops that it's likely the only that will happen all year.

"Well, right now, all of our concentration obviously is on Northern Arizona. That's all I'm worried about. We have to get out, get off to a good start and get out early," he says.

Last season, the Wildcats' early swagger - they crushed Texas-El Paso 42-7 at home to open up - was quickly erased by a 59-13 shellacking at the hands of BCS national champ Louisiana State on national television.

How nervous will Stoops be once his team has to face nationally ranked opponents like Utah, Wisconsin or Southern California?

"Shoot, I get nervous for every game," he says. "It's not any different from when I was at Oklahoma or Kansas State. I approach every game the same and expect the same things of our players and of myself. Be prepared and ready to play. Just making sure our team's ready to play is the big thing."

But how do the UA administration and fans - those same fans buying season tickets at record pace - know to believe that all this early confidence really means that his team is ready?

"We will win, and we will do it in a very quick way," Stoops said last December shortly after his hiring was announced.

Oh, really?

"We probably won't win a national championship in two years," Stoops later said, in response to how he and his brother took Oklahoma from a sub-.500 ball club to a national championship in just two seasons. "But maybe three."

Sarcastically serious, sure, but, for Stoops, it's is just his way of convincing Tucson to trust him.

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