Another thing that Mike Stoops brought to Tucson that it had never seen before was a dynamic. For the first time Arizona was bringing in the hot, big name assistant from a prominent program. With that buzz came a dynamic, an attitude that even his detractors had to concede was present. For the first time in Arizona Football history the Wildcats are recruiting on a national scene and they are winning their fair share of battles.
That is because of Mike Stoops and his staff.
The class of 2006 is a prime and perhaps the most interesting example. Last year Stoops and his staff beat out the likes of Michigan, USC, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA and Arizona State among others for high profile recruits. Sure they lost their share, but no longer were they losing players to Boise State and Fresno.
In 2005, Stoops’ first full recruiting class he could call his own, he beat out ASU, Oregon, Texas, LSU, UCLA and even his own brother and Oklahoma for the services of some high profile recruits.
There is no doubt that Mike Stoops can recruit on a level that is on par with anyone, especially considering he has put together two top 20 recruiting classes after back to back 3-8 seasons on the field. His ability to sell the future of his program has been nothing short of amazing as kid after kid has bought into the program and the future that Stoops and his assistants have been selling.
From 5-star JC All-Americans Gabe Long and Louis Holmes to four star high school All-Americans Devin Ross, Brandon Tatum and Daniel Borg, Stoops has done what he needed to do, improve the talent base in Tucson. But with all of the successes he and his staff have had, something does need to change if the Wildcats want to keep up the pace on the recruiting trail.
Now with those recruiting successes come expectations. To expect instant winning would have been foolish. Sure, other coaches have had instant success, but few have dealt with the hole that Mackovic left. Simply put, there was not a whole lot of talent.
Even while working with that talent deficit, the Stoops teams have shown flashes. After watching Mackovic coached teams suffer blowout after blowout, Stoops made them instantly competitive. Under the Mackovic regime they lost 14 games by 21 points or more. Under Stoops they have lost five games by 20 points or more, all but one coming against ranked Cal and USC teams. It was obvious the improvements were being made.
That is not enough anymore.
Now it is time to put some wins up and get to that next level. That means a winning season and a post season bowl game. When he was hired Mike Stoops said that he envisioned winning conference and national championships in Tucson and that is still a possibility. After all, Arizona has everything needed to succeed at the level that Stoops envisioned. The facilities are on par with most schools in the country. The strength and conditioning program is top notch and the support from the boosters and the University are at all time highs in Tucson, even after those back to back 3-8 seasons.
Now they just have to do it.
Even with everything going in the right direction we still live in a results oriented world and college football is the ultimate results oriented business. Unless the wins start coming, the support will fade and most assuredly the recruiting will fade along with it. The pressure is now on.
The team needs to be successful this season, not only to continue to attract recruits, but to keep the fan base happy. They have given him two years to rebuild, now they expect results.
Most fans are realistic, they don’t expect a BCS bowl game and a run at the Roses, but they do want to see a team that finds ways to win. Last year, the team was still finding ways to lose. Granted, games were a lot closer, but the Cats lost five games by a touchdown or less. All of those games saw the Cats will the ball late and all saw mistakes that cost them a chance to win.
Stoops needs to be given his full five years to fully turn around the Arizona program that was so devastated by his predecessor but the pressure is still on. Even with the pressure coming from the fans, the most pressure is being created by one man, Mike Stoops himself. He needs the blame for the pressure that he is now almost surely feeling. For if it weren’t for his immediate success on the recruiting front he would not have created the higher expectations so early.
Sports fans, and especially college sports fans, are a very fickle bunch. They have a large tendency to get spoiled in a huge way and it happens very quickly. Stoops’ success on the never ending recruiting trail has created an expectation level that nobody even remotely associated with the Arizona program three years go would have seen coming.
Add to those issues the Arizona Basketball factor. Fans of Lute Olson’s basketball program tend to be on the spoiled side. They are used to winning. They are used to instant successes from first year players. Four times Wildcat players have been named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and twice they have won the national honor. Being a spoiled fan base is not necessarily a bad thing. In Arizona’ case it is actually mostly a good thing, for the basketball program.
Arizona fans are used to true freshman point guards coming to town and immediately playing on an All-American level. They are used to seeing the Jason Gardners and Mike Bibbys do their thing from the moment they step on campus and they have become spoiled in a way. They expect the best right away because it is what they have become accustomed to thanks to the brilliance of Lute Olson, which is obviously a good thing. But it also has it’s drawbacks as those same spoiled basketball fans start to buy into the football hype they automatically expect the same results from Mike Stoops and his staff and it is impossible to produce those same results. It is like comparing apples, not to oranges, but to watermelons or coconuts.
Football and Basketball are very different sports with very different learning curves. The intricacies of an offensive system in football are about a thousand times harder to absorb and master than those of a basketball system. So when Kris Heavner, Richard Kovalcheck or even Willie Tuitama don’t perform on a Gardner or Bibby-like level right away the fans start to get a little restless. Football takes time and patience from the fans to be successful. Just ask the Hokies of the world or the Seminoles or even the Longhorns of the world.
For a freshman at any position, much less at quarterback, to be successful right away is a rarity. Even “overnight sensations” like Matt Leinart was in his third year in the program before taking a snap.
Stoops needs time to get a program full of HIS kids to perform and execute at the level that he wants and needs them to. But if he wants to continue to get HIS kids into the Arizona program the progress needs to start to show up in the won-loss column. Mike Stoops, even as great a recruiter as he is, cannot put together another top 15 class that is chalk full of HIS kids this year without at least a 2-3 game advance in the win column. The ultimate advancement would be to get the 3 extra wins and get to a bowl game, which is possible this year thanks to the 12 game schedule and the fact that the Cats play 7 games in the Old Pueblo.
In the end if Mike Stoops wants to fill the 16-18 scholarships for the 2007 class with the same type of talent he has been bringing in, the Cats need to start winning more often. If the wins don’t come then the fans will actually have a right to put pressure on him and his staff. He still has time but the pressure is on right now and no matter whose fault it is the wins need to come more often in 2006. A bowl game, while not a necessity, would be the best thing or the program and for Mike Stoops. If that happens he would most likely bring in another top 15 class and he would probably be given a contract extension, which would only give him more ammunition to use on the recruiting trail. Mike Stoops with a winning record and a long term contract is a dangerous thing for other schools that recruit against the Wildcats.
The pressure is on in the desert and it is time to take the next step into the top half of the Pac-10.