The firing of Arizona coach Mike Stoops wasn’t completely unexpected. The Wildcats had been on a slide since late last season and didn’t appear to be on the verge of any big breakthroughs.
Still, once word spread around the coaching ranks, the news hit hard, particularly among Stoops’ friends and famous family, but also among coaches concerned about a lack of loyalty by universities that no longer hesitate to fire coaches midseason.
“I think it’s ridiculous, you know, especially considering what he did with that program, where it was when he took over and where it is now,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “People criticize coaches for their lack of loyalty or whatever, but look at what’s happened to him. Loyalty goes both ways you know.”
To be fair to Arizona, Stoops was nine games under .500 (41-50) in his eight seasons with the Wildcats and the team had lost 10 of its previous 11 games after its 37-27 setback to previously winless Oregon State on Saturday.
But part of what made the firing so tough on his fellow coaches was the timing of it.
It used to be coaches were given leeway during a season, that no matter how rough things got, they would likely hold on to their jobs until after the last game.
With the revenue being generated by football programs and the need to keep fan bases — not to mention big-money boosters — happy, the latitude isn’t what it once was.
Fail to produce on the field or cause the slightest embarrassment off it and coaches are quickly shown the door these days.
“I think everything in college football has changed a great deal,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I’ve always thought the longer it goes, the more it gets like the NFL in terms of roster sizes and things like that, and I think it’s been like that in coaching as well. I think all of us in coaching realize it’s temporary parking, really.”
The 2011 coaching carousel began well before the season started.
Pittsburgh fired coach Mike Haywood less than a month into the job after he was arrested on a domestic abuse charge in December. He was replaced by former Tulsa coach Todd Graham, the Panthers’ third coach in a month after Dave Wannstedt was forced to resign following a 7-5 season in 2010.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was pushed out in the spring in the wake of Tattoogate, replaced by Luke Fickell on an interim basis.
North Carolina coach Butch Davis was fired by preseason camp amid an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct. Everett Withers was named interim coach.
New Mexico coach Mike Locksley became the first coach to get the hook during the season. He was replaced by defensive coordinator George Barlow in September after a string of controversies and not many wins.
“In general, when you’re in the coaching profession at this level or the professional level, it’s always out there, it’s always a possibility,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “We all know that when we get into it. That’s just life.”
Stoops, while appearing to be an emotional wreck on the sideline, is a well-respected member of the coaching fraternity.
Part of a famous coaching family, Stoops was an assistant at his alma mater Iowa and at Kansas State, then went on to serve as co-defensive coordinator on his brother Bob’s staff at Oklahoma before being hired at Arizona in 2004.
Stoops was known for his defensive mind and he helped turn an Arizona program that had been mired in mediocrity into a consistent winner, leading the Wildcats to three straight bowls for the second time in school history.
Things started to come unraveled for Arizona last season, when it followed a 7-1 start with five straight losses, including a blowout to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats opened this season with a win over FCS Northern Arizona, then went through a brutal stretch of three straight losses to three Top-10 teams.
Arizona followed that with a loss to Southern California and the bottom came with last week’s loss to the Beavers.
Injuries, perhaps as many as any team in the Pac-12, had something to do with it, but the Wildcats had almost no running game to complement prolific quarterback Nick Foles and their defense, once Stoops’ calling card, had trouble stopping anyone.
With his team at 1-5 and 0-4 in the Pac-12 after five straight losses, Stoops took the fall on Monday, replaced by defensive coordinator Tim Kish for the remainder of the season.
“He just kind of hit a perfect storm,” Bob Stoops said. “He had a bunch of injuries early, actually before the season started, so kind of playing short-handed. And then you play ... Top-10 teams between Oregon, Stanford and Oklahoma State, you kind of get beat up some more or you get demoralized and it’s just kind of hard to recover.”
His brother never did.