Tuesday, September 07, 2010
By GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
September 7, 2010
NORMAN - Like most kid brothers in that time and place, little Mark Stoops tagged along with his older siblings, doing what he could to earn their favor. The older siblings being Ron Jr., Bobby and Mike, that meant Mark played all kinds of ball against some of the biggest, toughest kids in Youngstown, Ohio.
As a result, the first thing anyone thought Mark might grow up to do was play football, not coach it.
"As a kid, you talk about Pop Warner, around fifth grade, he was so advanced catching the ball and running. Cause that's all he did keeping up with us," said Bob, the second Stoops boy and seven years older than Mark. "I mean, he was a terror. Offense, defense, he was like Dick Butkus and Walter Payton. We would go to his games and just laugh because he's just killing everybody."
Eventually, bodies and skill sets evened out. Mark continued to prosper - "He may have been the best athlete of all of the Stoops boys," said Don Bucci, who coached all four at Youngstown's Cardinal Mooney High - but not enough to consider any kind of pro career.
So he followed his older brothers again. He coaches for a living, and he is excelling at it.
Mark Stoops is in his first year as defensive coordinator at Florida State. He'll be with the Seminoles when they play Bob's Oklahoma Sooners Saturday at Owen Field.
A formidable challenge, sure, but one Mark will expect to meet, based on both last week's season opener and the decades-long track record of his defensive-minded family.
Under Mark's influence, a Seminoles defense that ranked at the very bottom of the ACC last season didn't allow a touchdown in their 59-6 rout of Samford last Saturday.
Before Florida State, Mark coordinated defenses at Arizona under older brother Mike. In the Stoops' six years together, the Wildcats went from 108th nationally in total defense to 25th.
Before Arizona, Mark coached defensive backs at Miami.
"One of the best hires I ever made," said Larry Coker, the former Hurricanes coach who made the call after consulting with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. "His kids played so hard and they knew exactly where to line up."
Miami won a national championship in Mark's first season, then led the nation in pass defense in 2002 and '03.
Mark Stoops has encountered success, to one degree or another, at every stop of his 20-year coaching journey. He even benefited from his one year at South Florida in 1996, which he spent preparing the Bulls for their debut season of '97.
"My brother, Bob, was up at Florida at the time," Mark said after being introduced at Florida State last February. "We weren't even playing any games, so it was an opportunity to go up and spend a bunch of time with Bob. I think the bread and butter of my system was built during that first year at South Florida."
The brotherly influence is every bit as profound today as it was in Youngstown.
That could have been Bob Stoops addressing Oklahoma media or Mike at Arizona the day of Mark's press conference in Tallahassee. And not just because he was describing the 4-3, multiple zone-coverage scheme he and his brothers had long preferred.
"We're very precise," Mark said. "We try to be accurate in what we do and how we get it taught... You can't fake your way around these things. You can't just go out there 'Rah! Rah!' and all that. There has to be a complete understanding of the system... You're gonna have to earn your way."
Asked about the mood he encountered in the FSU locker room, Mark channeled his big brother from December of '98, when Bob encountered the beaten-down Sooners.
"The first thing I told them was, 'Hey, there's no more of that. There's no more putting your head down. We're gonna be very confident,'" Mark said. "I wanted them to understand they had the ability. We had to get the confidence back and get their heads up and get ready to roll....
"It's going to be a lot of teaching. We have a lot of work to do. But if they look at it with an open mind and are willing to work, then we can do some great things here real quick."
It was just what the Seminoles needed.
"A new attitude," defensive end Brandon Jenkins called it in the St. Petersburg Times. "A new defense."
Sounded pretty familiar to those in Norman, actually. And Tucson. And Youngstown.
"When Mark was here, his father was still one of my assistants," Bucci said of Ron Stoops Sr., the Mooney defensive coordinator until his passing in 1988. "He went home from practice and worked on film with his dad like his brothers did. Mark was a little more quiet than some of the other Stoops boys, but you could tell he had all the tools to coach, just like Ronny, Bobby and Mike."
"Mark, along with the rest of us, gravitated to it because we were so used to competitive situations and enjoying them," Bob Stoops said. "That's all we grew up around. I think we all came by it naturally."