Strong start to season means less pressure
Pac-10 officials may still get an earful from Mike Stoops, but his players are hearing less criticism from the fifth-year Arizona football coach.
Credit a 4-1 start – the Wildcats’ best since the 2000 season – for the mellower Stoops.
“It’s been much easier (to step back),” Stoops said Monday. “You have more confidence and trust in what they’re doing. You don’t have to be that vocal guy behind everything, but I’m not going to let them do something that’s not right.
“Our kids are putting a lot of stuff together to do things right on and off the field better.”
Stoops has let the coaches coach and the players play.
It’s worked. The Wildcats are tied with Cal atop the Pac-10 standings with a 2-0 record heading to Palo Alto, Calif., for a 2 p.m. Saturday game against Stanford.
“In the first couple of years, we would be in the huddle and coach Stoops would come in and get on somebody. It was much more aggressive,” UA offensive tackle Eben Britton said. “You could tell he was frustrated with the way things were going.
“Just against Washington, and I did take note of it, we were ready to go in and I looked over and Coach Stoops is talking to another assistant completely calm,” Britton said. “He was not even thinking about the offense and not worried about us at all.
“That’s a great feeling that your head coach has that much confidence in the offense . . .”
There was reason for Stoops to be frustrated in the past, with Arizona averaging 14.9, 22.9 and 16.6 points per game, respectively, during his first three years.
This season, UA ranks eighth nationally in scoring with a 43.6-point average per game.
The quick start, and the need for two more wins to become bowl eligible, also has eased the pressure facing the coaching staff. UA last went to a bowl game in 1998.
Stoops entered the year with a 17-29 record and talk about being fired – despite two years left on his contract – if the Cats didn’t show substantial improvement.
That talk has died down.
“I would say everybody’s demeanor has been better. Winning helps,” defensive end Ricky Elmore said. “When you’re not losing, there’s a lot less stress, and you’re opt to try more things. You don’t have to worry about having your backs against the wall.”
Stoops credits UA’s captains – quarterback Willie Tuitama, linebacker Ronnie Palmer, receiver Mike Thomas, safety Nate Ness and Britton – for stressing the importance of school work and character issues to the team.
In other words, the Wildcats are more mature.
“If you come to the field with a bunch of baggage, you’re not going to be very effective, either it be social or academic. They all blend together,” Stoops said. “We are managing those situations better.”
Stoops said this squad is probably handling the disciplinary issues and the distractions better than he did as a player at Iowa.
“I never figured it out. I was a pain in the butt for my coach,” Stoops said, laughingly about his days with Hayden Fry at Iowa.
Stoops is still very loud on the sideline if he doesn’t think a referee made a correct call.
The UA coach continued to give it to officials at UCLA, even with the Wildcats up by 21.
Players appreciate that Stoops has their backs.
“Stoops is a fiery guy. That’s his nature and that’s how he’s going to be,” Britton said. “He loves this team so much. If he sees there’s a bad call, he’s going to fight for you.”
UA (4-1, 2-0) at Stanford (3-3, 2-1), 2 p.m.. Saturday. TV: none. Radio: 1290 AM
PAC-10 SCOLDS STANFORD COACH
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has been reprimanded by the Pac-10 for criticizing officials.
The Cardinal coach complained to reporters about a second-quarter penalty in which a Stanford player was flagged for failing to give a Notre Dame player an unimpeded chance to catch a punt.
Stanford recovered the muff on the play during the Cardinal’s 28-21 loss to the Irish.
“Pac-10 rules prohibit comments by a coach about officiating other than to the Conference office,” league commissioner Tom Hansen said. “Coach Harbaugh violated that rule.”
The Pac-10 office also defended the officials.
“The call was correct,” Hansen said. “Pac-10 officials have reviewed video of the play and it is apparent the Stanford player covering the punt impeded the Notre Dame player.”
Harbaugh’s team hosts Arizona on Saturday.