Arizona coach Mike Stoops doesn’t have to apologize for anything this time.
Not for suggesting, like last year, that rival Arizona State had the admission standards of a junior college. Not for showing up on signing day, like two years ago, ready for a brawl and calling out other programs after he lost three key committed players to other schools.
Stoops doesn’t have to apologize for nuthin’.
The Mike Stoops who showed up for his signing day news conference Wednesday afternoon was the same Mike Stoops we saw most of last season – the one increasingly comfortable in his coaching skin.
No need for any big fireworks.
“It’s actually been an uneventful day to be honest with you,” Stoops said, playing the room for a laugh by being self-aware of his reputation.
“I don’t have to attack anybody and I’m not getting attacked. I’m not as defensive today as I’ve been in the past, that’s for sure.”
Let’s just say that the Phoenix sports bureau of The Associated Press, with the staff to attend either UA’s or ASU’s signing day event, chose to come to Tucson. Hey, with Stoops’ track record, you never know what newsworthy thing he might say that needs to go out on the national wire.
Besides, only one of those state programs had a winning season and went to a bowl game.
Ah, winning. It does wonders for a coach’s personality.
“I guess winning cures all ills, even with me,” Stoops said. “I’m happy for that. I am pleased with these kids, and them believing in me and our program.”
Last year’s 7-5 regular-season mark actually didn’t do all that much for the recruiting class, the bulk of which was committed before Arizona beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Of course, all the good feeling and positive direction didn’t hurt when it came to securing local star Adam Hall of Palo Verde High School. He committed last week to give the class its signature player.
What really helped this recruiting season is that Arizona – keeping its fingers crossed – has stability for the first time in a long time. A three-year contract extension for Stoops, through the 2013 season, is in the works.
“Everyone wasn’t telling all our kids that I was going to get fired,” Stoops said of this recruiting season.
“That was probably the best part of it – I didn’t have to explain how long I was going to be there. That’s always a good thing. I think there is some comfort level in that.”
By this point, as Stoops enters his sixth season, he and his staff have that comfort level, knowing exactly what kind of kid they want – physically, emotionally and mentally.
That’s why the recruiting rankings are no big deal.
Stoops, having developed depth and largely building the program through midlevel prospects – cornerback Antoine Cason and receiver Mike Thomas come to mind – deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to having an eye for talent.
“You can’t take people just to take them,” Stoops said. “They have to fit in. We feel these kids all fit in.”
Yes, it was mostly business as usual Wednesday, with Stoops delivering a lot of the typical signing day buzzwords – size, speed, character, filling needs. No zingers like last year, when he had to formally apologize to Arizona State after his signing-day comments.
This time around, Stoops did bemoan the “very ugly” nature of recruiting, and he appeared bothered by schools that had been trying to recruit four-star linebacker Trevor Erno until the last minute.
Erno, of Lakeland, Calif., had been committed to Arizona for nearly nine months. He did not waver.
“There is a lot of manipulation that goes on at the end of recruiting,” Stoops said. “This was one of those years when we were very fortunate to have players who wanted to stay with us.”
Few headaches and no screaming headlines.
Stoops could get used to more signing days like this.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org