LAS VEGAS – The only thing here spinning faster than the roulette wheels Friday were rumors about the future of Arizona football coach Mike Stoops.
He’s staying. He’s going. He’s staying. He’s going.
The rumor of Iowa State being interested in Stoops – and vice versa – gained legs Friday, even while on-the-record statements indicated everything was status quo in Wildcat land.
Stoops: “I’ve never looked for another opportunity in my life, so I don’t plan on starting now . . . at least, I hope I don’t have to.”
UA athletic director Jim Livengood: “Ninety-nine percent of most rumors are false in our profession. That is the way it is.”
Stoops: “I’ve never taken a job because of money. Quality of life is important to me. This has been a very good place to be. We’ve always had great support.”
Truth or fiction?
What is at least 99 percent true is that Stoops, who has two years left on his contract, wants an extension and more money for his assistant coaches.
What is also 99 percent true, based on Livengood’s own statements, is that he doesn’t want to get into any of those possible details until after Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl against BYU.
Both stances seems reasonable, but it has been something of a game of chicken. Stoops might not feel fully supported; Livengood might not like being rushed into a decision.
What you can bet on is that if Arizona wins Saturday night to finish the season at 8-5, Livengood will hand Stoops a big, fat reworked contract.
If Arizona loses, things get murkier . . . or at least the deal-or-no-deal offer goes down.
Stoops might have been coaching for his job in the season finale against Arizona State. Saturday night, he might be coaching for his contract.
Another thing you can bet on: If Stoops does leave for Iowa State – for perhaps a 40 percent raise over his current salary and a five-year deal – fired San Diego State head coach Chuck Long will be his offensive coordinator. Stoops and Long coached together at Oklahoma.
Amid a flurry of rumors as thick as Wednesday’s snowstorm, Stoops, at a news conference Friday, choked up when talking about the seniors and the five-year struggle it has been to turn the John Mackovic disaster into a 7-5 season.
“I will always be appreciative of these people,” he said, his eyes getting misty. “These players, I think they’re everything.”
He explained further later.
“This has been an emotional five years,” he said. “We put a lot into this. We have a lot of pride in what we do. It’s so hard to articulate what goes into a day, a week, a year, five years. It’s just mind-boggling.”
What the public mostly sees of Stoops’ emotions is the yelling and screaming and arm-waving on the sideline. The players, according to senior linebacker Ronnie Palmer, see a different side.
“He’s definitely a loving, caring coach,” Palmer said. “He shows both sides. I know the glaring, snarling coach shows up a lot more, but he’s a great guy.”
Stoops, 47, who played football at Iowa, hasn’t brought greatness to Arizona. But if he does leave, it will be unfortunate in the sense that he seems to now “get it.” The words he uses to describe his coaching evolution is “finding a place that is comfortable.”
“I think everybody doubts themselves at some point, if you admit it or not,” Stoops said.
The way he has described it all season is he is now to the point, with a team full of only his recruits and systems in place, where he trusts the players and coaches.
“You look at some of the things Coach Stoops has to go through, and you look at yourself and ask, ‘How would I do?’ ” said senior receiver Mike Thomas. “I think he has handled himself well. . . .
“He’s learning. Life is a learning process, whether you’re 10 or 58. You’re still learning every day. That’s what coach is doing.”
Stoops was asked Friday if he could see himself coaching at Arizona in five or 10 years.
Predictably, he said yes.
Everything else regarding the coaching situation is way harder to predict.
But we’ll know soon.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: email@example.com