There’s a name you haven’t heard around Arizona’s college football program in quite some time. Stoops coached the Wildcats for about seven-and-a-half seasons, compiling a 41-50 record and making three Bowl Game appearances. His legacy is, as those results imply, pretty complicated.
If you had to sum up Stoops’ tenure in Arizona with one word, it would be: disappointing.
The Wildcats hired him in 2004, when they were working off a 2-10 season under two different head coaches. The hope was that he could build up the program into a defensive force, one that would become a staple in the national polls.
Those ambitions never became a reality. It took Stoops four seasons before he could tally his first above-.500 record. Rebuilding programs can take time, but that transition is on the longer end. Arizona didn’t make many waves in the recruitment process, and those results showed on the field.
It is a borderline miracle Stoops lasted long enough to even begin to turn things around. People were clamoring for his departure around 2007, in the middle of his third season, after the team dropped to 2-6 following a 21-20 home loss to Stanford.
Arizona insisted that Stoops would be given an additional season at the time. It paid off. The Wildcats went 8-5 (5-4 in the conference) the next season, with a top-20 offense. They made their way to the Las Vegas Bowl, which they won 31-21 over Bringham Young.
In the two seasons that followed, though, Stoops was unable to build off that success. The Wildcats went 8-5 again in 2009 and were shut out in the Holiday Bowl by Nebraska, 33-0. The following season was even worse. The Wildcats went 7-6 in 2010, with a losing record in their conference, before falling in the Alamo Bowl to Oklahoma, 36-10.
After getting off to a 1-5 start in 2011, Arizona elected to fire Stoops. He went on to become the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma between 2012 and 2018, a position he was fired from after the Sooners suffered a 48-45 loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns. Stoops is currently a member of Alabama’s staff as an off-field analyst.
Arizona, meanwhile, went on to experience modest success by Stoops’ successor, Rich Rodriguez. He turned in four consecutive winning seasons that included three Bowl Game victories, before hitting a rough patch over the next two years. He has since been replaced by Kevin Sumlin, who is currently working off two below-.500 seasons to himself.
In hindsight, given how much Arizona has struggled to be a college football mainstay, it’s fair to ask: Was Stoops ever really the problem?