John Clay: Kentucky's Mark Stoops was born to coach

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 1, 2012 

  • Live coverage Sunday: Follow Herald-Leader sports columnist John Clay on Twitter @johnclayiv during Mark Stoops' introductory news conference at 3 p.m., and visit Kentucky.com afterward for stories, photos and video.

  • Greet the coach

    Fans will have two chances to welcome Mark Stoops to Kentucky on Sunday.

    At the hangar: UK announced Saturday that fans are invited to come out and greet the school's new head football coach when his plane lands at the R.J. Corman Airplane Hangar at 12:45 p.m. The hangar is located at 101 Corman Dr. in Nicholasville.

    At the stadium: They can also make their feelings known at Gate One of Commonwealth Stadium at 2:45 p.m.

    Stoops, who served as Florida State's defensive coordinator in Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, will be introduced during a 3 p.m. news conference at UK.

    The news conference is not open to the public but will be televised live on CWKYT-27.2. Fans can also watch on the video boards inside Commonwealth Stadium.

Among the family, Mark Stoops, the youngest of the four Stoops coaching brothers, the one who is the new head football coach at the University of Kentucky, owns a distinction all his own.

"He isn't just the baby brother," said his brother, Ron Jr. "Mark is known as the fun brother."

That is depending on your idea of fun, of course.

"Mark is the one who will pour cold water down your back," explained Ron. "He's the one who will push you into the pool when you aren't looking. He was probably the most enjoyable to be around, counting all five of his siblings."

Yes, there were six children — the four boys, plus sisters Kathy (a school principal) and Maureen or "Reenie" (a nurse) — in the Ohio household of Ron and Evelyn "Dee Dee" Stoops.

It was a household consumed not just by children but by football, thanks to the father, Ron Sr., a longtime defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, up until his death in 1988.

"Mark was always tagging along, trying to keep up with his brothers," said Ron Jr.

And now, in a way, he has caught them. Ron Stoops Jr., is 55 and an assistant at Youngstown State. Bob Stoops is 52 and the head coach at Oklahoma, where he won a national title. Mike is 50 and the former head coach at Arizona.

And now, at age, 45, Mark Stoops gets his shot, leaving his post as defensive coordinator at Florida State to turn around a UK program coming off a 2-10 season.

"From the time Mark was a very young coach, you knew that this was a guy who would be a head coach one day," said Kevin McKinney, sports information director at Wyoming when Stoops was an assistant there from 1997-99. "Back then, we didn't know all about the Stoops brothers and that they would go on to do what they've done."

What else would they have done?

"We had to be coaches," said Ron Jr., chuckling. "We didn't have a business background or a marketing background. We're not really qualified to do anything else."

In fact, during his undergrad days at Youngstown State, Ron Jr. was on the staff at Youngstown High School, coaching under his uncle Bob.

His brother Bob was an All-Big Ten defensive back at Iowa before becoming a graduate assistant coach there for Hayden Fry. Mike followed Bob to Iowa where he was also All-Big Ten, and where he also became a grad assistant.

"Mark kind of followed the same path," said Ron. "But he was quite a baseball and football player in his own right."

Mark became the third brother to play at Iowa and the fourth brother to go into coaching. He, too, was a grad assistant under Fry (1990-91), then coached at Nordonia High School in Ohio before being hired by Jim Leavitt to coach defensive backs at South Florida.

Bill Snyder had a lot to do with this. Before becoming a coaching legend at Kansas State, Snyder was an assistant at Iowa when the Stoops boys started coming through Iowa City.

In 1989, Snyder hired Bob to his first Kansas State staff. In 1992, Snyder hired Mike. Leavitt and Mark Stoops were grad assistants together at Iowa in 1989 before Leavitt joined Snyder in Manhattan then later became the head coach at South Florida.

When Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel became head coach at Wyoming in 1997, he hired Mark away from Leavitt.

"Mark was a very intense coach at that time," said McKinney, who has spent 40 years in Cheyenne. "He may have mellowed now, but back then, Mark was all football with those kids and he got the most out of them."

A year after following Dimel to Houston in 2000, Mark Stoops left to join Larry Coker's staff at Miami, where he developed the recruiting ties that served him well in 2009 when Jimbo Fisher hired him to replace the legendary Mickey Andrews at Florida State.

In between, however, Mark spent six years as defensive coordinator on his brother Mike's staff at Arizona.

"He was a players' coach all the way," said Darrell Brooks, an All-Pac-10 safety at Arizona who now works in the school's fundraising department. "I would love picking his brain about football. He really elevated my game."

Was he the fun-loving Mark Stoops or the intense Mark Stoops?

"He was a little of both," Brooks said. "He was great to be around, but in those meeting rooms, he was all business. We'd be watching film, and we would be at each other. You loved playing for him because he wanted to make you a better football player."

Stoops made Arizona better, said Greg Hansen, sports columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, before leaving Tucson two years before Mike was eventually fired and replaced by Rich Rodriguez.

"Mark didn't have much to work with defensively at Arizona, no better than average personnel," said Hansen, "but he held his own, established his system and by the time he left for Florida State was clearly ready for a higher calling."

In fact, by that time, said Hansen, "I thought it was obvious he was more suited to be a head coach than Mike, so it was probably good that he went out on his own."

Indeed, Mark's communication skills helped him flourish in Tallahassee, building a defense that ranked No. 2 nationally this year.

"He's been very important for me, and not just as a football coach but as a father figure," LaMarcus Joyner, the Seminoles' standout junior safety told the Miami Herald. "There's a lot of things that Coach Stoops knows about me that a lot of other people don't."

"He knows how to coach people," FSU defensive end Bjorn Werner told the Miami Herald. "That's why we have so much fun on defense in practice and when we're playing because he just knows how to talk to us."

That's no surprise to his oldest brother.

"My kids are 29, 27 and 21; they're all young adults and they have always been close to Mark," said Ron Stoops Jr. "When we go on family vacations, he's the one who is always into something. And he gets as good as he gives. I know he's taken up fishing since he's been in Tallahassee. He just blends in wherever he's been."

It should be no different in the Bluegrass, where Mark and wife Chantel will bring their two young boys, 6-year-old Will and 2-year-old Zack.

"We knew he was going to be a head coach one day, we just didn't know where or when," said Ron Jr. "That it's so close to us in Ohio just makes it that much better."

In fact, when Oklahoma played at West Virginia recently — Mike has rejoined Bob on the Oklahoma staff — there were 120 Stoops family members and friends at the game in Morgantown.

"There aren't too many times we get to see them east of the Mississippi River," said Ron. "People will get used to seeing a lot of us down in Lexington."

That's great, but right now, the Big Blue Nation can't wait to meet the baby brother.

After all, Kentucky football could use a little fun.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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