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Stoops family homecoming

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Michael Ignatov | The Daily Wildcat Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets Central Michigan University in an NCAA men's football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Sept. 5, 2009. Arizona won 19-6.

It's been a turbulent decade for college football. The Bowl Championship Series system continues to give everyone migraines, once-prominent programs like Notre Dame have struggled and head coaches have had a harder time settling down with one school than Jerry Seinfeld did with women on his hit sitcom.


Despite the changing times, one thing that has remained constant is the prevalence of the Stoops family as a staple in college football.

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Three Stoops brothers were college stars at Kinnick Stadium, where Arizona travels this weekend to take on the University of Iowa.


""It's exciting to go back there and play, and to see the place that I played,"" said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops.


He, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops cite their experience at Iowa as a firm foundation for where they are now.


But it was almost very, very different.


Bob Stoops, the oldest of the three, didn't receive much attention from Division I schools out of high school, according to Mike. With nowhere else to go, Bob chose Iowa. After the Hawkeyes suffered through a miserable season his freshman year, he planned on transferring. That is, until now-legendary head coach Hayden Fry was hired.


Bob Stoops decided to stay, and the rest is history.


""I'm glad he decided to stay,"" Mike Stoops said of his older brother. ""It probably changed the course of our whole family.""


Mike Stoops decided to follow his brother and became one of the most decorated Hawkeyes in school history. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection at strong safety and a centerpiece of the 1986 team that reached the Rose Bowl.


Soon, Mark Stoops followed suit and became the third Stoops to play for the Hawkeyes.


""It was a good experience,"" Mark Stoops said. ""I was very familiar with the program and the coaches. We were so close with the coaches at that time.""


The personal relationships with the coaches were among the reasons the Stoops brothers have been able to assert themselves as one of college football's first families. Mike Stoops remembers his former coach not only for his work ethic, but for his antics as well.


""His white pants, his glasses, his windbreaker,"" Mike Stoops joked about Fry. ""He used to catch me leaving the office early (during a graduate assistant position at Iowa), leaving my light on and the door open. I thought I was fooling him for a while. He was still there working, and I was long gone. They weren't paying me enough then.""


Mike Stoops' light-heartedness was refreshing but brief as he quickly resigned himself to the fact that this weekend is about the Wildcats trying to improve to 3-0 and not about personal back-stories.


""I haven't made any special plans to see anyone; it's just kind of business as usual and we'll just do our normal routine,"" Mike Stoops said. ""All that hype is great, but once the ball is snapped it's really insignificant who you're playing. It's really all about just concentrating on the things you have to do to win, and that's what we'll focus on this week.""


The Stoops brothers maintained that they were not nostalgic. But returning to the place where their football careers began — both as players and then as graduate assistant coaches — must at least be strange.


They could take some advice from outside wide receivers coach Dave Nichol, who went through the same thing earlier in his career when he returned to his alma mater, Texas Tech, as a coach for Baylor University.


""It was really weird,"" Nichol said of returning to the place he used to play. ""Being in the visitors' locker room, it was definitely a whole different deal because you want to beat them real bad. It's unique, there are definitely some mixed emotions.""


Mike Stoops has been admirable throughout the week, parlaying the speculation over any extra incentive to beat his former team. But the rest of the team might feel differently.


""You always try not to think of it that way and you try to look at it like, ‘We play one game a week, let's get focused and win that game,' but the way I know our kids feel about coach (Mike) Stoops, they want to win it for him,"" Nichol said.


The affection and respect from players is something that Mike Stoops has yearned for since the beginning of his tenure as Arizona's head coach and something that he had for his coaches as an Iowa player.


For Mike Stoops, it's coming full circle.


""It's just nice to see people that you haven't seen in a while, good friends that helped you succeed,"" he said.


""You want to prove that you can coach,"" he added. ""We all have great pride in what you do as a coach and (Iowa) was significant in my development, so that's important to me.""

 


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