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Unexpected sympathy for Stoops

Something completely unexpected happened to me on Thursday
night while I was watching the Arizona Wildcats completely
embarrass a bad UCLA football team by 36 points.

I felt sympathy for recently booted Wildcats head coach
Mike Stoops.

Me, a Sun Devil fan since the age of seven, feeling sorry
for a man who coached at Arizona State’s rival for eight
years, beating the team I root for head-to-head three
times.

Stoops, a coach who guided the Wildcats to three straight
bowl games (a feat accomplished only once before in school
history) while the Sun Devils sat at home during the
holidays for three consecutive years.

Mike Stoops, whose sideline behavior was an embarrassment
to even the world’s most petulant children.

Mike Freakin’ Stoops.

Arizona flexed their muscles early and often against
the Bruins, racking up a 42-7 halftime lead en route to a
48-12 victory. It was as if the Wildcats were unleashing
all of their frustration that built up during a 10-game
losing streak to FBS teams that spanned nearly a full
calendar year that led to Stoops’ exit.

Many will point to the firing of Stoops and the
appointment of defensive coordinator Tim Kish, and the
change in the program’s “culture” that led to the win over
UCLA. There may be a shred of accuracy in that. After
all, according to reports, Kish did lighten the mood at
practice by implementing “funny hat day” for his staff.
I’m not making that up.

But the way I see it, the biggest change was in the level
of competition faced by the Wildcats. During that 10-game
skid against real opponents, Arizona faced teams ranked in
the top fourteen six times. They lost to four top-10
foes.

The loss at Oregon State was the capper, and with a bye
week on the horizon, the U of A powers-that-be thought it
was time for a change.

But what team would have fared well against the
treacherous schedule that the Wildcats faced?

The truth is, the Wildcats weren’t as good as some
believed last October when they sat at 7-1 and were ranked
15th in the country. And they’re not nearly as bad as
their 1-5 start–the same one that necessitated the
coaching change in athletic director Greg Byrne’s eyes.

The Wildcats are an average football team that fell victim
to a brutal stretch of schedule that stretched from
November of 2010 into October of 2011.

You can point to the shoddy defense Arizona played during
the streak. I’ll point to the competition they played.

You can point to the slow starts by U of A in each loss
during the streak–they were outscored 103-24 in the first
quarter during the 10 losses. I’ll point back at the
schedule.

You can point to the fact that Stoops wasn’t there on
Thursday and the team responded with a Herculean 1st half
effort. And for the third time, I’ll point to the
competition. Rick Neuheisel may be available to join
Stoops on the golf course at any moment, if you know what
I mean. The Bruins very much resembled a team going
through the motions in Tucson on Thursday night.

There is optimism down South because change is on the
horizon, and there’s mystery in whom Byrne will pick to
take over the program. But to me, without knowing who the
next coach will be in the Old Pueblo, this smacks of
change for the sake of change.

In the end, will things really change at all?