Like all living things not constructed entirely out of sinew and scales, Mike Stoops and his exuberant hair have deteriorated in the desert. "Free" Bruce Feldman hollered first last night with the news, I believe, and an official school release followed announcing that Stoops was out at Arizona, marking the second in-season coach-canning of 2011. The Arizona athletic department remembered the good times first:
He was able to re-establish respectability to a program that had slid to the bottom of the Pac-10 Conference before his arrival with a program-low 2-10 record in 2003.
... before getting to the "why he has to get gone, pronto" portion of the festivities:
Arizona currently is 1-5 in 2011 and 0-4 for last place in the Pac-12 South division. The Cats lost, 37-27, at Oregon State last Saturday, their eighth consecutive league loss. The Wildcats have lost 10 consecutive games against FBS opponents, winning their season opener against Northern Arizona this year and last beating a FBS team (UCLA) on Oct. 30, 2010.
The good news, such as it is: The Wildcats have a significant chance to double that win total a week from Thursday with another win against UCLA! And since the remains of a heavily front-loaded schedule have Arizona playing Utah, Colorado and Sun Belt neo-power Louisiana to wrap the season, there'll be a lazy case to be made in December, beholding a five-win program introducing a new skipper, that firing Stoops hit the reset button at precisely the right time.
If you want to lend extra weight to late wins over lesser teams, however, you've got to also look at the early losses to better teams in a kinder light. (And when they're bad, to be fair, they are very, very bad: Look at how many triple-digit rankings those first four losses piled up on the Wildcats' stat sheet.) Remember the inexperience of this Wildcats squad. Remember the attrition by injury. Remember a 2011 slate that sent 'Zona into the talent-laden lairs of Oklahoma State and USC and had the Cats play host to conference title frontrunners Stanford and Oregon, all in the first five weeks of the season. Vastly better-equipped teams than Arizona have lost and will lose to those schools before the season is out. Realistically, the Week 6 Oregon State loss is the only serious demerit on Stoops' record this year. This edition of Arizona is a hard-luck team in a bad situation.
AD Greg Byrne is not without his reasons here, and what initial local reactions to the move I've seen have been unsurprised and resolute. But are a crummy last half of 2010 and dismal start to 2011 reason enough? I remain skeptical, and I'm not alone. I've never been a fan of midseason firings, for some reason. Something about them smacks of casting an entire class of graduating seniors adrift in the name of getting a jump on all the hottest search firms and juiciest replacement candidates. Stoops lost his job under questionable circumstances, but appears publicly to be taking his ousting with good grace. And lest we forget, he's a Stoops. There will be a place for him next season, somewhere. The guy I'm feeling for this morning is Nick Foles, who couldn't be doing more to carry this team right now if Arizona asked him to step in for Stoops himself. Actually, I'm amazed that hasn't been considered.