Dear Mr. Football: Why didn't Mike Stoops recruit better?
A: After beating Wazzu in November 2009, Arizona moved to 4-1 in the Pac-10 and 6-2 overall and was swinging for the fences. In the audience that night was Corona (Calif.) High School running back Jordan James, a four-star recruit who had visited Notre Dame and UCLA but had been turned on to Arizona because his coach, John Brandom, was a standout offensive lineman at Arizona in 1986-89.
The UA told James he was the only running back they were recruiting that year. His mother, Tania, joined him for the visit. It was an impressive weekend with matchless weather at a program that seemed to be on the brink of Big Time Football.
On Sunday morning, the UA catered brunch at the Jimenez Practice Facility, with table cloths, trendy music and smiles on everyone's faces. The wives and children of the UA coaching staff attended. During the brunch, it was announced that Arizona climbed to No. 18 in that week's AP Top 25. It was the type of atmosphere that would get a young star to choose Arizona over UCLA.
When UA assistant coaches finished their greet-and-eat responsibilities, Tania James sat alone at a table. It was the cue for Stoops to take a seat and close the deal. Instead, he left the facility without talking to her. A few days later, James committed to play for the Bruins.
Mike Stoops is not a social animal. Periodically, when recruits were taken to McMahon's Steakhouse for dinner, he would watch football on TV and fail to mix with recruits and their parents. He was an X's and O's guy, often uncomfortable in the requisite social duties of a college football head coach in 2011. It wasn't the only thing that cost him his job, but it was near the top of the list.
Dear Mr. Football: If Stoops had so many negative variables, such as a quick-trigger temper and a reluctance to deal with outside agencies, why did he attract so many capable assistants?
A: His office hours were legendary in a business often given over to ridiculously long days, usually from 8:30 a.m. to maybe 9 p.m., during the season, with liberal lunch breaks. Many other staffs go from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., eating lunch at their desk. Stoops commendably eschewed 18-hour workdays so that coaches could be with their families and drive their kids to school.
Here's an example: Special teams coach Joe Robinson, who has a strong reputation in the industry, left Arizona in 2007 for a hefty raise and a chance to win a national championship at LSU. Besides, it is his alma mater.
But when Robinson got to LSU, he discovered that Les Miles expected his coaches at the office at 6:30 a.m. and to burn the midnight oil, even during spring practice. Robinson, who has three young daughters, wasn't driving them to school much in Baton Rouge, La.
He quietly resigned at work-driven LSU last winter, leaving home and the nation's No. 1 team to join what has turned out to be a sinking ship at North Carolina.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Otterbein University the new "Cradle of Coaches?"
A: It is tonight. All roads (and all defensive coordinators) at Arizona Stadium tonight run through Westerville, Ohio, home of the Otterbein Cardinals.
UA interim coach and defensive coordinator Tim Kish played for Otterbein from 1973 to 1976. UCLA defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was Otterbein's defensive coordinator in 1995. What are the odds?
Dear Mr. Football: Is Rick Neuheisel a Hall of Fame coach?
A: To qualify for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, a coach must have won 60 percent of his games. Neuheisel is at .608 (and dropping). It's an unfortunate requirement that keeps those who dared to take on Pac-10 reconstruction jobs out of the Hall of Fame: Oregon's Rich Brooks, .448 all-time; Arizona's Larry Smith, .531; and Wazzu's Mike Price, .503.
It's more likely that Neuheisel will become the 33nd Pac-10/12 coach to be fired or asked to resign. Here's a trivia question you will probably miss: What is the only Pac-12 school not to fire its football coach since the league expanded in 1978?
The Oregon Ducks.
Dear Mr. Football: Why was UA director of athletics Greg Byrne at the Denver airport Wednesday?
A: Byrne is a step ahead of those bloggers and assorted rumor-chasers who will attempt to follow his movements until he hires a new football coach. His lips are sealed. If anyone tells you Chris Petersen or Mike Leach is the top choice to replace Stoops, it's a pure guess.
Byrne told me that he won't even give that information to his wife, Regina, and that if any coach he talks to leaks the information, he will be eliminated. "If it gets out at all," Byrne said, "he will no longer be a candidate. I'm committed to that."
When Byrne was hiring a football coach at Mississippi State three years, he went underground to interview former North Alabama coach Mark Hudspeth in Tupelo, Miss., which is halfway to nowhere.
Moreover, Byrne took such caution in hiring a swimming coach that he met Wisconsin coach (and now UA coach) Eric Hansen, in a Phoenix hotel, even though that search had little public interest.
But sometimes it's overkill. If, say, former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez walked into McKale Center for Saturday's Red and Blue basketball game, it's entirely possible that not a single person of the 14,000 in attendance would recognize him.
Dear Mr. Football: Is tonight's game the worst Thursday night matchup in ESPN history?
A: Over the last five years, only a 2008 Thursday nighter, Clemson vs. Wake Forest, might've been worse. Wake Forest won a snooze-fest 12-7, and Clemson fired head coach Tommy Bowden after the game.
Neuheisel is tonight's story line. The possibility of a coach being fired is irresistible to TV producers and to football viewers.
In the Neuheisel vs. Kish showdown, the soft-spoken Kish is a 2,000-word underdog.
A better story would be the career assistant from Otterbein (with a crew cut) knocking off the overhyped and overblown Neuheisel.
Arizona 30, UCLA 13.