For seven years at Arizona, Mike Stoops has been a solo act. He did all the on-the-record talking, got all the meaningful TV time and became the face and voice of a Pac-10 football franchise.
The school pushed him onto the stage and went about its business.
Isn't that what head football coaches do?
Bit by bit, it became clear that Stoops was a man with a terrific sense of defensive X's and O's, a man who smartly approved implementation of the Texas Tech offensive system, and a hard-bitten disciplinarian whose word is law among the 85 young men he puts on scholarship.
You can win a lot of football games and sell a lot of tickets with those positive variables. The Wildcats sold 390,586 tickets in 2010, and they've won 23 games in three seasons. The head coach is doing something right.
One thing that doesn't come naturally to Stoops is rolling solo, standing before a Rotary Club and telling funny stories. He does not command a press conference the way, say, Sean Miller and Mike Candrea do, and the old administration rarely stepped in to deter him - forbid him, even - from imploding on the sidelines with millions of TV-viewing Americans wondering why Arizona's football coach always seems so angry.
My brother-in-law is visiting Tucson this week and I asked him what he thought of UA football.
"Your coach is a maniac," he said.
A week ago, first-year UA director of athletics Greg Byrne sent a weekly e-mail dispatch to thousands of constituents with this revelation: He had discussed "representation of the program" with Stoops.
On numerous occasions in the 2010 football season, Byrne met with Stoops and discussed the coach's sideline demeanor. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes the coach slipped. Unfortunately, Stoops' sideline behavior had already become his identity, and that of Arizona's football program.
It has covered up much good work.
Tuesday morning, about 12 hours after the last snap of the 2010 season, the UA athletic administration made the first play of the 2011 season a winning one: Byrne accompanied Stoops to a sometimes sensitive press session as the coach acknowledged there is more to the coming season than an early four-game gauntlet against Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC.
"If I have to change, I will," said Stoops. "I will not change my pursuit of perfection, or my methods, but hopefully I will control it more."
Jim Livengood's administration enabled Stoops to light up the back judges and head linesmen of the Pac-10 because it never insisted he CUT IT OUT RIGHT NOW. And although Stoops on Tuesday said he has never received a reprimand from the Pac-10, it became part of the chatter in every press box in the league.
A year ago, taking the press box elevator to the field at Oregon State's Reser Stadium, I listened as Beavers play-by-play man Mike Parker ranted about Stoops' behavior and how it disrupted the game's flow of events.
But because the Wildcats stunned the Beavers that day, winning 37-32, it was brushed aside in Tucson. As Stoops said Tuesday, with Byrne sitting somewhat awkwardly at his side, you can turn on a college basketball game and see Duke's Mike Krzyzewski stomping up a storm.
Good move; comparing one's self to Coach K never hurts.
"That's not really who I am," said Stoops. "People see all of the bad; they don't ever see the good, and that's not necessarily fair."
Given Byrnes' insistence on a better public image of his athletic department, and especially its football program, I suspect Stoops will be able to rebuild and repair his image in 2011.
"We're working together," Byrne said. "I'm a big believer that communication will make it better for all involved."
Byrne crafted Tuesday's media presentation to put UA football in a much better light than the darkness enveloping it after a crushing 0-5 finish to the 2010 season. It was the type of public relations work that wasn't part of Livengood's old-school methods, and it was probably better than any $50,000 advertising campaign.
Think about it: In about 45 minutes Tuesday, Stoops had the full attention of Tucson's print and electronic media at which he disclosed that the team's best player, Juron Criner, would return for his senior season; that among the five midseason recruiting signees is a highly regarded quarterback and a much-needed punter; that a 5,356-square-foot HD scoreboard, the biggest of its kind in Pac-10 football, is expected to be in place for the '11 opener; and that a high-profile offensive guru, Robert Anae, late of BYU, has been hired to reboot a feeble running game.
By the time the TV lights went dim, Stoops and his boss were smiling. You'd have thought Arizona had won the Alamo Bowl.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org