Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.


Mike Stoops grabbed a carry-out sack of sandwiches for the flight home, took a few steps down a corridor at Gill Coliseum and dropped the sack, splat, onto the cement floor. Of course he did.

This is a season in which Arizona's football coach has become the living embodiment of Murphy's Law.

If anything can go wrong, it will. It has. In fact, it hasn't stopped.

And it will go wrong at the most inopportune time.

And it will be your fault, and everyone will know it.

By the time Stoops' sandwiches hit the floor Saturday afternoon, Arizona's football season ceased to exist in the customary way people observe a college football team. The last half of Arizona's schedule now becomes a vigil, a stakeout, really, with coldblooded fans waiting for the ax to fall.

The attention turns not to UCLA or Arizona State, but to director of athletics Greg Byrne, whose duty is perceived to be that of delivering Stoops' job, or that of special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt, to the angry masses.

Hallelujah for the business of college football.

There were but six people in a Gill Coliseum interrogation room Saturday when Stoops entered after his team lost 37-27 to Oregon State. One of them, sitting on the back row, was Byrne.

Stoops began by laughing at the scene. A small chair was placed behind a desk on a raised platform. It was a cold and uninviting place that you might expect to see a warden announce there had been no phone call from the governor.

"I gotta laugh at something," Stoops said.

It is now Stoops who waits for that call.

Before he was hired in 2004, no Arizona coach had ever survived a 1-5 start.

Jim LaRue, in his eighth season, opened 1-5 in 1966 and was fired.

John Mackovic, in his third season, opened 1-4 in 2003 and was fired a week before the club went 1-5.

Ed Doherty, in his second season, opened 1-5 in 1958 and agreed to leave the premises at season's end.

Stoops isn't really 1-5, not in the public's mind. He is essentially 0-10, losing every game to BCS schools dating to Oct. 30, 2010. Who survives that any more?

Byrne intercepted Stoops in the corridor after Saturday's press briefing, chatted privately for a few moments, and walked off, alone with his thoughts. Game plans no longer matter this season; Byrne's decision has become The Season.

Byrne spoke loudly over the winter when he chose not to extend Stoops' contract, the effect of which was to make this an all-of-nothing season for Arizona's coach. In modern college football, a coach with a mere two years left on his contract (2012, 2013) cannot recruit with any authority.

This is the reality: Either Stoops' contract must be extended or he will be rendered ineffective.

In Saturday's blizzard of flubbed kicks, botched punts other assorted goof-ups, the enduring snapshot of Stoops came not after Arizona blew a pair of fourth quarter goal-line situations - one on offense, the other on defense - but in the dawn of his team's ineptness, after Oregon State had taken a 7-0 lead.

Stoops was so upset at linebackers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo that he grabbed a greaseboard, sat on the bench between his two linebackers and animatedly began diagramming plays.

Shouldn't that have been done Tuesday by the linebackers coach?

After the game, Stoops had a bewildered expression when asked about the failures of his kicking game.

"Those things should be pretty manageable for a major university, don't you think?"

It's one thing to lose to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl or to get blown away by a vintage Stanford team whose quarterback is playing at an altogether higher level than those on even the major university teams. It's another to assist a winless Oregon State team, the worst club at that school since the mid-1990s, to a 30-6 lead.

"It's gotten to the point it's ridiculous," said Stoops.

Other defining words he tossed out: "Abysmal" and "atrocious."

Junior safety Adam Hall, who was the best player on the field for Arizona on Saturday, understands there will be more unkind words to follow.

"I'm sure we'll hear about it, from the media, from the fans and the people in Tucson," he said. "But a lot of people still have to grow up. We're still developing a lot of players. It's coming."

Patience, however, is the first casualty of modern college football..

Fans don't care that the UA's offensive and defensive lines are unusually young and inexperienced and can't sack an opposing QB, or protect its own very well. Fans understand this: The Beavers aren't very good and Arizona is worse.

Asked how he felt about potential unrest in the Tucson community, Stoops was on point.

"I can't do anything about that," he said. "Shoot, I've tried my hardest. I worked my ass off all week, really worked hard with the secondary guys. It is what it is. You get what you deserve in this profession, win, lose or draw. We have no one to blame but ourselves."

So the suspense thickens. Is it too late to save Arizona's season? Stoops' job? Will fans boycott Arizona Stadium for the final three games? Can Byrne afford to buy out his coaching staff? Will Nick Foles ride to the rescue?

"There will be a flip side to this eventually," Stoops said. "It's just hard to see right now as you go through this."

Hard to see? After losing at Oregon State, it's a blind man lost in a dust storm.