Stoops' Gator legacy


With Bob Stoops as defensive coordinator, Florida went 32-5.

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Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 10:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 10:43 p.m.

They needed something.

They had been so close so many times. They had won championships but not the most coveted one.

They needed something.

They got fire.

“Man, he definitely brought that fire,” said former UF cornerback Fred Weary. “He was definitely what we needed. He brought the toughness we needed.”

He was Bobby Stoops. Now he is Bob Stoops. But back in the spring of 1996 when he coached in his first practice as Florida’s new defensive coordinator, he was the new guy.

Not for long.

“You knew by the way he carried himself things were going to be different,” said James Bates, the middle linebacker for the ‘96 national champion Gators. “We were hoping he’d be the missing piece. And in that first spring practice, we knew.”

While Florida was known for its offense under Steve Spurrier, the Gator defense was coming off a game in which it allowed 62 points to Nebraska. That Cornhuskers team may well have been the best ever in college football. It’s the best team I’ve ever seen.

But 62 points?

When Bobby Pruett left for Marshall after the Fiesta Bowl thumping, Spurrier turned to Stoops, the co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State. What he got was a strong-minded coach who helped Florida win a national title and produced one of the best defenses the school had seen two years later.

“Spurrier was known to push around defensive coordinators,” said Eli Williams. “But we saw it right away. He told Spurrier, ‘You don’t come here and tell me what to do with the defense.’ We’d never seen that.”

Williams was a running back on that national title team, but switched to cornerback for his senior season in ‘97. Under Stoops’ tutelage, Williams became a cornerback good enough to go on to the NFL and play for six seasons.

“If he wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have made it,” said Williams, now a high school coach at Orlando Oak Ridge. “You don’t find too many coaches who can do what he did. He didn’t even have me for a whole year. He had three months to get me ready for Tennessee and Peyton Manning.

“He’s a detail coach. It wasn’t just, ‘You do this.’ He taught us about the routes the receivers were running.”

Weary was another guy who was able to turn Stoops’ coaching into a long NFL career.

“When he came there, we were playing soft coverage,” Weary said. “I was playing 12 yards off and people thought I was playing safety. He brought that press technique. I got my doctorate in press coverage playing for him. I don’t think I’d have been as successful in the NFL if he didn’t come to Florida. My best thing when I got to the pros was my press coverage.”

Stoops brought an intensity to the Florida defense. Back when practices were open to the media, we’d often get a chuckle when Stoops was reaming out a player.

“One of the best things about him was his ability to connect with his players,” said Tony George, who played strong safety and cornerback on Stoops’ three Gator defenses. “He was just as intense as a coach as you were as a player. And he brought zone blitzing to a speed conference.

“The things he taught me have helped me in other parts of life.”

And now he is the head coach in the way of Florida’s third national title. While that is certainly a major storyline in the BCS National Championship Game, his former players aren’t surprised that their former coach has been so successful at Oklahoma.

“His business-like approach and his professionalism told you that he had the right blend of everything you look for in a good head coach,” Bates said. “He had a perfect little slice of everything. It was just a matter of time. Some guys can have a little too much fire. He has a controlled fire. Everybody could relate to his energy.”

In his three seasons at Florida, Stoops’ defenses limited opponents to 14 points or less 21 times. In ‘98, the Gators allowed only 13.8 points a game. With Stoops as defensive coordinator, Florida went 32-5.

And then he was gone, off to an Oklahoma program badly in need of a turnaround. Boy, did the Sooner Nation get it.

Oklahoma is 109-23 under Stoops and has won one national championship (at 13-0 in 2000) and five Big XII titles.

And he has maintained relationships not only with the guy he worked for — Spurrier is one of Stoops’ best friends — but with his former Gator players.

“Every year I go work his camp and go to dinner with him and his family,” said Williams. “There aren’t too many coaches of his status who will call you right back when you call him. He’s a good man.”

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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