Arizona's Mark Stoops A Good Pick To Lead Florida State Defensively

Michael McGuffeeCorrespondent IDecember 14, 2009

Jimbo Fisher has made his first crucial decision as Florida State’s head football coach, and on paper, it looks like a good one.

Fisher has selected Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to be Mickey Andrews’ successor at Florida State, and Seminole fans should be pleased to have him.

For starters, Stoops’ specialty just so happens to be defensive backs.

Florida State’s struggles in the secondary were well documented and routinely exploited in 2009, and there’s no doubt it was an area of concern for Fisher moving forward.

Stoops played defensive back at Iowa from 1986 to 1988, and landed his first collegiate coaching position in 1996 under Jim Leavitt at South Florida. Stoops coached defensive backs for one year at South Florida before beginning a three-year stint as the defensive backs coach at Wyoming.

But it was his work as the defensive backs coach at Miami from 2001 to 2003 that really put Stoops on the map.

At Miami, Stoops was credited for developing several first-round NFL draft picks, including safeties Sean Taylor and Ed Reed, as well as cornerbacks Antrel Rolle, Phillip Buchanon, and Mike Rumph. 

Miami’s 2001 national championship team, which led the nation in scoring defense, featured a Stoops-coached secondary that set a school record with 27 interceptions.

In 2002, Stoops showed his coaching prowess when he replaced all four starters in the secondary, and his unit still led the nation in passing defense, allowing just 120 yards per game and 9.5 yards per completion.

Following his successful run at Miami, Stoops was hired at Arizona and has spent the last six seasons as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator. This season, Arizona’s defense ranked second in the Pac-10 and 21st in the country in total defense.

Comparatively, Florida State finished the regular season ranked 110th in total defense.

Under Stoops, Arizona also ranked 12th in the country in sacks with 34 in 2009, while Florida State’s once dominant pass rush ranked 75th nationally.

The Wildcats trail only seventh-ranked Oregon in the Pac-10 standings this season, and while many arguments could be made about the strength of the conference, there’s no denying that Stoops has faced his share of quality offenses over the past six seasons, and he will bring that experience to Florida State.

Considered to be a great evaluator and developer of talent, Stoops is also known to be an effective strategist when it comes to defensive game-planning, and has shown a knack for getting the most out of his players and getting them to play team defense.

Arizona did not have a single defensive player named to the All Pac-10 team this season, yet the unit was the second best defense in the conference and has ranked in the top 25 nationally in each of the last two seasons.

Despite the Seminoles’ poor performance defensively in 2009, Stoops will have more than a fair amount of young talent to work with next season, and it will be interesting to see what Stoops can do with the athletes at Florida State and the many more available to him in the Southeast’s talent-rich recruiting networks. 

Fisher has hit the recruiting trail hard since Bobby Bowden announced he will not return to coach the team in 2010, and with one of the nation’s most storied football program’s getting a fresh start, talented recruits across the country seem to be listening.

The Seminoles have notched six verbal commitments since Bowden’s retirement, including two five-star prospects on the defensive side of the ball, and Stoops will have an opportunity to lure more promising prospects himself.

Stoops’ emphasis on physical play should also bode well for Florida State, as the team has lacked a physical presence—particularly in the secondary—for the last several seasons.

That said, the task of translating a good recruiting class and the talent FSU does have into production on defense next season will not be an easy one.

In addition to patching up a young secondary, the 42-year-old defensive coordinator inherits a linebacker corps that was hesitant and out of position for much of the season, and an inexperienced defensive line that generated little to no pass-rush.

While Florida State hopes to add a few new pieces with a strong 2010 recruiting class, the defense’s success next season will sit almost entirely on Stoops’ shoulders. 

But given his experience, the skill set Stoops brings to the table, and the success he has had at Arizona and Miami, it seems Fisher has found someone more than capable of living up to the challenge.

So sit back and relax, Seminole fans. For the first time in 26 years, your defense is about to get a face lift.

Not that it didn’t look good before… it’s just the last few seasons were starting to look pretty wrinkly. 


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