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Super Bowl LII: Stoops' Arizona products take center stage

By
Anthony Gimino, The Sports Xchange
Former Arizona football coach Mike Stoops speaks during the FOX Sports/PAC-10 Conference in 2010. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Former Arizona football coach Mike Stoops speaks during the FOX Sports/PAC-10 Conference in 2010. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Mike Stoops' one stop as a head coach -- at Arizona from 2004 to halfway through the 2011 season -- wasn't all that remarkable.

But it keeps making news.

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Two of his best players from the Wildcats -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles -- are front and center of Sunday's Super Bowl LII matchup.

Gronk is, hands down, the best pro to come from Arizona. Foles is the singular NFL bright spot in Arizona's lousy history of producing quarterbacks. The list of Arizona quarterbacks who have thrown a pass in the NFL since late in the 1973 season begins and ends with Foles. That's right. He's the only one.

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Foles and Gronkowski crossed paths for one season with the Wildcats -- 2009 -- but UA fans still lament that the two stars never connected on even one reception.

Foles, as a sophomore transfer from Michigan State, took over the starting job four games into the season, but Gronk sat out his junior season because of a back injury. If not for a double-overtime home loss to eventual Pac-10 champ Oregon, Arizona might have gone to its first Rose Bowl. Easy to see where Gronkowski would have made a difference.

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But look at them now. Behind Tom Brady, Foles and Gronkowski -- having been cleared from concussion protocol Thursday -- are the two best bets to be the Super Bowl MVP. As a little bonus, Stoops also recruited New England linebacker Marquis Flowers to Arizona.

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So, Stoops has that going for him in a head coaching career that produced a 41-50 record and three bowl appearances in 7 1/2 years before being fired. He then went back to being Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, first for his brother Bob and then for Lincoln Riley last season.

There is also this:

Mike Stoops' coaching tree is alive and absolutely thriving.

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With Tuesday's announcement that Frank Scelfo -- he was Foles' position coach for two of the player's three seasons at Arizona -- is the new head coach at FCS school Southeastern Louisiana, Stoops has six former assistants who are head coaches in college.

Five have jobs in the FBS. They are:

--His younger brother, Mark Stoops, at Kentucky.

--Sonny Dykes, the former head coach at Cal who was hired by SMU after last season.

--Seth Littrell, an Air Raid disciple who just went 9-5 in his second season at North Texas.

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--Dana Dimel, the new head coach at UTEP (and Gronk's position coach at Arizona).

--Josh Heupel, who replaced Scott Frost at undefeated Central Florida after last season. Heupel's first full-time coaching job was under Stoops in 2005, working with the tight ends.

That doesn't include Eric Wolford, who was Stoops' initial offensive line coach at Arizona. Wolford went on to be head coach at Youngstown State from 2010 to 2014.

None of this is exactly Nick Saban's coaching tree, but it's still surprising and definitely to Stoops' credit.

More than six years after Stoops was fired, his legacy is only growing. The previous Arizona head coach, John Mackovic, had steered the Wildcats into a ditch in a little more than two seasons with his hands on the wheel.

"I'm proud of the 7 1/2 years that I had there just because we didn't have much at Arizona at the time," Stoops told Wildcat Country on 1580 The Fanatic in Phoenix last week. "We didn't even have a football facility. ... That's what people really don't know, just the obstacles we had to overcome."

Stoops fizzled at the end of his Arizona tenure. His sideline antics rankled school administrators, his overall recruiting wasn't quite up to par, and he dropped 10 consecutive games to FBS programs before being fired midway through the 2011 season.

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But he did at least pull Arizona up from the bottom to a point where it could launch into something better. That football facility he mentioned was completed under the watch of Rich Rodriguez, who was fired in early January.

Now, the job falls to Kevin Sumlin, who wants to at least duplicate part of Stoops' improving legacy -- get the next Gronk and the next Foles.

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