Mark Stoops has been busy hiring assistants, wooing recruits and setting up his operation as the new head football coach at Kentucky. We won’t know for another nine months or so if his hard work will pay off.
But according to a former college teammate, it’s only a matter of time before the Nation recognizes Stoops as a winner.
“Mark was one of my closest friends during my five years at Iowa,” said Chuck Hartlieb, a Hawkeyes quarterback from 1984-88. “I thought the world of him and his family. It was a treat to get to know him.”
Hartlieb joined us on a recent broadcast of the “Big Blue Insider” radio show on 630 WLAP-AM. He admitted to being biased, but he said he believes Stoops’ resume’ speaks for itself – along with his bloodlines.
“Think about what he’s accomplished over a 20-year period even, though he’s young,” Hartlieb said. “I think his Youngstown background really says a lot about what type of competitor and intense coach he’s going to be. People who have followed the Stoops (family) over the past 10 years understand that and I like that part of him.”
Hartlieb knows three Stoops brothers. Bob, now the Oklahoma head coach, played at Iowa and was on the coaching staff when Hartlieb was playing. Mike, currently defensive coordinator at OU and formerly head coach at Arizona, was Hartlieb’s teammate for a season before becoming a Hawkeyes assistant.
And even though Mark played on the other side of the football at strong safety, he and Hartlieb hit it off during the three years they were teammates in Iowa City. All three Stoops brothers, he said, are intensely competitive.
“If we played basketball, cards, on the football field, everybody wanted to win - and nobody wanted to win worse than the Stoopses,” he said.
“It’s a different definition of intensity. You’ve got to understand that it’s really what’s in their heart. They’re feisty. It’s not that they’re trying to go overboard. They’re just trying to win every single game. They expect the best out of themselves and they expect the best out of everybody around them.”
It’s a trait they inherited from their football-coaching father, and then nurtured as they matriculated under some of the best football minds in the game.
The Stoops brothers played and coached under Hayden Fry, who also counts among his former assistants former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, who built the Badgers into a Big 10 power; Bill Snyder, the architect of the unbelievable run of success by Kansas State; current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz; and Dan McCarney, who took Iowa State to five bowl games. Perhaps the most successful of the ex-Iowa assistants was Bob Stoops himself, who won a national title at Oklahoma.
“I was around a lot of great coaches during those five years,” Hartlieb said. “The Stoopses were the most intense on the field and wanted to win in the worst way, and that will play a large role” in Mark’s tenure at UK.
So will his recruiting prowess, with skills honed by working at different jobs all over the country. Thanks to his success at Florida State, Mark has taken his place alongside brothers Bob and Mike as a strong architect of a college football defense.
“Those three are three are probably three of the top five defensive names, from a knowledge standpoint, in the country today,” Hartlieb said. “(Mark) told me continually over the last 10 years the number of NFL and NCAA offers he had to be a defensive coordinator, but he just didn’t want to move that much. He was waiting for the right time. After Florida State, he thought head coach would be the next opportunity for him.”
And it is, in Lexington, where job one is cultivating more talent.
“He’ll recruit his rear off,” his ex-teammate said. “He knows defensive football and I’m sure he knows a great offensive coordinator to bring in.” A few days after our conversation, Stoops hired Neal Brown as his OC.
“I think it’s a great blueprint,” said Hartlieb. “I think your AD has done a great job.”
ENERGY TO SPARE
During the interview, I told Hartlieb that a reporter who covers Florida State told me Mark Stoops had a manager assigned to keep an eye on him if he got too worked up, and to forcibly pull him off the field if need be. Hartlieb laughed, but didn’t sound surprised.
“I’d be the first to say that all three of them needs to settle down sometimes and be more even-keeled, but it’s just the personality that they bring,” he said. “And I think maybe in a situation like Kentucky, maybe you need that kind of spark; maybe a little different angle on it that attracts more attention, increases the enthusiasm and motivates the player more.”
For all his passion, Mark Stoops will be only as good as the staff he builds, and Hartlieb know that. And he believes his buddy will excel when it comes to hiring as well.
“If you know the Stoopses, they’re real people,” he said. “They get along with people well, everybody enjoys being around them. I’m sure he has networked well.”
OUT IN FRONT
For all the years he’s been in college football, Mark Stoops has been an assistant coach. Now, he’s the face of a program – the ambassador, if you will, of Kentucky football. Can he handle it?
“That’s a great question,” Hartlieb said. “I would say he’s not going to be the smoothest speaker in the world. He wouldn’t want to be. I wouldn’t want him to be. He’s more of an intense, ‘Let’s get after it’ kind of guy.
“Again, I’m talking from 10 or 20 years ago. He probably has plenty of charisma now. But I don’t think he’s gonna do all vanilla. He’ll do more personality, more cutting edge, and be more raw than the typical head coach. That’s the Youngstown personality. You’re never going to change that in the three Stoops (brothers). Kentucky fans are going to appreciate it, because it’ll separate them from other programs.”
So would winning. And Hartlieb is hoping to witness that, at least occasionally, first-hand.
“He wants me to come to Lexington and catch a game,” he said. “I’m going to try to do that.”
Perhaps he’ll see a Kentucky manager pulling the head coach off the field during the closing seconds of a victory. It wouldn’t surprise Chuck Hartlieb one bit.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 24th year with the UK TV and radio network, and can be heard each Monday-Friday hosting the “Big Blue Insider” from 6-8 p.m. on 630 WLAP-AM, wlap.com and I Heart Radio.)