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Success of Mark Stoops, Sonny Dykes hints at Mike Stoops' biggest mistake

Former Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was hired to head the Kentucky Wildcats, and former offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes is a hot name for bigger gigs himself. Their departure from Arizona doomed former head coach Mike Stoops.

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Ultimately, Mike Stoops' biggest flaw might have been loyalty.

The former Arizona Wildcats head coach can point to poor facilities, his slippage of recruiting or his supposed absence as part of the Tucson community for the reasons he was let go. Yet, the downfall of the Mike Stoops tenure -- after he was given ample time to build a program -- came after he had already built said program.

In a two month span from December 2009 to January 2010, the Wildcats saw then-defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and then-offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes leave for better opportunities. Now, each continues to rise in reputation. Mark Stoops was hired as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday, and Sonny Dykes is a hot name for openings across the nation.

Looking back, it wasn't their departures that doomed Arizona. It was Mike Stoops' reaction that led to failure.

Where he may not have been the most well-built character for a head coaching position, Stoops handled himself well early on in Tucson. He brought in Mark, who was coaching defensive backs at Miami, as an up-and-coming defensive mind. He made the good decision of replacing Mike Canales' struggling pro-style offense with then-Texas Tech co-offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.

Good moves led to good things. Arizona earned the first bowl invite in 10 seasons in 2008. In the next few years, the Wildcats would find themselves in solid bowl games -- flops didn't look good, especially on the coaching side of things, but hey, they got there.

The second half of the 2010 season was the first sign that Stoops' loyalty of hiring from within would doom his own career with the Wildcats.

Whereas the talents of Dykes and Mark Stoops would often come through in both playcalling (Nic Grigsby's 50-yard dash on a third-and-very-long draw play in 2009 to beat Stanford stands out) and in identity (the hard-hitting, no-name safeties who played like the Stoops brothers during their Iowa days), replacements of co-coordinators after their departures resulted in a considerable drop-off on both sides of the ball. After a seemingly program-changing 7-1 start in 2010, Arizona fell in the final five games of the year. Nothing changed in 2011, and that was that for Stoops.

Was it the sinking of a ship? Or was it the captain jumping overboard too soon?

Rich Rodriguez's first year at the helm proved that, while there are definitely big holes in the roster and filled holes in the culture of winning, the talent is good enough to win in today's Pac-12.

Had Mike Stoops looked to replace his brother and Dykes with younger bright minds in the college football world, Rodriguez very well could be sitting in his CBS booth -- or taking a job at, say, Tennessee this year.

Perhaps Stoops just wasn't cut out to lead a program. Maybe he got more out of the game when he could throw his face into a playbook, sit in the film room and teach his specialty.

Whatever the case, this much is certain: the formula for winning in college football goes beyond the head coach's control. One storyline out of Boulder, Colo., Monday after Jon Embree's firing was that six of his assistants offered to resign if it'd help Embree keep his job. While that is a story of compassion, it's also of note that coordinator positions hold that much weight in college football, at least enough for those coaches to believe that such an offer would make a difference.

At Arizona a few years back, Mike Stoops didn't realize that. Though it's hard to say he could have replaced the minds of his brother and Dykes with comparable coaches is difficult, it's a wonder why he didn't try.

Maybe the Livengood administration financially couldn't take the burden.

Or maybe after Mark and Sonny took other jobs, he was too loyal toward his young coordinators to hire big names from outside the program.