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Mike Stoops Q&A
OU's defensive coordinator talks about upcoming season

When Mike Stoops arrived back in Norman last season after an 8-year stay at Arizona, he was well-aware that sleep deprivation is common among Big 12 defensive coordinators, who lay awake at night trying to figure out ways to stop all of the high-powered offenses terrorizing the conference these days

As he prepares for his second season in his second stint as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator, Stoops knows he and his fellow staffers have their work cut out for them this fall. They will need across-the-board improvements if they expect to improve on their stats from 2012 — when they surrendered 26 points and almost 400 total yards a contest, while forcing only 16 turnovers in 13 games.

Since his return, Stoops has spent a lot of time preaching to his defense about playing more aggressively up front and in the secondary, about making plays and being more opportunistic. OU is exploring some potential changes in schemes, and Stoops and new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery spent the spring looking for players ready to step up and be difference-makers.
Sooner Spectator caught up with Coach Stoops recently between recruiting trips and asked him about a number of different aspects of his defense, including expectations for 2013.

Sooner Spectator: What was the biggest challenge you faced last season in your return to Oklahoma after having been gone for eight years?
Mike Stoops: Basically, getting used to all of the changes, becoming familiar with all of your players and their abilities, and also becoming familiar again with all of your opponents in this league. I think it takes a season to really understand the concepts and how different teams try to attack each situation and critical situations. Trying to get a book on new opponents is always a priority and important to your success. So we spent a lot of time last season studying opposing offenses and what their strategies are in every situation.

SS: Did you feel there was more pressure on you last season because fans expected you to come in and have a ton of immediate success?
Stoops: There is always going to be a certain amount of pressure that comes with a job like this one. Certainly, you understand that. But there is a process to everything and we’ve been a little bit in transition in some areas, still learning our players and establishing a foundation for what we want to do. There is always going to be pressure to have success, no matter what the situation is. That’s just part of this business, especially at a place like Oklahoma where you are expected to put a quality product on the field every time you step out there.
Our whole deal was getting the players to buy into what we needed to do to get better — helping them understand what it takes to be the type of defense we need to be to have success in this league. Yes, the pressure is there but it is not something you focus on.

SS: Everyone seems to have a solution to what OU needs to be better defensively. Some say it’s a simple matter of bringing in better players. Maybe it’s more about what you mentioned before — getting players to buy into the system and the program?
Stoops: Honestly, I think we just need to develop our players better. I think we need to coach them and develop them and instill a stronger mindset in each of them. A lot of it is about attitude and mental toughness, and those are areas we have to be stronger in as well. If we do all of those things, I believe we have all of the components to be a top-level defense in this league. I believe that. Our players have to continue to develop and gain confidence as we go. We have a lot of younger talented players who are still trying to find their way and we are counting on them to make that leap forward this season. If all of our guys continue to grow and develop like we believe they will, we are going to feel very good about the 11 guys we put out there come the end of August.

SS: Coming out of spring drills, did you feel the defense made some of those strides you just mentioned?
Stoops: I think we made some improvements schematically trying to incorporate what we did a year ago to some of the tweaks we’re making as we go forward. We feel comfortable with our identity and with a number of the players who we feel like we can count on. We are confident in the direction we are going and I believe our players understand it better and better and are excited about possibilities. Hopefully, all of that will lead to us playing at a higher, more consistent level. I thought there were times last season when we played really well — but obviously down the stretch, we didn’t. I believe we fell from the No. 1 defense in the league to No. 4 or something like that.

SS: You’ve been in the coaching business for close to 25 years. At this point in your career, are you still learning and developing as a coach and IN what you bring to the program?
Stoops: It’s continuous process, just like so many things in life. As a coach, I am always learning and looking to find ways to improve what I do and to improve what we do on the field as a team. You’ve always got your fundamentals to build around, but with offenses continuing to develop and go in different directions, you basically have to try to stay one step ahead. That requires you to continually grow as a coach and adjust how you teach the game and develop your players. If you don’t keep up with everything going on around you in the game, you are obviously going to fall behind.

SS: You obviously still have a lot of passion for the game. After being in the business for so long, where does that come from?
Stoops: For me, it’s just the competitive nature of who I am. I’ve always expected nothing less than the best from myself and from my players. That’s what this game is all about — developing and preparing yourself and putting yourself in the absolute best position to be successful. It’s something I take a lot of pride in. If your players play hard, play smart and give you everything they’ve got, I believe you’re always OK with it at the end of the day. Occasionally, you don’t get a great effort or you are hurt by mental mistakes, that’s the hard part for coaches. We all put a lot of time and energy into what we do — and then seeing how hard we compete on Saturdays is the payoff. It’s what I enjoy most.

SS: Is it fun for you to be back at OU and have the opportunity to work alongside your brother Bob again?
Stoops: It’s always fun to share the passion and all the work we put into something together week in and week out. To be a part of the same team and to share the same goals, that’s something you cherish as brothers. Certainly, there is no one you trust more than your brother, so to have the opportunity to build a program together and experience the highs and lows together with Bob — that’s a pretty unique opportunity that we both feel fortunate about.

SS: How tough is it coaching defense in a league like the Big 12 where all of the offenses are up-tempo and no-huddle and looking to put up a lot of points in a hurry?
Stoops: It’s challenging, but I like it. Winning is what we are ultimately here trying to do and I feel statistics can be a little misleading in this league. We are all about playing well and being assignment sound and having a good approach for every game. Of course, no one likes giving up a ton of yardage. There were a few times last season when we did not put our players in the best situation. I take full responsibility for that, along with our defensive staff. You are going to get challenged week in and week out in this league and you have to make the proper adjustments and be sound in what you do defensively to be successful. To play a great defensive game in this league really means something, and that’s what we are striving for every week.

(Editor's Note: This interview appears in the 2013 Football Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)