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On Sale At Newstands Dec. 2, 2014!
Mike Stoops Q&A
OU's defensive coordinator talks football

Oklahoma’s defense was often feared during Mike Stoops’ first stint as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator. The veteran coach, who is entering his third season following his return to Norman, is again building a unit that has some bite to it.

The defense installed a 3-4 look last season. It was a learning process, but also one that seemed to peak in a season-ending Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama. So there are high expectations placed on the defense going into 2014 as it continues to build a reputation equal to the first few years of OU football under Bob Stoops.

Mike Stoops talked to Sooner Spectator about his expectations for the 2014 defense, the search for replacements for key players and much more:

Sooner Spectator: How do you think your current defense will handle the high expectations given this season?

Mike Stoops: I think this group embraces it. There are a lot of guys trying to get on the field. We’ve got a lot of depth. I think that’s what motivates us — to see how good we can be. I think we understand our defense much better than we did a year ago. It was a learning experience for all of us. Switching to a 3-4 was different for me personally, and a lot of our coaches. I think our coaches understand it a lot better. I think we’ve made some adjustments that can help our system even become better. I think we’re a bigger, longer, faster football team than we were at any time last year. Our size and our strength have grown. I think our D-ends really are much more physical to play the techniques that we do.

SS: Would you rather have a defense with three or four all-pro caliber players or a balanced group?

Stoops: I like the balance and that’s probably the group that we have. The balance from top to bottom. Each level of our defense, we feel comfortable from top to bottom with the quality of players. I like that part of what we have.

SS: What are you looking for out of the cornerback position?

Stoops: It’s the hardest position in our league to play. Even Zack (Sanchez), as good as he was, there were inconsistencies. That can happen. The thing you always notice about Zack is his ability to come back in a game, not get discouraged, and his ability to compete. And he got his, too. People wanted to keep picking on him and he rose to the challenge, always, and never backed down.

SS: What is the depth going to be like at defensive back?

Stoops: Stanvon’s (Taylor) had a great summer. I like the way he’s progressing as a player. Dakota Austin, Cortez (Johnson) … I think all three, and some of the young kids – Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green — we’re going to give those young guys an opportunity as well. You’ve got to continually build quality depth. Competition is probably why we’re getting to the point now where we feel like we can go two deep across the board and not fall off much.

SS: Is competition going to bring the best out of players?

Stoops: Players get complacent and content when they’re not pushed. So we’ve got a bunch of guys pushing for playing time, and to me, that’s the best thing we have going for us right now. We have a lot of competition going, whether it be Hatari (Byrd), whether it be Ahmad Thomas pushing each other. Like I said, at the corner position and also Steven Parker. We’ve got a lot of guys who want to get on the field, and that’s going to help us in the long run.

SS: What did you think about all the talk concerning comments from your brother and Nick Saban?

Stoops: We’ve never made an excuse. You respect everybody and what they do. We showed great respect to Texas and Baylor. They kicked our butts a year ago. You line up, it’s a new year. You get your peace on the field. That’s where the game is played. Bob, he has great confidence in his players and his coaches. He’s been around the block for a few years. He’s won a lot of big games and been in a lot of huge games.

SS: What about the Alabama talk of treating the Sugar Bowl like a consolation game?

Stoops: We’ve been on both sides of that story. You’ve got to line up and play no matter what the situation is. We go out and play the game. Our kids prepared well. We never want to get embarrassed. We have too much pride in the way we play and the way we do things. Bob’s feisty and he’s stubborn and competitive. That’s what you want. He has great confidence in his players. How we look at ourselves is really all that matters, and our expectations. As long as our work ethic and our attitude and the way we go out every day match our expectations, we’ll be fine. We’ll match up with everybody, I don’t care who it is. I feel really good about our players, their attitude, their enthusiasm, their want to compete, develop. There’s a lot of good stuff there.

SS: If the roles were reversed and you were the head coach and Bob was the defensive coordinator, what would life be like for you guys?

Stoops: I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that. It would probably be the same way it is with me and him now. There’s a lot of good with it. There is obviously added stress anytime you work for your brother. Obviously, we have a lot invested in this and certainly it probably hurts more when you lose because you rely on somebody. People probably don’t realize that. If you are working for somebody else, you still care. But obviously there’s that added family dimension to it where it’s fun, but it’s difficult because you like experiencing all the good things. And during the bad things, it’s good to be with someone. Bob, he’s been fun to work with for me. We have a lot of disagreements and probably would if the roles were reversed. It probably would be very similar.

SS: If you weren’t a football coach, do you have any idea what you’d be doing right now?

Stoops: I haven’t given that much thought to that. I love sports and I love being around it. Something in the sporting world, really anything. I’d like to be a pro golfer if anything.

SS: Do you ever share with the team your days as a star with the Pittsburgh Gladiators of the Arena Football League?

Stoops: You know I need to get those films. You know I was the first original Iron Man in the Arena Football League. That was my award for the year. Our team played in the championship game too and we lost in the championship. I played for a great guy, Joe Haering, back in Pittsburgh. It was probably the funnest summer I’ve ever had in my life. They wanted me to come back and I had to finally lay down my football career and move on to coach.

SS: How proud would your father be of the job Bob, Mark and you have done in the world of coaching?

Stoops: Very satisfied. Our parents made a lot of sacrifices for our well-being — not just as coaches, but as people. They’ve supported us in a lot of different ways and our success is definitely reflective of our parents. They were hard-working, very humble people with very minimal means but were very happy. All this? We don’t need all of this to survive. We’re just fortunate to be in positions where we get to do that and we’re grateful for the opportunities.

(This interview appears in the Aug. 2014 issue of Sooner Spectator. For more information, call 1-877-841-8877)