Two paths lead into one, again

From co-defensive coordinators on the sidelines in Manhattan, Kan., to adversaries Saturday, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and USF mentor Jim Leavitt have taken two varied paths to this juncture.
As the leaders of the defense that helped rejuvenate a Kansas State program, Leavitt and Stoops guided the Wildcats to the nationís top defense in 1995, their final season working together.
ìThey had a great relationship,î Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. ìThey worked extremely well together. Theyíre both aggressive and work very hard. They were able to communicate well, and even though they had their own opinions, they both knew football, and it worked out well for our program as well as helping them.î
That was a far cry from the shape of the Wildcat program when Leavitt joined Stoops on the Kansas State staff in 1990. The year before, Kansas State had the best passing defense in the nation. Unfortunately, everyone ran all over the Wildcats, as they had the worst run defense in Division I-A (No. 106) and KSU went 1-10. Even worse for Leavitt and Stoops was that was what people expected out of the Wildcats after KSU went 22-86-1 in the 1980s to earn the distinction of worst team in Division I-A.
However, with Stoops and Leavitt on the case, things rapidly improved for Snyder and the Wildcats, culminating with KSUís 10-2 í95 campaign in which it won the Holiday Bowl.
ìThe good thing about us is that we kept our egos in check,î Stoops said. ìThatís not to say that we didnít argue, but they were minor (arguments) if we did at all. We tried to do what was best for the team, and we put our personal issues aside for the good of the defense.î
The arrangement worked out well for both, as each one became a coveted coordinator in line for better jobs.
ìWe just worked together in everything,î Leavitt said. ìOur game plans were put together. We knew what we were going to call on every down and distance situation. We had a grouping of two or three calls that we would make. Bob would lay out all the charts up top. We would make the call down; most of the time it would flow right through. If I had difficulty with anything I would always mention it, and we just learned to work through that.
ìYou had to spend a lot of time together, and you had to have great communication for that to work out. That does not often happen because of egos in this world and human nature. People donít want those things to happen. They always want to be Ãthe guy, Mr. powerful.í And that hurts your players a lot of the time.î
Following that stellar í95 season, their two paths diverged, as Leavitt was offered the opportunity to start up a football program at South Florida, while Stoops accepted the defensive coordinator post at Florida a couple months later.
ìIt was more a matter of opportunity,î Snyder said. ìNeither one had been a head coach before and both wanted to be. It was really about what was available. Jim relished the opportunity, and having been here, he saw what it took to take a program in its infancy, or in our case, hadnít had much success, and watch it grow over an extended time. It was enticing for Jim to do something similar.î
Stoops stepped into the role of assistant head coach/defensive coordinator to Steve Spurrier at Florida, and the Gators won a national championship in his first season.
Meanwhile in Tampa, Leavitt began laying the groundwork for his first team, which would come a year later.
Leavitt, the graduate of Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, remains adamant that he made the right choice for him.
ìI think Iíve got the best job in the country,î Leavitt said. ìThis is my home. This is where I love to be.
ìThere are always going to be people that are going to be paid a lot more money than me, Iím sure. But thatís not always what itís all about. Iíve had opportunities to go and make more money, but thatís not what itís all about for me. I feel very fortunate. I feel very blessed to be able to be coaching where I grew up, and to me, thatís a unique opportunity. Iíve been excited about the accolades that Bobís received and he certainly deserves them, and I think thatís great.î
In 2000, as USF played its first game against a ranked Division I-A opponent, Stoops was guiding his second team as head coach at Oklahoma to a 13-0 record and the national championship. Now, the two come together for the first time in seven years, but instead of being on the same side, Leavitt will bring his second-year Division I-A squad into Norman, Okla., to challenge Stoopsí Sooners, the No. 2 team in the land.
ìIt wonít be much different for me than anybody else,î Leavitt said. ìYou want your team to play well, and you want them to execute well and do some good things. Youíre not going to be thinking during the game about this guy or that guy.
ìThat wonít mean all that much to me. Itís just trying to get ready for Oklahoma and what they do, and trying to be as successful as we can be.î
Even with their different paths, Snyder still doesnít see any stark contrasts between his former assistants.
ìTheyíre not marked differences,î Snyder said. ìTheyíre very similar coaches. Theyíre demanding coaches that have a real focus, and theyíre both extremely hard workers.î