TALLAHASSEE — When he finally decided to accept the job as Florida State's defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops naturally telephoned his confidante and brother Bob, the coach at Oklahoma.
"I'm going to do this," he said.
"That's great. Congratulations."
Moments later, Bob called back.
"You realize I'm not going to talk to you for a year because we're going to play you the second game of the year," Bob joked, realizing that his youngest brother had weighed many factors before opting to leave Arizona, where he worked for another sibling, Mike, but he hadn't looked at FSU's future schedule.
The Seminoles head to Norman, Okla., this weekend for a marquee intersectional matchup of nationally ranked teams, a game that could shape the BCS picture. But if you want subplot, there's this:
None of the Stoops boys — Ron Jr., the oldest brother who's a defensive assistant at hometown Youngstown State in Ohio, Bob, Mike or Mark — have gone against each other before on the football field. And it's how they would have liked to keep it. When bowl officials were kicking around pairing Oklahoma and Arizona last year, Bob and Mike let them know they were against staging the first Stoops Bowl.
"I don't think any of us like it," Bob said. "I've said it before, the only time you'd want to play your brother is if it's in a championship game."
It's not that the boys aren't competitive.
They are and always have been.
Whether it was basketball or baseball or football at the nearby park, or boxing and wrestling matches in the basement of the small three-bedroom Cape Cod-style home they grew up in with their two other siblings.
"If they played bocce on the beach, they were pretty intense," said Dee Stoops, 74, the matriarch of the family.
But the boys insist there wasn't and isn't a drive to one-up each another. Bob, Mike and Mark all played the same position, safety, at Iowa. All wore the same number there, 41.
"Mark's quite a bit younger and was the little brother we were always bringing along with us," said Bob, who turns 50 today. (Mark is 43, Mike is 48 and Ron is 53.) "Obviously, Mike and I and my older brother Ron were all closer in age and we had our share of scuffles in the house, that's for sure, but when it comes to anything outside, we all want to see the other do better. Mark was too young to fight with so he wasn't in those brawls with us."
Heck, they don't even engage in some good-natured trash talk. Bob did say he was the best basketball player of the bunch, "if you're taking notes." Or keeping score.
"We all root for one another," said Mark, the defensive backs coach in 1996 for USF, which hadn't begun playing, and later the same position at Miami. "We pull for one another more than there's a rivalry. In this day and age, with the pressure we're under and the jobs we have to do, the last thing we need to do is jab at each other."
In so many ways, the Stoops boys are their father's sons.
Ron Stoops Sr. was a tireless, selfless worker, the perfect representative of the blue-collar steel-mill town. He was a high school teacher and a longtime defensive coordinator at perennial power Cardinal Mooney High. He coached all of his sons, demanding 100 percent effort for them to get on the field and holding them to a high standard of conduct on and off the field.
And long before they played for him, they would accompany him on the team bus and go into the locker room if they behaved properly and were respectful.
"Class, how you handle yourself, was everything," Dee Stoops said. "I know they got that from their father."
All got a love for football from him, too. Besides having the chance to hang out behind the scenes in a football environment, they would sit with him as he watched game film and designed defenses. Ron Sr. eschewed the peace and quiet of his office at school and brought his work home, setting up a 16mm projector on the kitchen table and aiming it at the white refrigerator door.
"We developed a love for the feel, the smell, and the game," Ron Jr. said. "We came by it honestly. As we grew up, it wasn't too much of a stretch to follow that same path. It's what we knew."
It's not lost on any of the boys that, like their father, they all gravitated toward the defensive side of the ball and, like him, have stressed attention to detail and preparation as their foundations. They also resemble their dad in physical build, gait, and in demeanor — from adhering to a tough-love policy with their players (and children) to all biting their lower lips and grinding their teeth.
Ron Sr. died Oct. 7, 1988, while still the defensive coordinator at Mooney and had a heart attack during a triple overtime win against Boardman. Ron Jr. was an assistant coach on the other side of the field that night.
"That was the only other Stoops against Stoops," Dee said, "so we don't like to bring that up. But we feel a part of him is still with us. I can see him in all the kids and grandchildren."
Dee Stoops laughed about the idea of crafting a half-OU, half-FSU shirt to wear for Saturday's game as Ann Bowden did for the first Bowden Bowl that pitted father against son.
"Everyone's been teasing me about what I'm going to wear," Dee said.
"My mom said she's torn, but I bet she's wearing some Sooner gear," Mark said with a laugh.
Dee said she plans to sit with Bob Stoops' wife, Carol, and their children as she normally does when she's at a game in Norman, comfortable that her youngest son knows how she feels about him.
"I think for my wife's sake and everyone else's sake, she'll probably just remain pretty stoic," Bob said.
As for the other family expected to be at the game, Ron Jr. said some of the nephews will be on the Sooners' side, others on the Seminoles' side. Bob quipped that he will have to check with his two sisters and, if they're rooting for FSU, he might have to move them "up in the corner somewhere." All will be rooting for a low-scoring game.
"We're defensive minds in the family so we'll be looking for good defense from both teams," Dee Stoops said. "I'll be the proudest mom there … but I don't really enjoy them playing one another."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.