A symbol of Youngstown: Blue-collar roots, values define Stoops

By Jake Trotter Published: August 19, 2008
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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Before almost 4,000 fans, Cardinal Mooney quarterback Jeff Bruno rolled out and hurled a pass downfield in the fall of 1976.

The throw appeared off target of its intended receiver.

But as Chuck Perazich of the Youngstown Vindicator wrote, "When you have a Bobby Stoops, you never know what can happen.”

The skinny, 5-foot-11, 155-pound Stoops stopped and recoiled toward the underthrown pass. He then leaped over three defenders and snagged the ball with outstretched arms above his head before weaving his way into the end zone.

Oh, and Stoops, also a safety, intercepted two passes earlier in the game as Mooney hammered Struthers 34-0.

"He probably would be the ideal symbol of Youngstown,” said Don Bucci, head coach at Mooney for 34 years. "I hate to say that, because I'm sure he thinks he was pretty talented. But he was someone with just very average talent, but had a competitiveness and a toughness that nothing was going to stop him from being successful.

"That's Bobby Stoops, and that would be Youngstown.”

Youngstown, where Bob Stoops learned the values of determination, toughness and hard work that have helped him become one of college football's most successful coaches heading into his 10th season at Oklahoma.

"There's something to growing up in Youngstown,” Stoops said.

Youngstown was a tough, hard-working city long before Stoops was born there in 1960.

At the turn of the 19th Century, iron ore and coal deposits were discovered to be in mass in the area, which would make Youngstown a powerhouse in steel production. For that reason, Youngstown became a popular destination for immigrants from Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe and later the Middle East looking for work, laying the underpinning for the town's ethnically diverse population.

By the end of World War II, Youngstown had a booming population of about 160,000 and a bustling economy, thanks to the mills of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., Republic Steel and U.S. Steel.

Those from Youngstown agree the town's blue-collar mentality explains why it has become such a hotbed for developing successful coaches.

"This is a blue-collar town with a great work ethic,” said Ron Stoops Jr., the eldest Stoops brother and longtime assistant coach at Mooney. "A lot of these people worked in the mills. They know what a good day's work is all about, and they were willing to make the sacrifice to do that. Coaching is also a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice.”

The Stoops brothers — Bob, Mike (Arizona head coach) and Mark (Arizona defensive coordinator) — and the Pelini brothers — Bo (Nebraska head coach) and Carl (Nebraska defensive coordinator) — all grew up in Youngstown and graduated from Mooney.

Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Kansas' Mark Mangino and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio all coached at Youngstown State before eventually taking big-time jobs.

"There isn't any secret,” said Bo Pelini, who played quarterback for the Cardinals in the mid-1980s. "The culture in Youngstown is about hard work and discipline. A lot of being a coach is principles and background, and those things happen at a young age.

"I don't have any doubt my background, where I grew up, the house I grew up in, the family support I had has much to do with what I am today, and Bob would say the same thing.”

Growing up Youngstown
Ron Stoops Sr., patriarch of the Stoops family, grew up in Youngstown, attending East High School. After becoming a multi-sport standout at Youngstown State, he was drafted as an infielder by the Washington Senators. He played for a year in the minor leagues, but returned to Youngstown to help raise his family with his wife, Dee.

In 1959, Ron Sr. took a job teaching and coaching football at Mooney, which had opened its doors just three years prior. In 1966, when Bucci became head coach, Ron Sr. became defensive coordinator, a pairing that produced four state championships in 22 seasons

"I told Ron, ‘You take care of the defense, I'll take care of the offense, and we'll surround ourselves with some other guys and go at it,' ” Bucci recalled. "Every one of our kids graduated together. We would hang out socially. His wife, my wife were always good friends. Our families would go to Lake Erie together, they'd get a cabin and we'd go stay with them.”

The Stoopses moved into a three-bedroom Cape Cod home on Detroit Avenue. The two Stoops sisters slept in one room, the four brothers in another and the parents in the last. That house would become a hub for the neighborhood, including the Pelini kids and Ray "Boom Boom” Mancini, later a world-champion boxer, who grew up a block away.

"Back in those days, life was simple,” Ron Jr. said. "The doors to our house were open, and kids walked like it was theirs. We went to Pemberton Park, which was just down the street, and played. There was a swimming pool in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter, but mainly the football field and the baseball field were where we played.”

Sometimes, the neighborhood kids would go watch Ron Sr. play semipro baseball at Pemberton during the summer.

Other times, they would square off in boxing bouts in the basement.

"We'd all pair up according to size, rope off the cement basement with steel poles, ding the poles and fight each other for three rounds,” Bob said. "But Ray wasn't in them. Ray was too good — nobody was messing with him.”

Over in the Stoops house, the rickety sound of a 16mm projector could be heard during most evenings in the fall. Ron Sr. would intensely break down game film. He set the projector on the kitchen table and used the refrigerator as the screen.

"There's no doubt that rubbed off on Bob and all of us,” Ron Jr. said. "It's no coincidence we're all defensive guys. Dad had a certain temper, intensity and we all have it. Offensive guys seem to be more even keel. Defensive guys tend to be a little bit more fiery.”

That "defensive” temperament was part of Bob's upbringing.

"Bob was a very feisty, tenacious person from the time he was young,” Ron Jr. said. "He was not going to be outdone in most anything. He hung around kids who were older than him, but he was always going to keep up, fight to the death. He had his share of spats with me and his younger brothers, and occasionally he'd be ornery. But he was also very kind. We always got along great.”

Mooney family
Prominently displayed on a brick wall inside the main lobby of Mooney High School is a shrine dedicated to Ron Sr.
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Ron Stoops, center, coached both sons Bob, left, and Mike at Cardinal Mooney High School. Photo provided

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