College game perfect fit for Shoop

Though Bears tenure didn't end well, offensive coordinator's enthusiasm infectious at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.

A Purdue wide receiver ran a simple slant pattern during practice Wednesday and the only thing that reached him quicker than offensive coordinator John Shoop was the football.

"Great route!" Shoop shouted as he sprinted over with congratulations.

One play later, Shoop's voice rose above the loud music at the Bimel Practice Complex to scold quarterback Rob Henry for throwing a wobbly pass that did everything but quack.

"Come on, man!" Shoop moaned.

Shoop's tone changed again as he encouraged freshman quarterback Danny Etling with a smack on the behind after Etling floated an interception returned for a touchdown.

"Can't put it there," Shoop said.

I can't imagine Shoop putting himself anywhere but here, where he belongs, on a college campus where his gung-ho enthusiasm fits like another bookstore. Where Purdue holds team meetings on humility and players invest as much emotionally as he does. Where Shoop's sincerity is appreciated more than ignored and his energy makes him the easiest assistant coach in black-and-gold to spot from the parking lot. A decade after Shoop called his last play for the Bears, the 44-year-old still bounces around like somebody who chased a can of Red Bull with a shot of espresso.

Those around Chicago who don't recognize the name of the most vilified offensive coordinator in Bears history, think criticism of Mike Martz times three. Many who do remember Shoop's name might wish they could forget it. Fan abuse over Shoop's conservative offense escalated so badly by the end of his tenure from 1999-2003 that his family got heckled at Soldier Field.

"This game, if you're not grounded in something deeper than wins or losses or what people write or say, it will kill you," Shoop said.

It ultimately made Shoop stronger. When he reflected on surviving a Chicago experience he considered a success — the Bears went 13-3 in 2001, his first full season as coordinator — he accepted responsibility for mistakes he now understands.

"All that stuff forged the person and coach I am," Shoop said. "I'll be the first to admit errors I made, but sometimes they aren't what people think they are. I was a young coach who didn't communicate well enough. It wasn't X's and O's. I was close to (late general manager) Mark Hatley and I could have done better working on relationships when (Jerry Angelo became GM in 2001). I'm pointing the thumb at myself. The situation changed. I'm not sure I did."

The most dramatic change in Shoop's career came in 2007 when he left the Raiders staff. After 12 years in the NFL, the father of two confronted reality with a nudge from his wife, Marcia, a Presbyterian minister.

"Sunday mornings I always had football and she had church," Shoop said. "Our family was growing apart, not together. It took every ounce of courage we had to say we'd be open to coaching in college."

Within days, Butch Davis called from North Carolina with an offer Shoop couldn't refuse. Not the way Davis worded it.

"Butch said at Carolina, you can be the father, the husband and the coach you hope to be," Shoop said. "I had great relationships in the NFL but it's different in college. For a number of years, it was everything we hoped."

Then an NCAA investigation that never named Davis but uncovered the wrongdoing of a former Tar Heels assistant resulted in sanctions before the 2012 season. Fired along with Davis, Shoop entertained job opportunities but felt obligated to stay in Chapel Hill, N.C., and mentor players he never abandoned.

"I sat in those young men's living rooms and made promises I would care for them through graduation," Shoop said. "They didn't have an advocate in this (NCAA) process."

After Shoop threw a graduation party last year for Devon Ramsay, who won his NCAA appeal, he looked at his wife. She knew.

"I said, 'I'm ready to coach again,'" Shoop said.

He fed his football fix during the sabbatical in '12 analyzing high school games on radio and occasionally meeting for chalk talks with buddy Marc Trestman, who lived in Raleigh. Their relationship began when Trestman encouraged Shoop through the adversity in Chicago because the fellow West Coast-offense disciple always was impressed with Shoop's play-calling.

So was former Bears tight ends coach Jim Bollman, who left Dick Jauron's Bears staff in 2001 for Ohio State. When the Ohio State and North Carolina staffs met to exchange ideas one offseason years later, Bollman introduced Shoop to a bright, young Buckeyes assistant named Darrell Hazell.

Purdue hired Hazell as its head coach in December. He remembered how well the two meshed.

"His knowledge of the game and ability to see things from a coach's perspective and communicate that to players is invaluable," Hazell said.

Some things never change.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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