Shoop unleashes Green Swarm

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Bob Shoop was none too thrilled when his oldest son and namesake decided to apply his Ivy League degree in economics to … coaching football.

Of all the paths cleared for the younger Bob — law school, Wall Street, government service — coaching carries the least cache.

"My dad said, 'We didn't send you to Yale to be a coach,'" Shoop laughed.

Shoop's unconventional career choice led him to William and Mary, where as defensive coordinator he is producing equally unconventional results.

Those familiar with Jimmye Laycock's 30-year tenure as head coach know the program's modus operandi: The Tribe wins with high-octane offense.

Defense? Just something to bide time while the quarterback ices his arm.

Or so it often seemed. Until this season.

This season defense carried William and Mary to its first playoff bid in five seasons.

Entering today's first-round game against visiting Weber State, the Tribe ranks first nationally in rushing defense, third in yards allowed and seventh in scoring defense.

Two years ago, Shoop's first at William and Mary, the Tribe finished 108th, 83rd and 111th in those respective categories. The stunning per-game improvement: 170.2 yards rushing, 156.6 total yards and, most important, 25 points.

All this with much the same personnel — six 2007 starters remain.

"I was in the NFL for 12 years," said John Shoop, Bob's younger brother and the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina. "I've been around Hall of Famers. Bob's as good a defensive coach as I've been around anywhere. He's got an innate sense for the game. When you couple that with the intellect he has, it's the real thing. He has an ability to communicate complex things in simple ways."

Those without family ties and bias also applaud Shoop's knack for teaching, whether with measured tones in the classroom or a hat-throwing rant on the practice field.

"The one thing I have to credit him for is he didn't change the way he coached," senior tackle Sean Lissemore said. "He stuck with what he knows, and that's what made our defense so good this year."

Said Laycock: "Bob had a wealth of knowledge, but you have to take it from the meeting rooms to the field, and you have to know the players, and the players have to understand things."

A former Tribe quarterback renowned for innovative offenses, Laycock had long tried to upgrade the defense, employing six coordinators in the decade prior to Shoop. Arriving from a one-season stint as defensive-backs coach at Colonial Athletic Association rival Massachusetts, Shoop was an intriguing hire.

A wide receiver at Yale, he caught the coaching bug immediately after his 1988 graduation. He served as player-coach for a rag-tag British team called the Birmingham Bulls, returned stateside and rose through the assistant ranks at Yale, Virginia, Northeastern, Yale again, Villanova and Boston College.

Shoop worked for respected men such as Carmen Cozza, George Welsh, Andy Talley and Tom O'Brien, and in 2003 he landed the head-coaching position at Columbia. It did not go well.

Despite his Ivy League pedigree, Shoop, then 36, was unable to channel his boundless energy to his players. After three seasons and a 7-23 record, Columbia fired Shoop, leading to the brief layover at UMass that preceded his 2007 move to Williamsburg.

After his bleak debut, Shoop wondered if his William and Mary stay might be brief as well. But instead of firing Shoop, Laycock challenged him to "play defense, not defenses."

"Coach really harped on that mantra with me after my first year here," Shoop said. "He's always on me about not trying to make the perfect call. 'We have good players. Just let 'em play and let 'em run to the football.'"

During that first offseason, Shoop and other defensive assistants traveled to the University of Akron for a routine ideas exchange. Intent on learning the nuances of the Zips' 3-4 alignments, Shoop stumbled upon a broader theme.

Playing off the school's colors, Akron coaches called their defense the Blue Swarm. What about Green Swarm? Shoop wondered.

"It can go either way when you do something like that," he said. "The (players) could have thought it was corny. But Josh Rutter and Derek Cox bought into it."

Led in part by those seniors, the defense progressed dramatically in 2008, yielding a respectable 24 points per game, 14.8 fewer than the previous season. Not coincidentally, the Tribe's record improved from 4-7 to 7-4.

Sure, there were schematic changes. But the driving force was attitude.

"We did think it was corny," senior end Adrian Tracy said. "But to see the passion that he had behind it, it's more about the philosophy of how we should play, maximum effort, knowing your assignment, playing for the person to the left and right of you.

"That's what Green Swarm really embodies. It may be a little corny, but the philosophy behind it is not."

With unrivaled line depth, Shoop tweaked his alignments again for this season, leaning more on a 4-3. The result is William and Mary's best statistical defense in 40 years and a host of all-conference honors.

Tracy, Lissemore and safety David Caldwell made first team; linebacker Jake Trantin and cornerback B.W. Webb were second team, with Webb earning defensive rookie of the year.

"It seems as if the message is really getting across," Shoop said. "I always tell people, if I drop dead tomorrow, Jake Trantin could call the game easily. He knows what the heck is going on. You get across to a few key players what's going on, and they can get it across to the rest of the guys."

This afternoon at Zable Stadium, Shoop's message will be tested in the national playoffs for the first time since he worked at Villanova in 1997. In the stands will be Bob and Jan Shoop, a lawyer, nurse and proud parents.

Seems their oldest son chose careers wisely, and given this season's success, more prestigious jobs may await.

"I'm not looking," Shoop said. "I'm 43 and my (two) children have lived a lot of different places. It's really nice to have settled in and feel part of something. I feel a sense of belonging here."

More than just an offense Bob Shoop's defenses at William and Mary have improved dramatically in four seasons.William and Mary national rankings2006200720082009Rushing defense101108691Pass defense92122435 Total defense10783373Scoring defense81111557Average yards and points allowed2006200720082009Rushing187.2225.7155.255.5Pass207.6167.5171.6181.1Total394.8393.2326.8236.6 Scoring25.738.824.013.8
Today's game WHAT: FCS playoffs, first round.

WHO: Weber State (7-4) at William and Mary (9-2).

WHEN: 1 p.m.

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