WILLIAMSBURG—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.
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.