LOOKING UP TO STUMP

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He stands among a gathering of football players at Morgan State University and delivers a message. But his words cannot measure up to the visual impact.

Most of the Bears tower over Lyvonia "Stump" Mitchell, who lasted 10 seasons as a running back in the NFL despite standing 5 feet 9. That's precisely his point: Look beyond the size of a man.

"The mental part of the game is as important as the physical part," he says.

It's an approach that served Mitchell well as a player, when he became the all-time combined-yardage leader for the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals. And he intends to pass it along at Morgan as the school's offensive coordinator, his first college coaching job.

Mitchell, 36, was hired last month after spending the past couple of years as head coach at Casa Grande Union High in Arizona.

He turned down an offer in January to run the program at Phoenix College, a junior college, deciding -- after much deliberation -- to join Ricky Diggs' staff at Morgan as one of three new full-time assistants. Mitchell starred at The Citadel when Diggs coached the running backs there.

Coming to Morgan "was a tough decision," Mitchell said, because he is just 15 credit hours short of a master's degree in administration at Northern Arizona University. He also worked for a radio station in Phoenix that broadcasts Cardinals games and was looking forward to this year's Super Bowl in Arizona.

"I gave up a lot of opportunities," he said, "but there are great opportunities here at Morgan, too -- being a part of getting them back to the tradition of winning that they had in the previous years."

The Bears, who have gone 3-8 the past two seasons and are 9-35 under Diggs, are on probation for the next three years. But Mitchell said the presence of six full-time assistant coaches will make a tremendous difference.

"They've struggled, but they have some outstanding athletes here," Mitchell said. "I think the players have been cheated more so than anybody because they haven't had enough coaches to really coach the positions. Now, they have those coaches and the kids are getting the benefit of it."

What can Mitchell bring to the program? "Leadership and experience," he said. "And what I can do mostly is show them that size has absolutely nothing to do with it."

Mitchell is proof of that. He accumulated 11,988 yards (4,649 rushing, 1,955 receiving, 4,007 on kickoff returns and 1,377 on punt returns) with the Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs before his playing career ended in 1992 with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.

"Immediately, Stump brings integrity," Diggs said. "He has the attention of the players right away. He's been there, he played in the National Football League and he played with a degree, and that's the most important thing."

Said Mitchell: "These kids are very respectful. Any of the coaches who are talking to them are getting the utmost respect from them. That's one thing we are blessed with, some talented kids who are well-mannered."

Senior quarterback Michael Moore is among the Bears paying close attention to Mitchell. "He's been in the NFL and he knows what to do in certain situations. He knows the tricks and techniques," Moore said.

Alabama coach Gene Stallings, one of the Cardinals' head coaches during Mitchell's career in St. Louis, said he figured Mitchell would stay involved in the sport after retiring as a player.

"I did, primarily because he was such a great competitor and gave you every ounce he had," Stallings said. "I think he'll do a tremendous job coaching. He was very knowledgeable as a player . . . not only about what he did, but what everybody around him was doing."

Mitchell's lack of college coaching experience doesn't worry Diggs, who said, "I'm more concerned with the character of a person, and his playing background. Stump's a student of the game, and he feeds off other coaches. No question, his adapting to the college game will be quick. It's noticeable already."

Mitchell adapted quickly to the high school game, taking Casa Grande from 4-6 in 1993 to 9-3 and a playoff berth the next season.

Casa Grande has about 2,000 students, and the football team usually attracts "40 to 50, though with Stump here, we got a lot more," said principal Jim Cooper. "He's a top-notch coach. He'll do well wherever he goes simply because of his work ethic, his love of kids and his love of football. We were very sorry to see him go."

Mitchell isn't sure how long he will be at Morgan. He's signed for one year, and if an offer is made to become a head coach somewhere else, "I would have to take a look at it," he said. "But right now, all I want to do is meet my challenges, which are to be successful in this league."

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