When Everett Withers and the remains of the Butch Davis coaching regime were not retained, only one member of the old staff stayed in Chapel Hill.
John Shoop was still under contract for the 2012 season at UNC, so for the first time since grade school Shoop spent an autumn off the football field. Besides a completely new experience, he said it turned out to be one of the best years of his life.
He grew a beard and wore cool, outdoorsy clothes. He watched his son and daughter in their school activities, like a normal parent. The Shoops actually took weeks and weekends off to travel, see the world and visit family and friends.
While the early morning meetings and late-night game-planning were not part of his life and he barely stepped on a football field, the game he has loved forever was never far from his mind. He wrote a weekly column for Chapelboro, previewing the local college and high school games of note. He called Friday night prep games on WCHL radio with play-by-play sidekick Paul Connell.
And, as the only member of Davis’ staff who still lived in Chapel Hill, Shoop unobtrusively remained an advocate for the players he had recruited and coached at Carolina. He wanted them to succeed under new coach Larry Fedora and he supported the players who had been through two awful years of NCAA investigation and suspensions plus several entangled in the academic scandal.
“The year was an unbelievable blessing for us,” Shoop said this week after being named the new offensive coordinator at Purdue. “I loved helping out on the radio, filling in for D.G. Martin occasionally, doing the high school games and writing the column. We loved all of it. But the most important thing we did was to continue supporting the UNC players who had gotten caught up in some of what happened here. We advocated for student-athlete rights, particularly the young men who we had recruited to UNC.”
Shoop uses the word “we” when he speaks, because he and his wife Marcia are a team in such endeavors. Her website www.marciamountshoop.com became popular with UNC players and their families during the NCAA problems, and her spiritual blog “Calling Audibles” was often a frank and telling memoir of her view on the controversy and those it touched.
The Shoops were particularly close with fullback Devon Ramsay, who was suspended for much of the 2010 season and then reinstated when Ramsay’s mother hired an attorney and challenged the suspension. Upon returning to the field in 2011, Ramsay was injured and spent most of the last two seasons rehabbing his knee before graduating last May.
“We had a small party for Devon at our house before I left for Purdue,” Shoop said. “A lot of folks came, friends and teammates. He’s staying fit, hoping to get a shot in the NFL, and I’m doing everything I can to help him; he’s a really good fullback. Either way, that guy’s got so much on the ball that we all might be working for him some day. He is what’s right with college athletics.”
Despite how his tenure at UNC ended, Shoop holds no grudge over what happened to the coaches and program that earned four straight bowl bids from 2008-11. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We have feelings deeply invested in this place and many of the people here,” he said. “We’re not bitter; it’s the reason we stayed. We wanted to do what we could to be part of the solution.”
Shoop knew he would return to coaching, continuing to network and stay in contact with the industry during his year off. He said he had several offers from colleges and NFL teams but found Purdue to be the best fit for him and his family.
With almost 40,000 students, Purdue is one of the biggest of the Big Ten schools and, though not nationally prominent in recent years, the Boilermakers have a rich tradition, having produced players named Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Leroy Keyes and Drew Brees. Shoop found similarities between Chapel Hill and West Lafayette, Indiana, particularly the opportunity to live out in the country as he did here but still close enough to campus. He has known new Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell and offensive line coach Jim Bollman since they worked together with the Chicago Bears, where Shoop was the offensive coordinator for three years including the 2001 season when they finished 13-3 and made the playoffs. Hazell and Bollman moved on to work for Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Every year, the Carolina and Ohio State staffs spent time together. With Hazell and Bollman landing at Purdue, going with them felt right.
“Our offensive philosophies were kind of similar at Carolina and Ohio State,” Shoop said. “We both liked to be physical, run the ball from a pro style offense. We see the game similarly. And I’m excited that this is the first time I’ll be an offensive coordinator for an offensive head coach. I’ve always worked for defensive head coaches, so this will be fun.”
He did not settle on Purdue until it became clear that Butch Davis was not taking another head coaching job for the 2013 season. Shoop said he stayed in touch with his former boss over the last year ”and it is fair to say he was close” to starting over again at another school.
“It’s something we would have considered,” Shoop said of going with Davis, “and I’m surprised he didn’t get one. But he will, he deserves another chance.”
Happily, Shoop has gotten his.