Too Small, Too Slow: The Stump Mitchell Story
At 5’9 and 188 pounds, Lyviona “Stump” Mitchell was told that he was too small and too slow to play college football. Despite these perceived limitations, Stump went on to become The Citadel’s all-time leading rusher. He then moved on to a stellar NFL career where he, after eight years, had gained more all-purpose yards than anyone else in Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinal franchise history
Throughout his playing career, Stump used mental toughness, a strong work ethic and focus to achieve success. Today, he uses these traits as the running backs coach for the New York Jets. In the future, he hopes to use them as a head coach for an NFL or major college football program.
Stump started playing youth football at age nine in the small coastal community of St. Mary’s Georgia, about 40 miles north of Jacksonville. Raised by a single mother, he was the middle child of seven. His older brother named him Stump because he never let his small stature deter him from playing sports with the bigger kids.
He eventually became a star running back at Camden County High School. In his senior year, he rushed for 1,600 yards and was named all-state – an impressive accolade in the talent-rich state of Georgia. However, because of his size, the only school that offered him a firm offer was the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
PROVES COLLEGE AND NFL NAYSAYERS WRONG
With a focus on playing in the NFL, Stump believed the five-year post-graduation military commitment of West Point, was not a good option. Instead, he placed his hopes on The Citadel, a small military school in South Carolina. It took an assistant coach to convince the team’s head coach, Bobby Ross, to offer him a scholarship. Ross, who left The Citadel after Stump’s freshman year, went on to win a National Championship at Georgia Tech and take the San Diego Chargers to Super Bowl XXIX. Stump went on to become the most prolific runner in program history, rushing for 4,062 yards. In 2017, he was named the greatest football player in The Citadel’s history by the Post and Courier, the local newspaper.
In 1980, his senior year, Stump rushed for 1,647 yards. The only running back in college with more yards that year was Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.
Despite this success, NFL teams were hesitant to give Stump a chance. They only saw someone who lacked the traditional physical attributes needed to succeed at the professional level. When the eighth round of the 1981 NFL Draft ended, Stump was still waiting for his name to be called. Once again, one organization had the vision and foresight to see Stump’s potential. The then-St. Louis Cardinals selected Stump in the ninth round as the 226th overall pick. Over the next nine years, Stump went on to become the organization’s all-time leading yardage gainer with 11,998 yards. That record would eventually be broken by future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald.
APTITUDE FOR COACHING NOTICED
When his playing career ended, Stump took a job at a junior high school in Casa Grande, Ariz., a small farming/retirement community about an hour’s drive south of Phoenix. Stump took on a volunteer role, coaching at Casa Grande High School, a football program that had fallen on hard times.
The principal quickly noticed Stump’s aptitude to teach, lead and motivate young men on and off the field. The next year, 1992, Stump became the school’s head coach. Success came quickly. In his fourth and final year at the school, the former NFL running back led the Cougars to the second round of the state playoffs.
Stump then took his coaching talents to Morgan State University. After one year as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, he was named the head coach. A position he held for the next four years.
His success at Casa Grande High School and later at Morgan State caught the eye of Mike Holmgren, who had just left Green Bay and was building a staff as the new head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
Over the next nine years as Holmgren’s running backs coach, Stump put his coaching talent on full display.
Hall of Fame-nominated Shaun Alexander is among the list of running backs who saw unprecedented success under Stump. He coached Alexander the entire eight years the running back was in Seattle. During this time, Alexander rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season five times and scored 100 touchdowns. In 2005, the Seahawk running back had one of the best seasons in NFL history. He ran for 1,880 yards with 27 touchdowns. He was first-team All-Pro and named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Alexander was not the only running back to have a career year with Stump as his position coach. Mack Strong, an undrafted free agent, was named to the Pro Bowl twice, in 2005 and 2006.
When Holmgren gave Stump responsibility for calling short yardage and goal line run plays, the Seahawks had a league-leading 90 percent conversion rate. During Stump’s tenure in Seattle, the Seahawks made the playoffs six times, including Superbowl XL
MOVING UP THE COACHING LADDER, NAMED ASSISTANT HEAD COACH OF THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS
After the 2008 season, the team’s offensive coordinator, Jim Zorn, left to take the head coaching job in Washington. Zorn asked Stump to join him, naming Stump the team’s assistant head coach and running backs coach. Stump once again got the most out of his players.
Under Stump’s coaching, the talented Clinton Portis saw his career resurrected. The year before Stump arrived, Portis’s production had dropped significantly. After rushing for more than 1,000 yards during each of his first four years in the league, Portis had gained just over 500 yards in 2006. Under Stump, the 2002 Offensive Rookie of the Year was back in form, breaking the 1,000-yard mark in 2007 and again in 2008. He also made his second and last Pro Bowl in 2008.
Mike Sellers, a role-player fullback, had his best years under Stump, including making the Pro Bowl in 2008.
Stump’s NFL success led to a job offer that many would turn down. In 2010, Southern University, a small Louisiana school that was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, found its football program mired in academic achievement problems. Stump, who never lets perceived obstacles get in the way of taking on a challenge, took over the Jaguar program. When he left three years later, Southern University football was out from under the previous challenges and poised for a return to greatness.
Stump headed back to the pros with an eye on becoming a head coach in the NFL or at a major college program. His first stop was the team that took a chance on him as a player 33 years earlier, the Arizona Cardinals.
CONTINUED TO DEVELOP TALENT AND WIN
For the next four years, Stump once again saw success both with his running backs and with the team. The Cardinals made the playoffs in two of the four years he was in Arizona, including an appearance in the 2015 conference championship game.
Four different running backs on the Cardinals’ roster had career years under Stump: Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington, Robert Hughes and David Johnson. In 2016, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to run for more than 100 yards in each of his team’s first 14 games during a season. He finished the year with 1,239 yards rushing, 879 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns. He was named a starter to the Pro Bowl that year.
In 2015, Cardinal’s defensive coordinator Todd Boles left to take the New York Jets head coaching job. Two years later, he brought Stump in as his running backs coach, the position he currently holds.
When Stump left, then Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians said, “Stump is one of the best coaches that I have ever been with.”
While Stump works to bring the Jets their first title in 50 years, he has publicly stated that he would still like to become a head coach in the NFL or for an FBS (Division 1-A) program.