Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oklahoma Sooners Football: Is Bob Stoops Underrated?

By Billy Ray

May 16, 2011

Since Bob Stoops arrival at the University of Oklahoma in 1999, most Sooner fans have tried to put the memory of the lost decade of the 1990's behind them.

When Coach Stoops took over at Oklahoma, the Sooner Schooner was mired in the muck created by having three different coaching staffs in Norman over the previous five seasons, which had led to three straight losing campaigns.

Stoops turned the once-powerful program around so quickly that the the Dark Ages between legendary coach Barry Switzer and Stoops tenure have now been all but forgotten.

Maybe forgetting that era is why many so-called experts don't give Stoops the credit he deserves for what he did in reviving the most prestigious program of the modern era.

Contrasting the teams that donned the Crimson and Cream in the 1990's against Stoops Troops is like comparing the government of the 70's to the Reagan era.

The former was a period of incompetence, bumbling futility, and loss of prestige, while the latter was an era of pride, purpose, and restored dominance.

After becoming accustomed to big victories, championships and national respect, OU fans watched as their program slowly sank into mediocrity and worse after Barry Switzer was forced out after the 1988 season.

Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs was named as Switzers' replacement for the 1989 season, but the former Oklahoma linebacker never produced the kind of success that the Sooner faithful had become accustomed to while his predecessor was in charge.

Though he managed to clean up the program and his record never included a losing season despite being hobbled by stiff NCAA sanctions, his inability to defeat foes Nebraska, Colorado and Red River Rival Texas contributed heavily to his downfall, as his teams finished a combined 2-15-1 against his toughest opponents.

Gibbs was forced out in 1994 after six largely disappointing seasons with an overall record of 44-23-2 and a somewhat misleading .637 winning percentage.

However, things had not yet hit rock bottom for the OU program.

The Sooner faithful quickly realized the grass is not always greener when they made the mistake of hiring one-and-done coach Howard Schnellenberger for the 1995 season.

Though Schnellenberger boasted a solid reputation as the man who had built the Miami Hurricane program, his one year reign of terror was a fiasco. After starting the season at 4-1 and climbing into the top 10 in the polls, his Sooner squad limped to a 1-4-1 finish and failed to make a bowl game.

His unpopularity with fans and players was coupled with a rumored drinking problem, and both sides were happy to end this brief but disastrous union after a season-ending 37-0 beat-down by top-ranked Nebraska.

Oklahoma State fans, elated over their own Cowboys shut-out victory over big brother in Norman, produced a 12-0 bumper sticker to immortalize the victory over a Sooner team that was in disarray by the time Schnellenberger left town.

Surely things could not get worse reasoned Sooner fans... or could it?

When former player John Blake took the reins on the Sooner Schooner from 1996 till 1998, the Sooners' hit rock bottom.

Although Blakes' ability to convince quality players to go to Norman is indisputable, he became a cautionary tale of a head coach-without-a-clue by not knowing what to do with them on the field.

The first red flag that Blake was in over his head came early. In only his second game, he scrapped the new pro-style offense that had been painstakingly installed over the previous off-season and decided to re-instate the wishbone offense.

Blake started his career 0-4, despite playing three games in Memorial Stadium.

His squad did tap into some long-lost Sooner Magic, beating the hated Longhorns in overtime in the his fifth game, but the momentum was short-lived. In fact, the following week's victory over Baylor was one of only three times his team managed to win consecutive games during his three years of futility.

Blake was forced out at the end of a 5-6 season in 1998 with an embarrassing 12-20 record.

The Sooners' 10-year record during this decade of decay was a dismal mark of 61-50-2. While an average record of 6-5 may be good enough at some programs, it was a slow death for OU fans.

Since 1950 and the beginning of the modern era for the college game (which coincidentally was the beginning of Oklahoma's rise to preeminence), only the 1960's record of 62-40-2 can even come close to the dubious distinction of rivaling this era of ineptitude.

Contrast this with the first 10 years of the Stoops era at Oklahoma. From 1999-2008, the Sooner Schooner rolled with Big-Game Bob at the reigns, boasting a sterling record of 109-24.

His teams played in seven Big 12 championships and won six . He also brought home the programs seventh national championship while playing for three others. Stoops' Troops averaged 11.2 victories against only 2.4 defeats.

His teams have lost back-to-back games only twice on his watch. In his first season, the Sooners lost consecutively to Notre Dame in South Bend and to Texas in Dallas. In 2003, they lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, and then to LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

That's it as far as losing streaks go in the Stoops era. In 12 seasons, Sooner fans have had to suffer through only two such streaks, and combined they total a mere four games.

Stoops squads have the distinction of being the only Big 12 team to win consecutive conference championships. In fact, they won three in a row from 2006-2008, as well as the final conference championship game in 2010, giving him a mark of 7-1 in the now-defunct title game.

The Sooners are also the only college team to appear in every BCS game, having played in the Fiesta three times, the Orange twice, and both the Rose, Sugar and BCS Championship Game once each.

Add in his Cotton Bowl victory and his squad has played in the six toughest post-season games that the FBS has to offer.

Stoops detractors point to his 1-3 record in the national title game and his 6-6 bowl record as their main evidence that he's overrated, but that involves a kind of circular logic that can give his supporters vertigo.

Ask yourself this: How many big games must be won during a season to be in position to play for the highest stakes?

Of his bowl game losses, only the 2004 blowout to USC in the Orange Bowl and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia can be called big-game flops.

However, USC is acknowledged as the all-time best team money could buy (don't worry Auburn fans, we'll update the list as events unfold).

In 2007, OU was down five starters when they lost to a WVU team that started the season ranked in the top three and was itself only kept from the national title game by a late-season upset by their rivals from Pittsburgh.

Of the Sooners other bowl losses, they lost to national champions in LSU in Louisiana and Florida in Florida by a combined 17 points, with both games decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The 2006 Fiesta Bowl loss came against a Boise State team that used every trick play in the book to win in overtime and finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country. Considered by many to be a monumental upset at the time, the Broncos have since proven themselves to be among the elite programs in the country.

Oklahoma's bowl victories have come against teams like Stanford, Oregon, Florida State and Arkansas.

After 12 seasons under Bob Stoops, the average Sooner record is 10.75 wins, 2.58 losses and an average score of 37-18 in OU's favor.

Not too shabby, for those of you paying attention.

Like Reagan, Stoops often doesn't receive the respect he's due for all of his accomplishments.

While Coach Stoops may not have won the cold war and restored the greatness of a country like Reagan did, Stoops has defeated the Sooners' major rivals on the field, and once again has the program at the forefront of the football world.

While Stoops, as of yet, is not included in the discussion of the all-time greatest football coaches like former Sooner bosses Switzer and Bud Wilkinson, another national title on his resume and the debate will heat up.

Think of this, all you fans of the Team in Crimson and Cream: The Sooners will likely open the season ranked at the top of most of the major polls.

In Stoops' tenure, Oklahoma has played for the national championship once out of every three seasons.

Their last appearance was in 2008.

You do the math.

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