Monday, January 04, 2016

After 17 years at Oklahoma, Stoops is still climbing

December 29, 2015

By Dave George - Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist


Bob Stoops can laugh about it now in the interviews leading up to Thursday’s national semifinal game between 11-1 Oklahoma and unbeaten Clemson.

In fact, he volunteered what he called a “funny story” about feeling overwhelmed in his first weeks as coach of the Sooners back in December of 1998.

“I went back to Florida for the holidays to see my wife and child because they weren’t out there in Oklahoma yet and I had just started recruiting,” said Stoops, who was 38 and flying high as Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator when the Sooners hired him away. “My car dealer picked me up in Jacksonville to take me to Gainesville and I said to him on the way home, ‘I may have just ruined my life. What did I just go and do taking that job?’

“Obviously, though, I’m pretty glad I did.”

It’s a gig that has produced more victories (179) than any Division I coach has amassed in his first 17 seasons.

Bud Wilkinson didn’t win 179 times at Oklahoma. Neither did Barry Switzer, and each of them won three national titles with the Sooners.

Those are big names in college football history, but for the players on Oklahoma’s current roster there is only one. Stoops has been coaching the Sooners for nearly all of their lives, all the way back to the 2000 national championship of their Sesame Street years and even earlier.

“That’s who I grew up watching,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He’s a living legend to me. How he handles himself and how competitive he is and how he wants to win and how he gets the job done, I’ve always respected it.”

Stoops has gotten the job done by adjusting, again and again, as the Big 12 evolved into a high-scoring league.
In the process Oklahoma has developed many top quarterbacks, like Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner who led the Sooners to a BCS title game match with Florida.

Mike Leach and Kevin Sumlin, meanwhile, are on the list of offensive wizards Stoops has employed to push all the hot buttons on that side of the ball.

They moved on to head coaching jobs of their own and so one day will current Sooners play-caller Lincoln Riley, 32, who recently was reported among the prime candidates for head coaching jobs at South Carolina, North Carolina and Maryland that eventually were filled by other men.

All are looking for the kind of lasting structure and security that Stoops has built for himself in Norman. NFL teams have repeatedly tested his interest in leaving, but the toughest decision may have been in January of 2002, when Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley visited Stoops’ home in search of a sure bet to fill the massive hole left by Spurrier’s resignation.

Stoops said no thanks, however, and Foley wound up hiring Ron Zook, a real stretch.

“I never acknowledge whether I had the opportunity or not,” Stoops said of the Florida flirtation. “Timing in life is everything. Sometimes the timing is right and sometimes it isn’t.

“I can’t say I ever anticipated 17 years when I started at Oklahoma, but I did know Oklahoma was not a stepping-stone job. It was a destiny job. A destination job, and it’s a job that when you do well, you stay there.”

Would he have achieved more than one national title as boss of the Gators instead of the Sooners? Probably not. Urban Meyer won two championships at Florida but he didn’t last. Nobody, not even Spurrier, has ever come close to 17 years as Florida’s head coach.

On top of that, Stoops isn’t finished at Oklahoma yet. He’s 55, and still a master of motivation. Take October’s loss to Texas, a real stunner.

“The first thing coach Stoops said in the locker room after the Texas game was ‘Guys, don’t forget what Ohio State did last year,’ ” Mayfield said.

He was talking about running the table, which is what the Buckeyes did in 2014 after a season-opening loss.

He was living the legend, too, with a group of players who can’t see him any other way.

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