Wednesday, April 15, 2020

College football's greatest coaching 'What if ...' scenarios

Apr 13, 2020
·       Chris Low | ESPN Senior Writer

Bob Stoops won 10 conference championships and a national title in his 18 years at Oklahoma. AP Photo/Brett Coomer, File
College football is defined, in large part, by legendary coaches who become institutions at the schools they call home. But in many cases, those coaches came within an inch of never ending up at those schools in the first place. How different would the landscape of the game look if Bob Stoops had gone to Iowa instead of Oklahoma? Or if he took the Florida job in 2002 and it was never open for Urban Meyer just a few years later? What if the Head Ball Coach made his name at LSU or even Tennessee instead of The Swamp?
We talk to those coaches to get the story on just how close they came to taking different jobs and how things would have changed if they did.

What if Iowa had offered its job to Bob Stoops?

It's a question Bob Stoops doesn't have to answer now, and probably wouldn't anyway.
But what if his alma mater had offered him the head-coaching job back in 1998, when it was looking for a replacement for retiring Hall of Famer Hayden Fry, whom Stoops played for and coached under at Iowa? Would Stoops have taken it, and if so, would he have carved out the same legendary career at Iowa that he did at Oklahoma? And where would Kirk Ferentz have landed?
It's an interesting question, considering the fact that Ferentz has been an institution in Iowa City. He's set to enter his 22nd season at Iowa, and surpassed Fry in 2018 as the winningest coach in school history.
"Sometimes, things have a way of working out for the best for everybody involved," Stoops told ESPN.
Throughout his coaching career, Stoops has been a hot commodity. He was also one of the rare ones: Stoops stayed at Oklahoma for 18 seasons before retiring prior to the 2017 season, and he worked for the same president (David Boren) and the same athletic director (Joe Castiglione) all 18 seasons.
"I'm willing to bet you'll never see that happen again," Stoops said.
Stoops was only 38 when he took over what was a broken program at Oklahoma on Dec. 1, 1998, and led the Sooners to a national championship in his second season in 2000. But before saying yes to Oklahoma, he followed through on a promise he had made to interview with Iowa. Oklahoma had already offered Stoops the job a day earlier and didn't want him to visit with Iowa.
"I guess that was kind of naïve of me," Stoops said. "In hindsight, I'd tell any young coach out there, 'Take the Oklahoma job and don't take a chance on screwing it up.'"
Stoops, who had just finished his third season as Florida's defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier, realized about midway through the interview with Iowa that he wasn't going to be offered the job. At least not right then.
"And I don't know if they ever would have," Stoops said.
So he politely excused himself and went to call his agent, Neil Cornrich.
"I'm pretty sure it was a pay phone. Heck, it was 1998," Stoops joked. "I just told Neil, 'Get a hold of Oklahoma and make sure they know the second I get out of this interview that I'm going to take the job.'"
And the rest, as they say, is history.
It was hardly the first time or the last time that Stoops would be courted by another school or by an NFL organization.
After his first season at Florida -- in 1996, the year the Gators won the national championship -- Minnesota tried to hire him as head coach, but there was no university president in place at the time.
"Coach Spurrier's point to me was, 'Look, we're not going bad here. If this doesn't fit you perfectly, just stay. You're young and will have other opportunities that will fit you,'" Stoops said. "And he was right."
As fate would have it, the closest Stoops said he ever came to leaving Oklahoma was after Spurrier left Florida following the 2001 season to take the Washington Redskins' head-coaching job. Jeremy Foley, then the Florida athletic director, flew to Norman to meet with Stoops.

"We'd just won the national championship at Oklahoma [in 2000], but I also had a close relationship with Jeremy Foley and [wife] Carol and I loved our time at Florida," Stoops said. "It was hard to say no, but all the positive feelings I had about Florida were countered by the positive feelings I had about Oklahoma. They gave me my first shot.
"And had it not been for the leadership and faith I had in Joe Castiglione and David Boren, in all likelihood I probably would have gone to Florida."
With Stoops saying no thanks, Florida turned to Ron Zook, who made it three years before being fired, which led to the Gators hiring Urban Meyer. Meyer won national championships in 2006 and 2008 at Florida, then resigned following the 2009 season only to change his mind and come back for the 2010 season. He then resigned for good following the 2010 season.
Once again, Foley made a hard push for Stoops, who was the epitome of consistency in Norman. He won 10 conference championships at OU, and only four times in 18 seasons on his watch did the Sooners win fewer than 10 games.
"I remember Coach Spurrier always saying that after eight or 10 years, you lose a certain percentage of the people who are supporting you," Stoops said. "After a while, people just want a change. I guess at a certain point, you feel like it's time to do something different after so many years, or you can also say that it's easier to do something different. But the hardest thing sometimes is staying and continuing and continuing to have success like we did."
Stoops has also never been one to shortchange his family. His twin sons, Isaac and Drake, were entrenched in their school in Oklahoma when Florida came calling the second time, and he simply didn't want to uproot them.
"For my family and where we were in life ... I just couldn't leave," Stoops said.
Stoops, the general manager and head coach of the XFL's Dallas Renegades, is well aware that his name will continue to pop up for every high-profile coaching job that comes open, especially now that the future of the XFL is up in the air after the league suspended operations Friday and laid off nearly all of its staff.

So, yes, there is one more "what if" for Stoops, as in what if the right coaching situation presents itself in the next year or two?
"Who knows?" Stoops said. "What I'm doing right now fits my family and fits what I want to do. It's been enjoyable, and who knows what the good Lord is going to bring to you?
"Everyone wants you to define the rest of your life at every point in your life. You just can't do it."

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