Bob Stoops has been a rare guy in a lot of ways.
Oklahoma football was adrift at sea, with no paddle, when he was hired in 1999. He’d made his name as a defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder at Kansas State and then at Florida, where Steve Spurrier had hired him to clean up his defense after the national title debacle against Nebraska in the 1995 season.
The next year, Spurrier won the national title and Stoops’ Gator defense had a huge hand in it.
So when OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione hired Stoops, the A.D. was going after the hot defensive coordinator — who had never been a head coach — and projecting that he would work out. Boy, did he ever. And there was a rarity in that.
Stoops made his splash in 2000, at the expense of Nebraska and Frank Solich, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Norman. Owen Field was the historic site of so many Nebraska-Oklahoma title bouts. Solich’s No. 1-ranked Huskers were on the back end of the dynasty, trying to sneak in one more national title. Stoops had OU back up to No. 3. This was fun again.
I can still see Matt Davison, the senior receiver, scoring on a touchdown pass from Eric Crouch and raising his arms skyward in the end zone as NU took a quick 14-0 lead. It looked like Nebraska’s day.
I can still hear the sound of car horns after Josh Heupel led the Sooners on an amazing 31-0 run the rest of the game. The theme was “Oklahoma’s back.” Two hours after the game, I remember seeing the line of cars still outside the stadium, Sooner fans driving around and honking in celebration.
That was the day Stoops got it going. And he didn’t stop.
He won a national title that 2000 season, his second year at OU. Very rare.
He wouldn’t win another one, as LSU, USC and Florida got in his way, and he lost to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. But he dominated the Big 12, winning 10 conference titles with such regularity that he probably ended up being underrated as a great coach.
I remember after the national title loss to LSU in New Orleans in January 2004, at the day-after press conference, Stoops was still upset. He told scribes that Barry Switzer caught him hanging his head after the game, and scolded him. “Hey, you don’t win all of these!”
In the spring of 2008, I was in Oklahoma City covering the Big 12 baseball tournament. I had asked an OU official if I could come down and talk to Stoops about Bo Pelini, his good friend and the new Nebraska coach. I was told Stoops was unavailable.
The next day, Sooner quarterback legend Jack Mildren passed away. Being a big fan of the Game of the Century, I drove down to Norman and walked into Owen Field and sat on the bleachers in the end zone, trying to picture all the great games and players I’d witnessed there.
I noticed a guy running the stadium steps, sweating profusely, up and down, down and up, every step in the stadium. When he came back around, a family of four from small-town Oklahoma had shown up, and was looking around the stadium, looking like a family that was passing through and stopped in to get a first look around.
Well, here came the steps guy. It was Stoops, running all alone on a late May morning. He approached the family and asked them if he could help them. They were in shock. They asked if he would pose for a photo. He did, and they chatted for a while.
Then Stoops saw me approaching and asked if he could help me. I told him who I was, where I was from and what I wanted. He said, “Sure, love to talk about Bo. He’s a good man.” Let’s go in the coaches’ locker room where it’s cooler.
So for the next 30 minutes, Stoops swigged a large Gatorade and talked about his childhood friend, Bo Pelini.
That kind of access, and time, is rare from a big-time coach like Stoops.
What he did on Wednesday was stunning, and also rare. And there are cynics already lining up, waiting for a shoe to drop and news of why Stoops is really leaving the game now. And I suppose that could happen. Or it could just be a guy who has driven himself for years, and saw his father, a high school football coach, die suddenly in his mid-50s, and wants to get out now while he still has his health.
In a world of big coaching salaries and Nick Sabans and Bill Snyders driving themselves forward, it’s hard to imagine a guy walking away if he doesn’t have to, doing it for family, for himself.
I guarantee you there are a lot of coaches out there who wish they could do that, who want to do that, but they can’t or don’t know how to leave the locker room lifestyle. It’s addicting.
Unfortunately, some of those guys will stay too long and will eventually be driven out by fans and social media and not winning enough or fast enough. Or meeting the standard they’d set years earlier.
Stoops was able to do all that and still walked away on his own terms.
A rare guy, rare coach, and he’ll be missed.
How does Bob Stoops compare to Nebraska’s other Big 12 coaching rivals?
Bob Stoops unexpectedly retired on Wednesday, ending an 18-season tenure at Oklahoma. Stoops compiled a 6-2 record against NU. How does he compare to the Huskers' other coaching rivals in the Big 12?