By John Rohde // SoonerSports.com
On Dec. 1, 1998, Bob Stoops was introduced as Oklahoma’s new football coach as he stood on the front steps at Evans Hall in the North Oval.
On Saturday afternoon, Stoops spoke at the team’s annual Media Day for the 16th time.
That Stoops was available to accept the OU job was somewhat surprising. That he has remained here this long more than qualifies as shocking.
A 38-year-old Stoops arrived in Norman as the former assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Florida under coach Steve Spurrier.
- Two years earlier, Stoops had turned down an offer to become head coach at the University of Minnesota. “I have enough patience to wait for an opportunity that would be better suited for me,” Stoops said at the time.
- One year earlier, Stoops declined an interview with Arkansas for its head coach position and reportedly spurned a six-figure salary (rare in those days) from new Texas coach Mack Brown to become the Longhorns’ defensive coordinator. “I want to be a head coach when it’s the right time and the right place,” Stoops said back then. “My age gives me a chance to be patient. I think I’ve got the best assistant coaching job in America.”
- Just one week before Stoops accepted OU’s offer, legendary coach Hayden Fry had retired at Iowa. Stoops had played and coached for Fry from 1979-87 and was thought to be the heir apparent.
Stoops’ tenure in Norman also has come with a barrage of potential pilfering. On at least 10 occasions, Stoops has been rumored to be a candidate of some other team, both college and pro.
I’ll not shy away from the expectations here at Oklahoma. In fact, I’ll embrace ’em. There should be great expectations here.
Bob Stoops, 1998
How much of the following is fact is uncertain because the tight-lipped Stoops never has discussed such matters publicly:
- Florida, Notre Dame and NFL Cleveland Browns reportedly have sought Stoops – not once but twice, each.
- Ohio State and Michigan also have purportedly courted Stoops.
- Six years ago, Stoops allegedly was going to replace Mike Shanahan as coach of the Denver Broncos, who instead hired Josh McDaniels.
- Five years ago, Stoops supposedly had agreed to replace Charlie Weis as Notre Dame’s coach. A Bleacher Report story claimed: “ … pen has supposedly hit paper with the Notre Dame administration: ‘Bring on USC,’ Stoops reportedly said while signing.” Never happened.
- When Wade Phillips was on the hot seat with the Dallas Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones was said to have a keen interest in Stoops.
- And as recently as eight months ago, the internet was buzzing amid reports that Stoops was the Browns’ top candidate after the Sooners upset two-time defending national champion Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Stoops himself might be surprised he still calls Norman home. He now resides in his third different house, but nonetheless still resides on the northwest side of Norman.
Whenever rumors stirred of him possibly heading elsewhere, Stoops hesitated discussing the matter so not to put himself, OU or the third party in an awkward position. Stoops repeatedly said he had no intention of leaving, insisting he already was at a premier football program and was thankful for his working relationship alongside school president David Boren and athletics director Joe Castiglione.
Stoops was Castiglione’s top choice and was the only candidate Castiglione interviewed face-to-face in a week-long search back in 1998.
“I’ll not shy away from the expectations here at Oklahoma,” Stoops said before a crowd of roughly 1,000 people who gathered that day on the front porch of Boren’s office building. “In fact, I’ll embrace ’em. There should be great expectations here.”
That Stoops remains the 21st football coach in OU history serves as testimony. In fact, the “BCS” combination of Boren-Castiglione-Stoops has the longest active tenure of any major college president, athletic director and football coach in the country.
In his first season, Stoops ran the final leg of the worst decade in OU football history, piecing together the school’s first winning season in six years with a 7-5 record. Since then, only twice have the Sooners failed to reach double-digits victories.
Oklahoma’s towering football tradition was at rock-bottom when Stoops took the reins. At first, Stoops brought hope. Every season since, he has brought great expectations.
Success is expected to continue this season, with the Sooners tabbed to qualify for college football’s first four-team playoff.
OU is still riding a 31-week “sugar high” from their Sugar Bowl dismantling of perennial power Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide 45-31 on Jan. 2 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Alabama entered the game having won three of the previous four national championships and was a 16½-point favorite, making OU the biggest underdog of any postseason bowl game last season. (Central Florida also was a 16½-point dog against Baylor and posted a 52-42 upset over the Bears in the Fiesta Bowl.)
Had the Tide rolled as expected in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners likely would have been projected around No. 15 in preseason polls. Instead, they came in a consensus No. 3, marking the ninth time under Stoops that OU has been in the preseason Top 5.
In his introductory speech, Stoops spoke of winning Big 12 and national championships. He delivered both in just his second season, going 13-0 to capture the program’s seventh national title with a 13-2 upset over heavily favored Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
At first, Stoops brought hope. Every season since, he has brought great expectations.
Since then, dips in the Stoops era have been counter-balanced by the fact they came on big stages. After winning the 2000 national championship, Stoops and the Sooners have since lost three straight title bouts.
First came a 21-14 loss to Louisiana State in the 2003 national title game in the Sugar Bowl, played just 80 miles from the victor’s campus.
A 55-19 loss to Southern Cal in the 2004 national championship game in the Orange Bowl no doubt left a mark.
The 2008 season ended with a 24-14 loss to Florida in the championship game in the Orange Bowl.
Back-to-back Fiesta Bowl losses in 2007-08 to Boise State (43-42 in overtime) and future Big 12 member West Virginia (48-28) was a double-dip of disappointment.
Two years ago at the Cotton Bowl came a 31-13 shellacking compliments of Texas A&M, former assistant coach Kevin Sumlin and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
These occasional setbacks unquestionably are far more acceptable than the pain, suffering and embarrassment that came with the two coaching regimes before Stoops, during which Howard Schnellenberger (5-5-1) and John Blake (12-22) went a combined 17-27-1 (.388) and sent a proud program plummeting to depths it had never seen before.
Now the man in charge is the winningest coach in school history. Last season, Stoops (160-39) passed Barry Switzer (157-29-4) in career victories.
- The Sooners have won eight conference titles, five more than any other Big 12 team.
- Every season has resulted in a postseason bowl game.
- 12 of the last 14 seasons have brought at least 10 victories, giving OU the most 10-win seasons all-time nationally with 35. (OU also leads the nation with 21 seasons of at least 11 victories.)
- The Sooners are 87-5 (.946) at home – an average of one loss every three seasons – and every home game has been a sellout.
- OU has had 34 All-Americans.
- Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008) won the Heisman Trophy. Quarterback Josh Heupel (2000) and freshman running back Adrian Peterson (2004) finished second in voting.
- Nineteen players have won national awards.
Stoops’ Norman Conquest has benefitted all involved. The program has return to its prominent perch and Stoops has been rewarded handsomely. While it’s more difficult to quantify the residual benefits received by the University of Oklahoma and legions of OU fans, there’s no doubt that Sooners everywhere have reaped the benefits of the success of the Stoops era.
While there may have been doubters back in 1998, even cynics have to agree that Stoops is still going strong entering season number 16 with the Sooners.
|About John Rohde|
|John Rohde is a respected name on the Oklahoma sports scene and will provide regular features for SoonerSports.com. Voted Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year five times, Rohde has covered OU football and basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC/New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, the Final Four, Masters and PGA Tour. He spent over 26 years for The Oklahoman, serving as a columnist and beat writer. He can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise, the flagship station for OU Athletics weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.|