Follow Bob Stoops on his life’s journey from Youngstown, Ohio, to Sooner Coaching Supremacy.
Cheers erupted, high-fives, hugs and fist bumps abounded. There were the customary postgame dances in the locker room.
But this wasn;t just any victory the Sooners were celebrating in Manhattan, Kan., on Nov. 23, 2013.
Yes, there were game balls to be handed out. After this contest, there was one more postgame pigskin to be passed about.
This was no ordinary victory for head coach Bob Stoops. This was career win No. 158, the most victories of any ball coach in the storied history of the University of Oklahoma.
Remember, that’s an elite college football coaching fraternity. In fact, it’s the only one in America with four coaches each owning more than 100 wins. Bennie Owen registered 122 wins at Oklahoma from 1905-26. Then, the legendary Bud Wilkinson brought the Sooners to national prominence with 145 victories and three national championships, including a 47-game winning streak that remains the national standard to this day. Of course there’s “The King,” himself, Barry Switzer, who concluded his OU career with 157 victories and also assembled three national championship squads with the Sooners.
While Stoops downplayed the significance of this milestone, there’s little question that this coach’s son from Youngstown, Ohio, has firmly established his name as part of Oklahoma football royalty. In fact, Stoops has set a victory record that will be difficult for any future coach to surpass at any institution, anywhere.
An exhilarating, 33-24 comeback win at No. 6 Oklahoma State helped set the stage for an even bigger game as Oklahoma earned a berth in the 80th Allstate Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Alabama in New Orleans on Jan. 2. The Sooners entered that game as double-digit underdogs and left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome victorious after a stunning and decisive 45-31 upset of the Crimson Tide to cap a remarkable 11-2 campaign to give Stoops career win number 160.
Fifteen winning seasons, 15 straight seasons with a bowl berth, averaging double-digit victories for a decade and a half. Not bad considering that before his arrival the Sooners hadn’t won a conference title or posted a season with at least 10 wins since Switzer did it in 1987.
Dating back to the start of the 2000 campaign, no school can boast more seasons with 11 or more victories than Oklahoma (10) with Stoops at the helm. The Sooners finished the season ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll, marking the ninth time since 2000 that OU had produced a top 10 finish, tying for the best mark in the nation. Among schools from BCS conferences only the aforementioned Alabama squad defeated by the Sooners and Oregon have more victories over the past six seasons than Oklahoma (63).
Remarkable feats and remarkable consistency all done with remarkable humility.
The only coach to win all four BCS Bowls and the BCS National Championship Game,
Stoops says he is the beneficiary of the efforts of many talented student-athletes, assistant coaches and staff members. This is all true. But perhaps more than any other single individual, no one has epitomized the resurgence of Oklahoma Football than Bob Stoops.
“I think what we are blessed to have from my dad is a healthy perspective. We’re extremely competitive, but we’re pretty good at separating our family and our values from winning and losing.”
- Bob Stoops on he and his three brothers
To know Youngstown, Ohio, is to know the Stoops family.
Hardscrabble, hard-working and hard-headed some may say. Steel mills and sports, family and football, they all helped forge that steady Stoops’ resolve. Geographically speaking, Youngstown is roughly equidistant between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. If there were ever an official crossroads of blue-collar work ethic meets passion for high school football, Youngstown might just be the shiny thumb tack on that map.
Along with their two sisters they were all raised under the roof of Ron and Dee Stoops. More accurately, the Stoops boys were raised on the ball fields, basketball courts and back streets of Youngstown.
“We were in locker rooms or on courts or on fields our whole life,” recalls Oklahoma’s head coach of his youth.
Stoops’ father, Ron, Sr., coached at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown. And if he wasn’t coaching, he was keeping score. If he wasn’t umpiring or refereeing, he was mopping the locker room or doing the laundry. Wherever Ron Stoops went, his budding band of future coaches weren’t far behind.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of money in our home growing up, but yet we never felt poor,” said the matriarch of the family, Dee Stoops. “We felt very blessed. Their dad always had a job. He was very happy going to work every day. I think the kids learned a lot from that.”
Bob Stoops graduated from Cardinal Mooney in 1978 and eventually played for Hayden Fry, a man whose lineage of future college head coaches would include the likes of Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Dan McCarney, Kirk Ferentz in addition to three of the Stoops boys.
“His father was an outstanding coach in high school,” recalled Fry of Ron Stoops, Sr. “And that gentleman, he was a great coach. He had a heart attack; his team was playing for the championship when he suffered, but he hung in there and went over on the bench on the sideline and (eventually) passed away.
“All those boys, Bob Stoops, his brother Mike Stoops, who was the head coach at Arizona and now is the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma, now the head coach at Kentucky, Mark Stoops . . . . The (coaching) bloodline is in their family.”
“They’ve never completely taken Youngstown out of Bob Stoops.”
The youngest Stoops brother, Mark, recalls that the family recognized Bob’s leadership qualities at an early age.
“Growing up, we always knew there was something special about Bob,” Mark said. “Very confident, very fearless. I think if you’ve watched his Oklahoma teams over the years, they are very confident and very fearless.”
Perhaps Stoops’ first offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, current Washington State head coach Mike Leach put it best:
“They’ve never completely taken Youngstown out of Bob Stoops.”
W hen Bob Stoops was being recruited, the only offer he received was from the University of Iowa and head coach Bob Commings. Following a 2-9 campaign in 1978, Commings was replaced by North Texas head coach Hayden Fry. With his Texas drawl and lack of Big Ten experience, Fry was deemed an unusual selection by some Iowans at the time. Little did they know the man with the rose-colored glasses and trademark mustache would resurrect an Iowa program that not made a postseason appearance since the 1959 Rose Bowl. Fry would became the most successful coach in Hawkeyes’ history and remains one of the most revered figures in the state of Iowa.
In the process, Fry would serve as first a coach, and then, as a coaching mentor to the Stoops brothers. Ironically, that union almost never materialized.
“I came home from my first semester at Iowa and there was a transition of coaches and I had a strong feeling that I wanted to transfer,” Bob Stoops recalled. “I was talking about it quite often and my father who heard me say it one too many times, I can’t tell you exactly what he said to me, but bottom line was he wasn’t real keen on the idea. He didn’t like it, and he had a few choice words to say real quickly and that was the last I ever brought it up.”
Coach Fry fondly remembered his earliest memory of one of his star pupils.
“When we took the job at Iowa they hadn’t had a winning season in 17 years,” Fry recollected. “The out-of-season program was just wearing shorts and t-shirts and tennis shoes. My defensive coordinator Bill Brashier, he comes in after practice and I said, ‘Coach Brashier how did they look?’
I had a strong feeling that I wanted to transfer...
I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be the head coach at Oklahoma or have the life I’ve had if I transferred and given up on it.
“He said, ‘Coach, you won’t believe it. We got a guy out there by the name of Bobby Stoops and he’d run up in a two-back set just to hit you.’ I said, ‘Coach they are only in shorts; they aren’t supposed to be hitting anyone.’ He said, ‘Coach, you tell that to Bobby Stoops!’”
Undoubtedly, Stoops learned a lesson in perseverance by sticking it out at Iowa, a decision that he knows laid a valuable foundation for his future in coaching.
“Fortunately I went back to Iowa and started the next four years,” Stoops continued. “I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be the head coach at Oklahoma or have the life I’ve had if I transferred and given up on it. That strong love can help you. (Dad) certainly gave it to me, and like I said, that’s the last time I brought up transferring and fortunately I went back and had a great career and it led to two other brothers coming to Iowa and us all having the football careers in coaching.”
Stoops’ decision to stay at Iowa would prove fortuitous for the Hawkeyes, as well.
Bob Stoops became a defensive pillar for Fry and Brashier, winning All-Big Ten honors in 1979 and 1982. After Iowa posted a 5-6 campaign in 1979 and a 4-6 mark in 1980, 17 agonizing seasons of losing football were finally snapped in 1981.
Fry’s squad opened the season with a 10-7 upset of No. 7 Nebraska and later added a 20-7 win over No. 6 UCLA. But it was a signature 9-7 road win at No. 5 Michigan that solidified the Hawkeyes as a national contender as the club carried a 7-4 record into the Rose Bowl vs. Washington. That contest would mark the first of 14 bowl berths under Fry.
While the Hawkeyes would fall to the Huskies in Pasadena, Fry’s squad would post another 8-4 campaign in 1982 as Stoops earned honorable mention All-America honors and was the MVP of a team that captured a 28-22 victory in the Peach Bowl over head coach Johnny Majors and the University of Tennessee.
Stoops would finish his career at Iowa with 205 tackles and 10 interceptions. After a two-year stint as a graduate assistant, Stoops spent three seasons (1985-87) as a volunteer assistant, making ends meet by painting houses in the summers in Iowa City. His first “full-time” coaching position would come in 1988 at Kent State.
That paid coaching position came the same year as a July wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Carol Davidson, an Iowa native, who met Stoops during her freshman year in Iowa City.
Then came a phone call from another mentor, Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder.
"I was fortunate to have Coach Stoops on our staff here at Kansas State for several years. He was a strong contributor to the success we have had. And to equal (and surpass) the wins of Coach Switzer, who remains one of the greatest football coaches ever, is a great and well-deserved honor. Having been on the Iowa staff when Bobby played there gave me great respect for his competitive spirit and passion for the game."
- Head Coach Bill Snyder, KSU
In order to comprehend the situation that Bill Snyder and his staff inherited when he was hired at Kansas State on Nov. 24, 1988, consider these horrific facts.
• The Wildcats were in the midst of an 0-26-1 stretch when Snyder was hired.
• The program’s most recent victory had come in October 1986 against North Texas.
• Kansas State had been to a one bowl game in school history – 1982 Independence Bowl.
• In 93 years of football up to that point, the school had accumulated 510 losses.
• Was dubbed “America’s most hapless” team in a 1989 Sports Illustrated article entitled “Futility U.”
Yet Stoops and his young bride didn’t hesitate to join Snyder. They packed up their bags for a position as defensive backs coach in what most of the nation considered a vast football wasteland where coaching careers went to wilt and die.
“We have had a journey like anyone else," Carol Stoops told OU Daily in 2002. “We were 4-7 at Kent State and went 1-10 our first year at Kansas State. We saved every dime for our first home and then had no furniture in it. Our kitchen table for two years was a card table and four chairs and after that it was a hand-me-down from one of Bobby's brothers.”
“We have had a journey like anyone else. We saved every dime for our first home and then had no furniture in it. ”
While the Stoops’ home suffered from a lack of accoutrements, the Wildcats’ winless ways would be swept away like dust on the Kansas plains. After suffering through that initial 1-10 campaign in 1989, a 5-6 season ensued in 1990. Stoops was promoted to co-defensive coordinator in 1991 as the Kansas State won 17 games from 1990-92.
Let the record show that the K-State defensive staff was joined by another Stoops when brother Mike migrated to Manhattan in 1992. Then came a breakthrough 9-2-1 campaign in 1993 as K-State embarked on a stretch of 11 consecutive bowl berths.
“He kind of started us all in coaching,” Mike Stoops recalled of his working with Coach Snyder and his older brother at Kansas State. “Coach Snyder’s given us a great opportunity. We owe a great deal to him professionally. He taught us a lot of important elements of coaching and the details of it all. He’s been a mentor in a lot of ways to us.”
Someone who had a front-row seat for both the darkest days and finest hours of Kansas State football was Mitch Holthus, who served as the “Voice of the Wildcats” from 1983-96.
“What Bill, Bob and the staff did at K-State from 1989-95 is unprecedented,” said Holthus, who has served as “Voice of the Kansas City Chiefs” since 1994. “They took the worst football program in the galaxy and made it nationally prominent. Bill was good for Bob and gave him a great opportunity, and Bob made the most of it.
“In a similar manner, Bob was good for Bill because Bob brought a fresh defensive approach that complimented Bill’s offensive strategies. Two of the best minds in college football were in the same place at the same time.”
By 1996, only a national championship was missing from Steve Spurrier’s illustrious trophy case at the University of Florida.
• He won the Heisman Trophy quarterbacking the Gators in 1966.
• He guided the Gators to Southeastern Conference titles in 1991, 1993 and 1994.
• He led Florida to another SEC title in 1995 and a pristine 12-0 record as the Gators reached their first-ever national championship game appearance before falling to Tom Osborne and Nebraska by a 62-24 margin in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 1996, expectations were higher than ever before in Gainesville. That’s when Spurrier hand-picked Bob Stoops to serve as his defensive savant in Sunshine State. Stoops’ official title was assistant head coach/defensive coordinator. That bond of “ball coaches” that still burns brightly to this day.
Spurrier and Heisman Trophy winning QB Danny Wuerffel directed one of the most prolific offenses in SEC history. The Gators led the nation by averaging 46.6 ppg, while also leading the country in average yards per play (7.1) and TD passes (42).
Meanwhile, Stoops’ added some much-needed defensive swagger to Spurrier’s arsenal in The Swamp. Florida’s defensive unit registered a school-record six touchdowns.
After posting a 35-29 win vs. quarterback Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the third week of the season, the Gators moved into the top spot in the polls. A 24-21 setback to No. 2 Florida State in Tallahassee appeared to dash Spurrier’s national title ambitions once again. However, football fate would bring the Gators and the Seminoles together in a national championship clash on Jan. 2, 1997.
The dynamic duo of Spurrier and Stoops would combine to help Florida claim its first national championship with a 52-20 victory over No. 1-ranked Florida State in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to claim the consensus 1996 national championship.
While the Gators couldn’t recapture that national championship magic again during Stoops’ stay in Gainesville, he quickly became one of college football’s hottest commodities after Florida posted a 20-4 record over the next two campaigns.
“I told Bobby, you’re your worst enemy. He had those dudes thinking it was easy. There’s nothing easy about winning football games, I can assure you of that.”
When Stoops accepted the head coaching job at Oklahoma, he didn’t forget the many lessons learned from Spurrier, who, like Stoops’ father, had instilled a strong notion of keeping a healthy balance between football and family. In fact, Stoops still takes his kids to school before arriving at work, a lesson learned from the “Ol’ Ball Coach.” And it was Gainesville was where, Mackenzie, the first of three Stoops children was born.
“I brought virtually everything we did at Florida,” Stoops said in a 2013 interview with Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun. “I root for Florida,” he said. “Except when they play South Carolina. I have strong feelings for Coach [Spurrier].”
In addition to his wife and young daughter, Stoops brought another important person with him to Norman from his days at Florida, strength and conditioning coach, Jerry Schmidt. Schmidt had previously won a national championship working with Lou Holtz at Notre Dame before joining Spurrier’s staff and quickly helped transform the Sooners into national champions upon his arrival at OU with Stoops. Schmidt remains a fixture on Stoops’ OU staff to this day.
In fact, Spurrier suggests that Stoops’ rapid resurrection of the Oklahoma program back to national championship status may have given some Sooners fans a false sense of reality.
“Shoot, I told Bobby, you’re your worst enemy,” Spurrier told Matt Hayes of Sporting News earlier this year. “He had those dudes thinking it was easy. There’s nothing easy about winning football games, I can assure you of that. Especially when you’re on top and everybody’s gunning for you.”
“I admire the many victories of Bob Stoops as a football coach. But even more, I admire the high standards of integrity, which he has maintained not only for OU, but also for American college football.”
- David L. Boren President – University of Oklahoma
To quantify Bob Stoops’ 15 seasons at the University of Oklahoma simply in terms of wins and losses would be a great disservice. No doubt Stoops has made an immeasurable impact on college football. Since his arrival at OU, no other Big 12 school can come close to the Sooners’ eight conference crowns, nine BCS bowl appearances, four national championship game appearances and 12 seasons with 10 or more victories. In fact, Stoops is one of only three FBS coaches to guide his squads to 10 or more wins each of the past four seasons.
Inspiring champions today and preparing leaders for tomorrow hasn’t simply been a lofty mission statement for Stoops, it’s been a mantra that he’s firmly embraced from day one working alongside OU vice president and director of athletics, Joe Castiglione.
Perhaps no better example of that mindset can be found on the Sooners’ roster than senior captain Gabe Ikard. A 4.0 student and Academic All-American selection in the classroom, Ikard has been an All-Big 12 selection on the field the past two seasons. The Oklahoma City native was named one of 16 winners of the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award and also became the first OU player to ever win the Wuerffel Trophy and the Selmon Community Spirit Award.
The sense of pride emanating from President Boren’s office still beams brightly across the OU campus.
“Bob Stoops has not only been good for the University of Oklahoma; he has been good for college football in general,” Boren said. “His character and integrity have given others a worthy example to follow. I am proud of his many victories as a coach, but I am even more proud that he has coached our teams to win in the right way.”
Bob and Carol Stoops have firmly put down roots and truly embraced Norman, Oklahoma, as their home. Twin sons, Drake and Isaac, joined the family here along with a bevy of BCS bowl berths (nine to be exact).
“Bob Stoops is an exceptional coach and leader and we are grateful for a man of great character and integrity, who has challenged his teams to achieve at championship levels,” Castiglione offered. “Bob restored the program at a difficult time and returned it to a prominent position, and his core values and commitment to serving others underscore the impact that he has made since his arrival.
"Bob Stoops is an exceptional coach and leader and we are grateful for a man of great character and integrity, who has challenged his teams to achieve at championship levels."
“He has routinely deflected any individual attention to others, but it is also appropriate for all of us to congratulate Bob as the one who led the way to this significant achievement,” he continued. “We look forward to supporting him as he further strengthens the tradition-filled legacy of one of college football’s most iconic programs in the years to come.”
True to their grounded core, Bob and Carol never hesitate to share their blessings. The Bob Stoops’ Champions Foundation officially serves as the family’s charitable arm, annually supporting numerous worthy causes. But in typical Stoops fashion, both Bob and Carol frequently give of themselves away from the spotlight.
Whether it means quietly bringing a smile to patients at a children’s hospital on a Friday before a home game, supporting Special Olympians or other families with special needs, the number of individuals and causes touched by the Stoops family is impossible to quantify.
When a series of violent tornadoes devastated numerous communities across Oklahoma in May, Stoops and his Sooners responded in the best way they knew possible. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
Whether it was helping families dig out of their homes, providing words of comfort, or distributing and unloading relief supplies, Bob and Carol Stoops often went unrecognized doing “the right thing” alongside many of their fellow Oklahomans.
“He is not only an outstanding coach, but also a caring and outstanding person,” Boren concluded. “He reaches out to help others, especially children with medical problems with as little publicity as possible. I feel very fortunate in this period of great pressure on college athletics to have a coach like Bob Stoops at OU.”
And as Stoops frequently points out, he’s been very fortunate to work for the same university president and the same director of athletics for his entire 15-season tenure at the University of Oklahoma. In fact, those three individuals comprise the longest active running president-athletic director-head football coach combination at any FBS institution.
In today’s landscape permeated by social media and 24-hour sports coverage, there is more than enough vitriol to go around. In the midst of all of this noise, Stoops has displayed a great propensity to filter out the static and remind his student-athletes that football is supposed to be fun.
After all, how many FBS head football coaches are comfortable enough in their own skin to occasionally drive their wife’s pink Cadillac to work or have their entire coaching staff conduct practice in Halloween costumes?
What lies ahead for Stoops?
He’s keenly aware that winning championships – as in national championships – is the expectation at the University of Oklahoma. And if you spend any time around Stoops, you’ll no doubt be assured that competitive fire to win still burns deeply within his soul.
“His challenge is not breaking my record, his challenge is because of who he is, where he is, the school he coaches for, the product he has to recruit to, is to go after national records,” said Barry Switzer. “He’s young enough, healthy enough and he has an opportunity to coach for a long, long time if he wants to.
Bob’s the guy
who got it done.
“Tom Osborne coached for 25 years and what Tom accomplished at the end of his career was phenomenal,” he added. “He won 60 out of the last (63) games he coached and three national championships in the ‘90s. So (Bob) has a lot in front of him and a lot more to do.
“I know that he will be very successful. I knew it when I first saw his coaching staff and his team play in 1999. I saw the Sooners wallow around in the ‘90s; they went through about (three) coaches before they found one who could get it done. Bob’s the guy who got it done. He’s an outstanding coach, he’s got an outstanding staff and he’s been able to recruit good players.”
Stoops is fond of saying that people don’t change, they just get older.
• The ornery brother who never backed down.
• The coach’s son who embodied his parents’ unwavering work ethic.
• The hard-hitting safety who wore No. 41 for the Hawkeyes.
• The unpaid assistant who painted countless houses in Iowa City.
• The faithful husband who moved a young wife to Manhattan, Kan.
• The defensive coach who served as an alter-ego to the Ol’ Ball Coach.
• The first-time head coach who won it all in his second season at Oklahoma.
• The doting father who raises his kids with Youngstown values.
• The model of college football consistency, winning the right way.
All those guys, they’re on display during fall Saturdays in Norman, Oklahoma.
They all just happen to be rolled up in one man wearing a crimson shirt and a white visor.
Here’s to Bob Stoops as he continues to carry the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Sooners everywhere on his broad shoulders.
|Milestone Victories of the Stoops’ Era|
|9/11/99||Registers 1st victory at Oklahoma||49-0 vs. Indiana State|
|9/18/99||Records 1st Big 12 victory||41-10 vs. Baylor|
|10/23/99||Claims 1st victory against ranked foe||51-6 vs. #13 Texas A&M|
|11/27/99||Notches 1st Bedlam victory||44-7 vs. Oklahoma State|
|10/7/00||Produces 1st Red River Rivalry victory||63-14 vs. Texas|
|10/28/00||Records 1st OU win vs. Nebraska since 1990||31-14 vs. #1 Nebraska|
|12/2/00||1st Big 12 Championship Game victory||27-24 vs. #8 Kansas State|
|1/3/01||1st OU National Championship since 1985||13-2 vs. #3 Florida State|
|1/1/02||Leads OU to first Cotton Bowl victory||10-3 vs. Arkansas|
|11/18/03||Registers 50th career victory||34-13 vs. #24 Missouri|
|9/13/08||Registers 100th career victory||55-14 at Washington|
|10/16/10||Surpasses Bennie Owen on OU win list||52-0 vs. Iowa State|
|11/10/12||Surpasses Bud Wilkinson on OU win list||42-34 vs. Baylor|
|8/31/13||Registers 150th career victory, Surpasses Barry Switzer with 158th career win||41-31 at Kansas State|
Special thanks to all who helped facilitate the insights from Coach Stoops’ family, friends and peers, in addition to those who provided photos and video for this story.
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Written by: Pete Moris // Video Courtesy of SoonerVision // Site Producer: Russell Houghtaling