I’ve read more than my fair share of day-in-the-life profiles of Bob Stoops like this one from GatorSports.com columnist Pat Dooley. As is the case with Dooley’s piece, the subject of how OU’s coach responds to criticism from Media Bloviator X inevitably comes up, and inevitably the response from Stoops is some variation on the one he gave Dooley: “You'd be surprised how little (of the criticism) I hear.”
If you had any doubts about that, I’d think they’ve been put to rest this offseason.
Now, he’s backing Mike Gundy’s hardline stance on ex-OSU quarterback Wes Lunt’s transfer options, and he sounds pretty dickhead-ish in the process:
“It isn’t right that they can just do what they want to do," Stoops said. "It isn’t good. I don’t believe in it."
Ugh. Good luck explaining that away. Oh, and this one, too:
"Nobody made them sign with me. I didn’t force them to, it was what they wanted to do.”
Keep talking this way, coach, and forcing recruits to sign with you might be the only way it happens.
As was the case when Stoops gave his SEC diatribe that caught national attention, it's probably a little disingenuous to just take the sound bites out of this. It's easy to build straw men on such matters without placing them in proper context. For example, "should college football players be paid?" is a different question than "should college football players get a cost-of-attendance stipend?"
Still, I'd hope we can all agree that giving coaches the power to significantly hinder a player's ability to pursue his future as he sees fit makes for bad policy.
College coaches sign up for a life in which a large degree of their success is dictated by the whims of teenage kids. They get millions of dollars if they can manage that well. That's the deal.
Stoops going all hardass on this issue in this case just seems strange to me. I can’t recall a single time where he has taken a punitive position on a player who wanted to transfer. Hell, two years ago, he helped expedite a departing player’s transfer within the Big 12. Plus, it's not like Stoops has never accepted transfers before.
I don’t know Stoops, and I definitely won’t claim any special insight into what makes him tick. Having followed him and the OU program pretty closely for about 15 years, I do think I have a grip on where he's coming from when he talks about these athlete welfare issues, for lack of a better term. Stoops has frequently mentioned his frustration with what he perceives as a growing sense of entitlement among players. He carps about helicopter parents. He talks with disdain about the media and outside influences leading his players astray.
All of which is to say that when Stoops tells his players that they're not the first people to have a "hungry Sunday," it may be his way of telling them to keep their eyes on the prize. And when he says he backs Gundy's play here, he might view it as some message that he's sending to his players about the importance of honoring commitments.
Listening to Stoops talk, he does come off like the native of a hardscrabble steel town, the kind of guy who looks down on quitters and believes there’s some ennobling value in fighting through adversity. A paternalistic, “this-is-for-your-own-good” streak runs through that kind of thinking. Some might find that admirable – yanno, paint it as a decent man trying to help his players despite themselves. And, in fact, there actually are some decent “nanny state” arguments that transferring harms players more often than not, which, in a perverse way, would mean that deterring transfers is beneficial to the players.
But that line of thinking also built Joe Paterno into a demigod at Penn State. We saw how that turned out.
The coach-as-builder-of-men narrative makes for a nice story and all, but big-time college football has evolved into a different kind of beast. The money and power and ego involved are all so great that the incentives for coaches to keep their players' best interests at the forefront of their minds simply aren't there – Stoops' paycheck should serve as a reminder of that every couple weeks.
If Stoops really is trying to do right by his players, there have to be better ways of him getting his points across.