If successful college football coaches stay anywhere long enough, they inevitably take over the identity of a program.
The story of the program becomes their own. The camera lens zooms in on their own personal arcs. What actually happens on the field doesn’t matter so much as how it fits into their narratives.
After 16 years as head coach, Oklahoma football has become tethered to Bob Stoops. The players, the assistant coaches, the program’s history – they’re all background right now in the story of the Sooners’ coach trying to get back to the top of college football’s mountain.
(Note the irony that I’m writing this right now instead of breaking down OU’s 40-6 spanking from Clemson tonight.)
It has been an intriguing story to follow the last few years from the outside, even as a too-often-disappointed fan. But imagine what that must feel like on the inside to the supporting players in The Bob Stoops Show.
Every loss turns into a setback for Stoops on his road to redemption. Every mistake is a referendum on his competence. Every failure becomes part of a national punchline about your tough-talking coach coming up short.
OU clearly had a squad with more warts than most predicted back in the preseason. Yet, watching how the Sooners devolved in the second half of the year, it’s easy to wonder if they also didn’t pack it in back in October. That's when Kansas State stomped on their hopes of a conference title and spot in the playoff. Checking out is a natural reaction when your goals get crushed, but it has to be that much more demoralizing when you have a role in yet another Big Game Bob debacle.
OU generally seems to play tight lately, like a team with everything to lose and nothing to gain. That’s probably because it’s true in the context of Stoops’ story.
The fault for this doesn’t lie with Stoops, unless you want to argue that he should possess a level of humility that is altogether foreign to successful college football coaches. But that doesn’t make it any less of a problem for his program. History tells us these stories usually don’t end all that well.