I left the state of Oklahoma for college in the Northeast in 1997. By that point, my memories of Sooner football as something other than a laughingstock were faint – sitting in the cold rain of Owen Field as OU did battle with Nebraska; piling around the TV on New Year’s Day for a clash of the titans with Miami. All were replaced by an onslaught of ineptitude in crimson and cream.
Scandals leveled the program in the waning years of Barry Switzer’s run as head coach, setting the stage for OU to wander the desert under uninspiring Gary Gibbs, dysfunctional Howard Schnellenberger and staggeringly incompetent John Blake. Around the state, OU football went from an amalgam of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Boston Celtics to 11 weeks of humiliation every year.
But, man, when it turned, it turned quick. OU president David Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione hired away Stoops, Florida’s 38-year-old defensive coordinator, in 1999, and he brought with him a high-octane offense that made for a fun novelty act. I could feel the giant waking up all the way out in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
In his second season, Bob Stoops led the Sooners on one of the more remarkable national title runs in college football history. The next 16 yearss were defined by Stoops’ program staking a claim to being one of the best in the country, but never quite the best. In the wake of his decision to step down at OU, I imagine many will look at his time in Norman through that prism.
Of course, others might define Stoops' stint at OU by the justifiable scrutiny he received for taking in Dorian Green-Beckham, sparing the rod on Joe Mixon and other disciplinary calls. We'll also hear about charity work and players thanking Stoops for whatever role he played in their lives.
I'll pass on issuing some kind of ruling on that part of his legacy. To me, he was just a football coach – and a legitimately great one.
Stoops set an absurd standard for himself and other coaches by reaching the peak of college football in just his second season. Yet, I'd argue he set the bar even higher on the back end of his tenure by fending off the erosion that ended so many of his peers' careers.
Stoops reversed the miniature slide that appeared to be gaining speed in his program four or five years ago. He reinvigorated the Sooners with new blood on his staff, including his handpicked successor in offensive whiz kid Lincoln Riley. The moves resulted in back-to-back conference championships, and Riley is taking over the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12 again this year.
Stoops resurrected a downtrodden program, but he also kept it humming for nearly two decades. He's leaving it on as solid a footing as you could ask for.
To me, that's who Stoops will always be: the coach who made OU football fun again – and did his best to ensure more good times lay ahead.