As an Oklahoma fan, I think Bob Stoops is a tremendous football coach. There are plenty of great ones out there–Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban–but, dollars for donuts, I think Stoops may be the best of all.
Based on what I've witnessed this week, I wonder if I may be underrating him.
Like a smitten geek pestering the school sexpot, persistent Notre Dame fans continue to assert that they have a chance to woo Stoops to South Bend, despite being rebuffed repeatedly. And, playing the ever-charming role of class gossip, plenty of media talking heads appear to revel in stoking the story by trafficking in unsubstantiated rumors and whispers. (Check out this column published Friday by Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews.com for an example of what I mean.)
Judging by Stoops' stellar 11-year run in Norman, why Irish fans covet OU's coach needs no explanation. Lusting after him as if Bear Bryant couldn't carry his clipboard, however, does.
Negotiation experts often warn of the perils of a psychological phenomenon known as "irrational escalation of commitment." This refers to our perplexing tendency to dig in behind a failing course of action, such as dumping money into a cratering investment. In a negotiation, the thinking goes, this deepening fixation on an objective can hinder progress and prohibit the participants from thinking creatively and identifying workable solutions. As such, the object of commitment essentially hijacks the greater aim of reaching a satisfactory agreement.
Why do people fall into this trap? On one level, our competitive nature creates an underlying need to save face. Additionally, once goals are set and commitments are made, the "confirmation bias" takes effect: we seek out information supporting our position and ignore evidence to the contrary.
Now, unless you buy into the unconfirmed scuttlebutt surrounding this fiasco, it doesn't appear that Stoops is "negotiating" anything with ND. That misses the point.
In the context of escalation of commitment, it becomes much easier for an Irish loyalist to start to accept some unfounded rumor supposedly started by Stoops' nephew or a "plugged-in" message board poster than to listen to the man himself.
Yet, with all the Stoops-related hysteria going around ND Nation, I wonder if these ardent Irish fans have stopped to consider the larger effects of their undying declarations of love.
If ever the college football world needed a reminder of ND's status as a sinking superpower, this is not the time. Yet, every time some big name passes on a godfather offer from the school, its reputation takes another hit. That loss becomes magnified when Irish Nation still gets no love after desperately throwing itself at a coach like a cougar at closing time.
The longer the Stoops obsession carries on, the more pride the next coach will have to swallow. He'll have to deal with the reality that his rabid fan base, including influential alums, settled for him. We've already witnessed how that has turned out for Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis.
But let's indulge all the Notre Dame fantasies for a moment. Let's pretend Stoops has been lying all week about his intentions. He's been flying around the country on recruiting trips–on OU's dime–fibbing to recruits that he's staying with the Sooners, or, worse, trying to convince them to join him in South Bend. He's going to be standing on a dais next week, shaking hands with Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick and talking about how he was finally convinced Notre Dame is where he wants to be.
If that's the coach you really want, ND, you can have him.