I think we all were when we learned that Bob Stoops would retire after 18 seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma. After all, he’s only 56 years old. With a record of 190-48, he is arguably one of the greatest college football coaches of the 21st century.
“Big Game Bob” likely would have gone down as one of the greatest college football coaches of all-time had he delivered more than one National Championship to the Sooner Nation. He had his chances.
His Sooners won nearly 80% of the games he coached, making him the 6th active winningest coach in college football. Although I probably watched him coach the Sooners both in person and on TV hundreds of times, I met him only once on a chance visit of 10 minutes. But 10 minutes is all it took for me to know he was a better man than a great coach.
Two days before I met Bob Stoops, I was in Lincoln, Nebraska. I grew up in Nebraska and graduated from the University of Nebraska. We were on our annual pilgrimage to Lincoln to see my beloved Cornhuskers play. This trip also represented my daughter’s official visit to Nebraska. She was a senior in high school and would be a college freshman next fall.
Nebraska would lose on a last second field goal to Wisconsin, 23-21. Nebraska’s record fell to 2-3. Their worst start since 1960! So long ago, it was two seasons before Bob Devaney would arrive on the scene in Lincoln. Ugh.
On Monday, we began our trip back to Texas. We would make one more campus visit on the way home. Destination…Norman, Oklahoma.
My daughter wanted to check out the University of Oklahoma. I’m thinking, “Does she have any idea how many Friday’s after Thanksgiving were ruined by the Sooners during my childhood?”
As some will remember, Nebraska and Oklahoma had one of the greatest rivalries in college football. Year in and year out, the stakes of this game had huge implications. The winner punched their ticket to the Orange Bowl and many times it would be an opportunity to play for the National Championship.
While I hated Oklahoma when they played Nebraska, it was a rivalry built around mutual admiration and respect. I enjoyed watching Oklahoma when they weren’t playing Nebraska. Secretly, I was “OK” if my daughter decided to attend Oklahoma. But come on, what are the odds of that? She’s been brainwashed since the day she was born. GO BIG RED!
On a beautiful day in October, we arrived on the campus of Oklahoma for a tour. As serendipity would have it, my wife grew up with Clark Stroud, the VP of Student Affairs. He gave us a personal tour of campus. On our first stop, we visited the field house. This is where they kept all the trophies of past Big 8, Big 12 and National Championships.
Also on display were all the uniforms the Sooners had worn through the years. And of course, five Heisman trophies.
In 1978, Nebraska beat one of the greatest OU teams I can ever remember. The backfield featured Thomas Lott, Kenny King, David Overstreet and Billy Sims. They were loaded. It was quite a sight to see that group line up in the wishbone and run the triple option!
Late in the game, OU was in the red zone and it looked like “Sooner Magic” was about to rear its ugly head once again. Billy Sims was heading toward the end zone when he took a big hit from Jim Pillen. Sims fumbled the ball and Nebraska recovered on the 4 yard line. OU would fumble 9 times that chilly November day in Lincoln. Nebraska prevailed, 17-14.
I still remember standing on the field with my Dad as we watched the student body rip down the goal posts. Our reward…a date with Oklahoma on January 1st in the Orange Bowl! Despite a late 4th quarter rally by the Cornhuskers, Oklahoma would win easily, 31-24.
Well, the field house was also where the coaches kept their offices. As we entered the hall of the coaches’ offices Clark said, “Let me see if the coach is in.” We waited as he walked into Coach Stoops’ office. A few minutes later he waved us on in.
As we entered his office, he smiled and welcomed us. He was gracious with his time and very friendly. He asked my daughter what she was interested in studying. He even took time to show my son and I his rings and watches from past bowl games.
Then he asked us where we were from and I said, “We’re from Texas, but we’re coming back from the Nebraska game in Lincoln.” Always the recruiter, Bob says, “How is Nebraska doing this year? I haven’t kept track of them much lately.” Subtle. Nicely played, Coach.
It was a fun conversation and a great experience. Upon reflection, this meeting with Coach Stoops had a profound effect on me when you consider how his day must have been going. Two days prior, OU was undefeated entering their game with Texas in Dallas. OU would lose to a bad Texas team, 24-17. You would have never known it from our meeting.
On a Monday after losing to Texas, how excited do you think he was to talk to a family from Texas who were Cornhusker fans? He had nothing to gain from the meeting or the conversation.
He could have easily said, “Not today Clark. Tough weekend. I hope you understand.” Yet he not only agreed to meet us, he made us feel welcome.
It reminded me of the quote by Malcolm S. Forbes.
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
Bob Stoops is a man of character. He treated us just like we were one of his top recruits. That left a lasting impression with me.
The University of Oklahoma left a lasting impression on my daughter. “Sooner Magic” is alive and well. Next year, my daughter will begin her sophomore at the University of Oklahoma!
Congrats on a great career, Coach Stoops. As my daughter likes to say, “BOOMER.” College football will miss you.