The mind of the modern fan is notorious for selective hearing when it comes to the national dialogue about a favorite team. I don’t think I’m wrong, though, when I say the conversation about Oklahoma and its head coach has a pretty familiar glide path every time the Sooners lose:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Oklahoma starts season in top five, steadily plays way out of national title contention. Oh-ver-rated.
— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) October 18, 2014
The jabs at “Big Game Bob,” however, are typically followed by speculation at the end of the season that this will be the year Stoops walks away for the opening at Florida or Notre Dame or Ohio State or the Dallas Cowboys or the Chicago Bears or the Denver Broncos… Maybe it’s just good agenting, but I have a hard time remembering an offseason in which Stoops’ name didn’t get play for a high-profile job opening. (You can bet Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley will have some type of conversation with Stoops in the next couple months about the position about to be vacated by Will Muschamp.)
“Bob Stoops is a choke artist” is a hard circle to square with the incessant chatter on the coaching carousel about where he might land next. I suspect that people like Foley and Jerry Jones look back at Stoops’ last 15 years and think, “I want that.”
Stoops inherited a team in 1999 that was a combined 12-22 in the previous three years. The Sooners went 7-5 in Stoops’ first season, which still stands as his worst record to date. Since then, he has racked up one BCS championship, nine BCS bowl appearances, eight Big 12 conference titles, and 12 seasons with double-digit wins. He has done all that in a state that produces a paucity of elite talent relative to other powerhouses.
Since OU hired Stoops, USC has gone through four head coaches. Same for Ohio State. Alabama has had five if you count the Mike Price debacle. Speaking of which, Notre Dame has had five if you factor in George O’Leary and his academic embellishments. Michigan is about to start on number four once Brady Hoke gets canned. Florida? The next guy will be number five.
Power programs with less turnover have gone through awkward transitions that were preceded by years of wandering the desert: Texas, Penn State, Florida State. Georgia and Virginia Tech have longtime coaches in place whose accomplishments pale in comparison to Stoops.
And if all that sounds like an OU fan trying to remind himself that the good far outweighs the bad with Stoops, well…
The truth is that for all the success the Sooners have enjoyed under Stoops, no other fan base is as uniquely positioned to understand the frustration of falling just short of the sport’s summit so many times. At OU, “there are no rebuilding years” is more than just a cliche, which is a result of Stoops’ track record of success. Yet, it also brings with it a different kind of disappointment from knowing your team isn’t any good.
I can’t even begin to imagine what that must feel like for Stoops himself. I put on a t-shirt on Saturdays and live vicariously through my television. Stoops and his players are the ones who make it all happen, then they get dog-cussed by hundreds of thousands of me when they don’t get it done.
You almost wonder why Stoops keeps subjecting himself to it. The money and power have to be nice, but it’s not like he couldn’t have gotten that at any number of other jobs. Plenty of coaches would have abandoned Norman years ago for something different.
In that respect, questions about fatigue and potentially needing a change of scenery are natural. However, sustaining that kind of performance in one place in a brutally difficult profession is a different kind of challenge. Few coaches–perhaps none–have proved they could pull it off in today’s climate.
When Stoops does decide to step down in Norman, best of luck trying to find someone who could replace him.