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Stoops Steps Down
When Bob Stoops arrived in Norman on Dec. 1 of 1998, the storied Oklahoma football program was stuck in the mud. The six national titles won in the 1950s, ‘70s and 80s represented the distant past.

Stoops was taking over a program that had endured five straight non-winning seasons. The tenures of Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake had been unmitigated disasters spanning the four previous campaigns.

Stoops had no head-coaching experience, but he had spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator on Steve Spurrier’s staff at Florida. In his first season at UF, Stoops helped the Gators win the national title.

Stoops went 7-5 in his first season at OU, offering a glimpse of optimism for the future. But nobody – I mean NOBODY – thought he’d have the Sooners in the mix for a bid to the BCS Championship Game in his second year. But that’s exactly what happened. In fact, Stoops led OU to a 13-2 win over FSU in Miami at the BCS Championship Game.

In the span of only 25 months, Stoops had taken OU from rock bottom back to the top of the mountain. He would get the Sooners back to three more BCS Championship Games, but they didn’t go OU’s way. Losses to both Southern Cal and Florida occurred in Miami, in addition to a loss to LSU and Nick Saban in New Orleans.

Those three losses certainly put a minor dent in Stoops’s resume, at least in terms of comparing him to the all-time greats. But there’s no doubt that Stoops is a Hall of Famer. Any doubt is removed by his 190-48 overall record that includes nine outright Big 12 titles and a share of a 10th.

During his 18 years on the sidelines leading OU, his team was always in the mix. Only three times did his Sooners drop three games in a row.

Stoops’s old mentor, Spurrier, walked away from Florida in January of 2002. When he did, Spurrier said that “12 years was long enough for a head coach at an SEC school.” He added that when the fan base was disappointed with a season that included 11 wins and a blowout victory in the Orange Bowl, maybe it was time for him to go in a different direction.

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Perhaps Stoops leaned on some of that wisdom in recent weeks? After all, it was as if the sky was falling when Oklahoma lost by double digits at Houston in the season opener last year. Things were only worse among the natives when Ohio State came to Norman and blasted the Sooners 45-24 two weeks later.

As always, Stoops’s team would recover and certainly wouldn’t go in the tank. All it did following the loss to the Buckeyes was rip off 11 consecutive wins.

But make no mistake, Stoops wasn’t appreciated in Oklahoma nearly as much in recent years. And for a man that turned down jobs galore during his tenure and always stayed loyal to OU, it had to be quite the burden to bare.

NFL teams had come calling for Stoops through the years, only to be dealt Heisman treatment. His name always came up when other high-profile college jobs became available. In fact, Stoops said no to former Florida AD Jeremy Foley twice following his attempts to bring him back to lead the Gators. (That’s something UNC’s Roy Williams only had the stomach to do once to Dean Smith.)

Were there plenty of down moments? Of course there were. In addition to the three aforementioned L’s in BCS title games, Stoops’s critics will always point to the two Fiesta Bowl losses – one in overtime to Boise State and the other in blowout fashion to a West Virginia team abandoned by Rich Rodriguez and led by Pat White and interim head coach Bill Stewart. There was also the blowout defeat to Johnny Football and the Aggies at the Cotton Bowl, just one year after Texas A&M left the Big 12 high and dry. And just two years ago in a semifinal game of the College Football Playoffs, a halftime lead disappeared in a 37-17 loss to Clemson.

But those moments are only bitter disappointments because Stoops brought Oklahoma football back to the standard that Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer set decades beforehand. And with his sudden retirement today, Stoops leaves the program on better-than-sound footing.

He released a lengthy statement explaining his decision, the first part of which can be seen here:

“After 18 years at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve decided to step down as the head football coach. I understand there has been some speculation about my health. My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching. I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins. The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship. We have new state-of-the-art facilities and a great start on next year’s recruiting class. The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players. Now is simply the ideal time for me and our program to make this transition.”

For those thinking Lincoln Riley who, like Stoops when he was hired, has zero head-coaching experience, could be in over his head as the new coach, get a clue! Riley has turned down overtures from several other schools following both of his seasons as OU’s offensive coordinator, and it’s a good thing he did. Now he has one of the nation’s best gigs at the age of 33.

His hiring should make for a smooth transition. Riley was hired by Stoops away from East Carolina following the 2014 season. Riley’s Air-Raid Offense was thing of beauty at ECU. Riley tutored QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy, who is now a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Hardy broke every ECU receiving record during his junior campaign and only added to those numbers as a senior. Carden shredded all of David Garrard’s old passing records.

While coaching Baker Mayfield the last two seasons, Mayfield has thrown 76 touchdown passes compared to only 15 interceptions. Oklahoma averaged 43.5 points per game in 2015. Then this past year, the Sooners scored at a 43.9 PPG clip to finish second in the country in total offense and third in scoring.

Riley is the right man at the right time. He’s already considered one of the top offensive minds in all of football. Just as it did with Stoops, OU might have to fret about NFL teams coming after Riley in the not-too-distant future.

Yes, the timing is odd, but when is the timing ever right for a change? Without question, Stoops deserved to leave on his own terms, which is to say “whenever the hell he felt like it.”

Stoops woke up today and felt like calling it a career. He’ll take that 11-game winning streak into retirement and should look back at his work over 18 years as a job well done.

Very well done.

  
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