Boomer Sooner or bust: The complicated legacy for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma

Jul 19, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days at Omni Dallas Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 19, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days at Omni Dallas Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Bob Stoops shocked the college football world by abruptly hanging up the visor on Wednesday. How should we remember his time coaching the Oklahoma Sooners?

It’s the end of an era in the college football landscape, as long-time Oklahoma Sooners head football coach Bob Stoops has decided to call it a career after 18 seasons in Norman. Stoops was the longest-tenured college football coach when he announced his retirement on Wednesday.

His offensive coordinator of the last two seasons, 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, will take the reins this fall. Oklahoma had won the Big 12 the last two years and looked to be a serious national title contender this upcoming season. However, Stoops has made up his mind about coaching and clearly wants to get on with his life. 18 years in one place is impressive, but how should we go about remembering the Stoops era of Sooner football (1999-2017)?

Oklahoma had previously built a proud, blue-blood football program under the likes of Bud Wilkinson (1947-63) and Barry Switzer (1973-88). However, the Sooners program was a hot mess when Stoops arrived in Norman in 1999.

Three years of whatever John Blake was doing resulted in Oklahoma going a combined 12-22 and 7-17 in the Big 12 from 1996 to 1998. A top-10 program all-time missing a bowl game three straight years was beyond unacceptable for the Sooners. Oklahoma obviously needed to make a change on the sideline.

The Sooners selected another visor connoisseur’s best assistant coach for the position.  Stoops had spent the three previous seasons in Gainesville as Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator for the SEC powerhouse Florida Gators. Before that, Stoops coached under another College Football Hall of Famer in Bill Snyder with the Kansas State Wildcats. He spent seven years in Manhattan learning under one of his former college coaches at Iowa.

As an undergrad in Iowa City, Stoops played defensive back for the Iowa Hawkeyes under the legendary Hayden Fry from 1979 to 1982. In short, Stoops comes from an amazing coaching tree. All the knowledge he gamed from Fry, Snyder and Spurrier helped him on his quest to bring Oklahoma back to national relevancy.

Almost overnight, Stoops did just that. Oklahoma would reach its first bowl game in Stoops’ first year in Norman. Before narrowly losing to the Ole Miss Rebels in the 1999 Independence Bowl 27-25, Oklahoma last played a postseason game in the 1994 Cooper Bowl. The Sooners were humiliated by the BYU Cougars.

While the two-point loss to the Rebels would sting only slightly, Stoops had his best year in Norman the following season. In just his second year as a head coach, Oklahoma would win the 2000 National Championship by beating the Florida State Seminoles, 13-2, in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma went 13-0 (8-0) that fall and the Sooners would once again become a national power.

At Oklahoma, Stoops won 10 Big 12 titles, six Big 12 Coach of the Year awards, and two Walter Camp Coach of the Year awards. He won the 2000 national title, appeared in three more BCS National Championship Games and played in the 2015 College Football Playoff. He would go 190-48 as a head coach and 121-29 in Big 12 play. Two of his quarterbacks would go on to win Heisman Trophies, as Jason White won it in 2003 and Sam Bradford would win his in 2008.

Overall, Stoops undoubtedly has the résumé to earn enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame. While he was never viewed as the best coach of his era, Stoops did average over 10 wins a season at a traditional power like Oklahoma. That cannot be ignored.

Longevity, his ability to adapt as a coach, and his utter dominance of the Big 12 were three coaching attributes that set him apart from his peers. He should be held in high regard by Boomer Sooner Nation with the likes of Switzer and Wilkinson. However, it wasn’t all gold for Stoops in Norman.

Though he earned the nickname “Big Game Bob” early in his career, Stoops was a lackluster 9-9 in bowl games. While he reached four National Championship Games, he only won one in 2000. Switzer and Wilkinson won three titles apiece.

Though he has the most career wins of any head coach in Oklahoma Sooner football history at 190, both Switzer and Wilkinson had a better career winning percentage. Winning 79.8 percent of his games is impressive for Stoops, but Switzer won 83.7 percent of his games and Wilkinson was victorious in 82.6 percent of his.

While he was at Oklahoma, there was only one team that could challenge the Sooners regularly in the Big 12: the Texas Longhorns. Though Texas was dynamic under then head coach Mack Brown, Texas only went to two national title games (2005, 2009) winning just one (2005).

Sure, one could argue that the only serious challengers in the Big Eight during the Wilkinson or Switzer eras were the Nebraska Cornhuskers and occasionally Texas. However, Oklahoma was straight up dominating folks with the wishbone offense. Stoops’ Sooners won more with defense in a pass-first Air Raid league.

Eventually, Stoops would give in to the idea of the Air Raid offense. Riley went to Texas Tech and became a disciple of the offense under head coach Mike Leach. Adding Riley to the staff as offensive coordinator in 2015 helped transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield become one of the best in the game the last two years. Mayfield returned to Norman his redshirt senior season to do three things: improve his day three NFL Draft stock, win the Heisman, and bring Oklahoma another national championship.

Walking away during the final season of Oklahoma’s most durable and high-octane passer of all time in Mayfield only adds curiosity to Stoops’ abrupt retirement. Certainly the Joe Mixon scandal wasn’t fun to be asked about constantly, either. 2016 Heisman finalist wide receiver Dede Westbrook didn’t come to Norman out of junior college without some baggage. Even Mayfield himself was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas for having a little too much fun.

Frankly, Oklahoma maybe becoming too much of a loose ship for Stoops’ liking? It got a little scary toward the end of the Switzer era in Norman, too. Maybe Stoops is tired of the shenanigans of 18 to 23-year-olds? Recruiting can wear on people also. Stoops has to be getting tired of being negatively recruited against for being the best team in an Air Raid league. Let’s not forget that Texas could be on the way back under new head coach Tom Herman.

It almost feels like Stoops is quitting while he’s ahead. The problem is — what exactly is he ahead of? He probably would have liked to have gotten to a fourth national title game and come away victorious, sending him out on a much higher note. However, Stoops hasn’t proven to be an elite bowl game coach at 9-9 all time.

To win a national title in the College Football Playoff era, it requires a team to beat two top-four teams in succession on neutral sites. It’s not like Stoops and Oklahoma can sneak up on anybody anymore. This is a blue-blood program that everyone wants to beat. Defeating Oklahoma on the gridiron is still a huge deal, but it might be Texas’ turn here soon to dominate the Big 12.

To understand the Stoops era of Oklahoma football, one has to appreciate the good with the bad. He brought Oklahoma back to prominence and won at a ridiculously high rate. Stoops also struggled to beat fellow juggernauts when it mattered. People will unfortunately remember that.

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Though he belongs on Oklahoma’s college football coaching Mt. Rushmore, he’s easily third behind Switzer and Wilkinson. Longevity was his greatest strength. Now that he retired, it’s hard to not shake a sense of close, but no cigar when examining Stoops’ complicated football legacy as the Sooners head football coach.