The end of an era

The end of an era

Have you ever tried to take a drink of water off a wide open fire hydrant?  That is what it has been like given this has been such a heavy and fast moving news week.  As if nothing could shake the most conservative and football crazy stretch of Old Route 66 harder than an injection well generated freedom tremor, an unexpected bomb went off in the heart of the Sooner Nation sending a core shaking jolt through the soul of every Oklahoma football fan.  The Crimson and Cream collective could not even enjoy basking in the afterglow of the OU Women’s Softball team’s success of having beaten Florida to win their second straight National Championship and third in five years.  On Wednesday afternoon this week Oklahoma Head Football Coach Bob Stoops announced his retirement.  The suddenness of the news was most sobering.

On a personal level, Bob Stoops’ run at the helm of the Oklahoma football program parallels my own post-active duty professional career.  The day after Stoops arrived in Norman to take the reins of one of college football’s most storied programs, Yours Truly commenced terminal leave from my last active duty assignment effectively beginning my life as a civilian.  The Bob Stoops Era began on December 1st, 1998.  I became an OU season ticket holder beginning with the 1999 season.  There have been eighteen seasons of home sellout crowds in that Taj Mahal to the Football Gods, the Palace on the Prairie known as Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.  Incoming freshmen at OU have never known any other Sooner football coach.  A lot of the Sooner Nation is stunned and beside themselves.  Coach Stoops, after eighteen seasons, was the longest tenured head football coach in NCAA Division 1A in 2017.

Bob and Carol Stoops moved to Norman from Florida as two dapper late 30-somethings.  They raised their family, twin boys and a daughter, during Bob’s tenure at OU.  They have indeed been fixtures in Oklahoma community for nearly two decades.  Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, despite anything his critics may say, has come to represent stability.  As the Sooner head coach, he surpassed the achievements of two previous Sooner football coaching legends, Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.

In eighteen seasons at OU, Bob Stoops’ teams won more games than any other coach in school history at 190.  His record vs AP Top 25 opponents was 60-30.  He took the Sooners to eighteen consecutive bowl games.  He is the only coach to post wins in each of the BCS bowls (Orange, Rose, Fiesta, Sugar).  Under his leadership the Sooners won ten Big 12 Championships and the 2000 National Championship.  Stoops’ Sooners had few home losses than they had conference championships.  How many ways can it be said that Bob Stoops will be a tough act to follow.  This I know, losers do not last long in Norman.

I vividly remember the 2000 season and month known as Red October with a special fondness.  OU became the first team to defeat AP #2 (Kansas State) and AP #1 (Nebraska) in successive games (there was a bye week between them).  I also remember the Sooner route in the Cotton Bowl that season.  The 63-14 beating OU meted out to Texas left a mark and was the first of a five game run over the Horns.  Few pundits gave OU any chance of matching the talent level of Florida State in the Orange Bowl.  The smothering Sooner defense shut down the high octane Seminole offense.  Florida State’s only points came on an OU safety caused by a bad snap to the punter whose quick thinking limited the self-inflicted damage to 2 points instead of 6.  Bringing the 2000 National Championship back to Norman effectively signaled to the nation that Oklahoma Football was back after a decade of anonymity.

As I alluded to above, the success of the past eighteen seasons will be a tough act to follow.  Stoops is leaving the Sooners in the capable hands of his offensive coordinator, one Lincoln Riley.  Riley’s services was acquired by OU in January 2015.  His coaching career began under the tutelage of Mike Leach at Texas Tech.  He spent five seasons at East Carolina University before coming to Norman.  From all indications, Riley’s offenses have been able to produce points.  One would think his challenge was to get a defense to match.

Lincoln Riley

I became an OU football fan before transferring to the OU College of Nursing in 1985, the year Switzer’s Sooners won the school’s sixth National Championship.  I remained an OU football fan as it was rocked with scandal in the late 1980s and was crippled by NCAA sanctions in the early 1990s.  I stuck by the Sooners when two questionable coaching hires in the mid 1990s resulted in two .500 and three straight sub-.500 seasons.  Oklahoma, whatever connection to this place anyone may have, will always bind those with ties here with the sense of excellence Sooner Football and OU Athletics in general has come to stand for.  May the next eighteen seasons of Oklahoma Football be a colorful as the last eighteen.

A look back at Bob Stoops’ eighteen years at Oklahoma