Bob Stoops: so glad to see this great Hall of Fame coach’s career resurrect for one more night (and a month of preparation before) so he could go out with victory, honor and the utmost respect and love of players, fans and colleagues alike. So it was.
There was absolutely no guarantee OU would win the game, of course, but something seemed predestined and inevitable about this — especially with his son on the team (who, in a moment fit for a movie, scored a touchdown in the game), and also, the particulars of who was the opposing team. History was coming full circle.
The hotshot young assistant coach to whom Bob had handed the keys to the OU football Ferrari, and who won a lot of games here afterward, clearly had been distracted and performing uncharacteristically out of sorts all season after the USC job opened in September. Then we all found out why.
Behind everyone’s backs, hours after the last game of the season, he reached a lucrative deal with that historically storied yet recently far lesser program halfway across the country, taking several coaches and future 5-star recruits with him right away. Anyone who thinks that all came together only in a few hours one Sunday morning: I’ve got beautiful land 10 miles east of downtown Miami to sell you.
Joe Castiglione called Bob off a golf course out of the blue that afternoon, to tell him the hotshot coach is fleeing town, and would he please coach the bowl game? After several years of retirement, Bob dropped everything he was doing. With no hesitation, he went straight to work in under an hour. He first went on TV and online, and in one of the greatest motivational-leadership moments I’ve seen in sports, said all the right things and quickly cooled off what could have turned into a massive dumpster fire. Bob reassured players and fans alike that no one (not even himself nor any coach) was bigger than the program.
Then he set about preparing players he hadn’t coached before, and an assortment of leftover assistant coaches who hadn’t drawn up an offensive or defensive game plan on their own, to beat an opponent that was in one respect thoroughly unknown, and in another, hauntingly familiar. He even tried at first to turn down the pay they offered from the previous coach’s voided contract — he wanted to volunteer, out of sheer devotion to the program. Who else does that?
Flashback 2006: Likely the bitterest, most frustrating moment of Bob’s career was when OU got screwed horribly by both field and replay officials in Eugene, when the Sooners clearly recovered an Oregon onside kick and displayed the ball for the whole stadium and TV audience to see…except the refs, who shockingly didn’t see, thought the ball was still in the pile, and awarded it to Oregon, who went on to “win” a game everybody involved knew they didn’t deserve. In the annals of botched officiating, this was among the top few worst of all time, rivaled only by the Colorado “fifth down” against Missouri. Refs from that Oregon crew soon got fired and suspended for their egregious errors in that game, but officially it went down as an Oregon win for ever and ever.
What goes around, comes around…29 December 2021: OU 47, Oregon 32 (and it wasn’t that close). As one of my colleagues said, Oregon lost to a part-time tequila salesman. Yes, and one who still could coach, too. Bob got ’em back good, in an opportunity he shouldn’t have had, by all rights. Afterward, in the midfield stage celebration, he conducted a ceremonial “passing of the visor” to the new, full-time, head ball coach — his longtime defensive assistant here in the 2000s, Brent Venables. And now a new era of winning begins in Sooner football.
Bob Stoops represents what is too often sorely lacking in high-stakes sports (and I include college football in that category): integrity, dedication, loyalty, tremendous work ethic, and a drive to not only win, but win the right way. Bob will never have to pay for a drink in this state again, and you can bet his statue outside Memorial Stadium will be kept spotless and clean.
Already in the College Football Hall of Fame, he showed himself to be a hall of famer in the character department too. All due respect, Big Game Bob. This time, he went out on the right terms.