Bob Stoops Bows Out as a Legend

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In an era of evaluating success only through national or world championships, Bob Stoops’ impact on college football too often went underappreciated.

Of course, even measuring success strictly by titles, Stoops exits in rarefied air. His sudden retirement as Oklahoma Sooners head coach on Wednesday leaves Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney as the only active head coaches with national championships. Over the last 18 seasons, dating back to Stoops’ debut in Norman, just 12 coaches joined that most exclusive of clubs.

Take away Bob Stoops’ 2000 BCS championship, however, and the coach boasts one of the most impressive resumes in college football history. Oklahoma won an incredible 10 Big 12 Conference championships in his tenure; played in 10 BCS/New Year’s Six bowl games; and featured two Heisman Trophy winners.

Ahead of the 2017 season, Oklahoma’s projected to contend for its 11th Big 12 championship, and a possible berth in its second College Football Playoff. Bill Connelly’s Sooners preview for SB Nation touched on the weight of expectations at OU, which have fueled the majority of criticism against Stoops.

That there are even annual expectations to meet at Oklahoma illustrates just how successful Bob Stoops’ time as head coach was for that program.

As a child of the 1990s, my earliest memories of Oklahoma football aren’t especially vivid. That’s because Oklahoma was a non-factor; a relic of the ’70s and ’80s, rendered impotent by NCAA sanctions and the departure of Barry Switzer.

The Big 8 Conference of my childhood belonged to Colorado and Nebraska. Its merger with remnants of the Southwest Conference forged a league still dominated by Nebraska, but with sleeping giant Texas getting back on its feet.

What Bob Stoops accomplished as Oklahoma head coach was restoring a proud program to glory and bringing relevance back to Sooners football. The weight of such a project cannot be overstated; just ask any of the four head coaches to follow Lou Holtz at Notre Dame.

It’s made considerably more difficult when NCAA sanctions play a role in the program’s decline, hence the 15-year struggle ongoing at Miami, or the historically long dip Alabama endured between Gene Stallings and Nick Saban.

Stoops didn’t just bring Oklahoma back to relevance, but did so in remarkably short order. His national championship came in just his second year on the job — and not his second year at Oklahoma, but his second as a head coach altogether.

Perhaps as impressive is that Stoops maintained a high standard for the duration of his tenure amid rampant changes in the game.

Oklahoma steamrolled its way to the 2000 BCS championship behind a stellar defense, with an unexceptional offense. The Sooners scored under 20 points in two of their final four games that undefeated season, including 13 in the BCS Championship.

Of course, a team can get away with only notching 13 if it allows just two.

The new millennium brought change to the college football landscape, and Oklahoma played in the epicenter of the Big 12. Great defense still wins championships, sure. But even Saban has had to adopt changes to keep up with the offensive evolution.

Bob Stoops’ ability to keep pace with changes maintained Oklahoma’s relevance — also not an easy feat, as the decline of OU rival Texas proves. Adding Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator in 2002 transformed the Oklahoma offense into a potent passing attack. Jason White left Norman with 7,922 career passing yards, 81 touchdowns and a Heisman.

Wilson was one of a number of Stoops’ Oklahoma assistants to move onto head coaching jobs. His stint at Indiana put him in company with Mark Mangino (Kansas), Mike Stoops (Arizona) and Chuck Long (San Diego State). Kevin Sumlin begins his sixth season at Texas A&M this fall, and Jay Norvell’s embarking on his first season as a head coach at Nevada.

Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables transformed Clemson’s defense into a national-title winner; he’ll be high on head-coaching wish lists in the coming months. And before being named Stoops’ successor, Lincoln Riley was arguably the hottest name in the business.

Bob Stoops’ hire of Riley in 2015 rejuvenated the Oklahoma program in a manner reminiscent of 1999. The Sooners were treading water in 2014, finishing 8-5 and 5-4 in the Big 12. Riley’s innovative offensive approach restored Oklahoma’s place atop the league, and maximized the potential of 2017 Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield.

From an on-field perspective, there are few coaches in college football history who left with resumes even approaching that of Bob Stoops.