What happens in Oklahoma, as least as it relates to football, echoes in Nebraska. Yes, still.
It seems inevitable that that will eventually change given enough time, but not as long as a generation of Husker fans still hate crimson out of habit. And definitely not when Wednesday’s biggest newsmaker, Bob Stoops, was the coach to beat Nebraska with a conference title on the line in its final game in the Big 12.
Yes, Stoops is retiring, as first reported by Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, after 18 seasons, a 190-48 record, 10 conference titles and one national championship (2000). Stoops also went 6-2 against Nebraska over that stretch, beating the Huskers in conference-title games in 2006 and 2010.
As for why now, with the Big 12’s best quarterback returning and the Sooners kicking around a bunch of preseason top-10s, Stoops issued the following statement by way of explanation.
“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.”
If you can take that at face value, it might mean that Stoops slayed the ultimate coaching dragon — retirement.
“Football coaches in general retire very poorly,” Washington State head coach Mike Leach said Wednesday in an interview with Hail Varsity Radio. “They’re very poor at retiring. A lot of them take several tries before they actually retire.”
Leach was there for the start of Stoops’ journey, joining the Youngstown, Ohio, native for his first year at Oklahoma in 1999. They came to Norman as opposite sides of the coin as coordinators in the SEC, Stoops on defense, Leach on offense.
“Bob had a great defense at Florida. They had the number-one defense in the SEC,” Leach said. “At Kentucky we had the number-one offense in the SEC and we decided to join forces.”
Leach spent just one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma — the Sooners ranked ninth in passing offense that year — before taking over at Texas Tech. The year in Norman, however, served as a “dress rehearsal” for Leach.
“In hindsight, to watch Bob step in and be a first-time head coach and then I do it one year later, I think it was a pretty good example for me,” he said.
Seven years later in Lubbock, Leach made Lincoln Riley, then 24-years-old, the youngest full-time assistant in the country. Riley, who signed a deal that paid him $1.3 million per year as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, will now take over the Sooners’ program.
“He’s a great student of the game, a very clear-thinking guy,” Leach said. “He was a tremendous guy to bounce thoughts off of. He thought independently.”
Riley, now 33, is undoubtedly one of the rising coaching stars in the game, and, as Stoops noted, he will step into a great situation. But if history has taught us anything it’s that coaching changes like this are never a sure thing. It’s rare when the succession plan does work out, even at places like Oklahoma. (More on that in the 2017 Hail Varsity Yearbook.)
History has also taught us that what Stoops managed today was rare, too. Most coaches, particularly those that win three-fourths of their games and a bunch of trophies, are terrified of walking away. It’s so hard to be good at this game that the thought of leaving when you’ve proven you are is almost unthinkable for most coaches.
But the last thing history may have to offer here is that those decisions are almost always remembered fondly by the pubic at large.
Oklahoma fans are permitted to feel differently.