NORMAN — Maybe we’ve begun to just take it for granted, the Oklahoma Sooners opening spring practice and there at the same podium, again, stands Old Faithful, Mr. Reliable, Robert Anthony Stoops.
Monday, Stoops greeted the press for his 19th spring practice.
Nineteen. In a row.
Only two major college football coaches in the country can say such a thing, Stoops and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
“I have him by a day,” Stoops said.
Bob Stoops is 56 now. He was 39 when Joe Castiglione brought him out onto the steps of Evans Hall that brisk December day in 1998, handing Stoops his first head coaching job after three years as a defensive whiz kid at Florida and seven at Kansas State.
Consider the list of Division I-A coaches who have stayed longer consecutively at one place than Stoops:
- Joe Paterno, 46 years at Penn State;
- Bobby Bowden, 34 years at Florida State;
- Frank Beamer, 29 years at Virginia Tech;
- Bear Bryant, 25 years at Alabama;
- Tom Osborne, 25 years at Nebraska;
- Larry Blakeney, 24 years at Troy;
That’s quite a list. But that’s it. Don James spent 18 years at Washington. Ferentz has finished 18 at Iowa. And Stoops has completed 18 at OU.
Bill Snyder’s 25 years at Kansas State was interrupted by three years of retirement and the Ron Prince experiment. Chris Ault served 28 non-consecutive years at Nevada, which was Division II and Division I-AA before moving to Division I-A.
The state of Oklahoma is still chatting about the 362 days Brad Underwood spent coaching OSU basketball, despite all Underwood’s bluster about culture and loyalty and home and family.
Stoops’ only such mini-stint was in 1988 as a 28-year-old assistant at Kent State.
Since then, Stoops has done more than just talk about loyalty. He’s lived it.
“I’ve been aware, and I say it a lot,” Stoops said, “that I’m loyal to my president (David Boren, who had heart bypass surgery on Monday) and athletic director (Joe Castiglione, who’s son Joe Jr. has gone from volunteer assistant to walk-on fullback). They’re the guys that hired me, and they have continued to support — not just support us, but continued to put us in a position to chase championships and to win ‘em. You know, just the last several years, the dorm project and now the stadium project, to continue to move the program forward shows also their loyalty to the program and wanting to continue to move it forward. Hopefully that’s recognized, because it’s important to me. I’ve never taken that for granted.
“… I had an opportunity to leave Florida after my first year with a couple of head coaching opportunities, I said no. Part of the reason, these guys (Florida) brought me on, we won a national championship and now I’m gonna leave? You know, good for me, but I felt like I needed to be there longer. Sort of earn your stripes, earn your way, and I felt like I needed to be there a couple more years. Fortunately, then Oklahoma became an option.”
Iowa, his alma mater, called first. But he turned them down and told Oklahoma yes. The next day, Iowa hired Ferentz.
This spring is no different than any of the other 18 Stoops has led.
He has his quarterback back, though he’s “very disappointed” in Baker Mayfield’s offseason arrest in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and he hasn’t meted out any punishment yet because he’s still awaiting the legal outcome.
He is replacing two stud running backs and a stud receiver — the most productive trio of his career so far — but he’s confident that Rodney Anderson (who’s “perfect” after a neck injury, Stoops said, though he’s being evaluated today and will be held out of contact this spring) and others can step in for all-time leading rusher Samaje Perine and enigmatic Joe Mixon, and just as confident that “we’ll see” if someone emerges to replace Dede Westbrook, though he thinks having a go-to receiver is not a necessity.
Stoops said he wants to play more 4-man fronts in OU’s base defense, though staying multiple is a must against contemporary offenses. He is “incredibly impressed” with the group of nine early enrollees, isn’t worried that backup QB Kyler Murray (who hasn’t played for almost two years after leaving Texas A&M) has a “strained hamstring” and is knee-deep in baseball and will miss important development time as a QB, and he’s confident the Sooner offense, directed by Lincoln Riley, conducted by Mayfield and anchored by a big, experienced line, will be just fine.
In other words, the Sooners have the same exact issues they have going into in any given spring.
Maybe that’s just another reason why we seem more and more to take for granted Stoops’ remarkable consistency.
“(Loyalty) matters to me,” he said. “When I accepted the job, I meant what I said: this is a job, if you do it the right way, you’ll be at your whole career. Great tradition and history, great fan base. How many teams sell out for 19 straight years? That doesn’t happen but at a few places.”
It bears repeating that last fall, Stoops lived his 18th year in Norman. He was only 17 when he left Youngstown, for Iowa City. So Stoops has lived longer in Oklahoma than he did in Ohio.
Yes, Stoops said, he feels very much like an Oklahoman.
“No doubt. Absolutely,” he said. “I go home — no one can recognize my accent here, but I go home and they don’t know where I’m from either. I’ve kind of crossed between Youngstown and Oklahoma.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.