NORMAN — We may always wonder why.
Why today? Why Wednesday? Why June 7, 2017?
Why did Bob Stoops retire?
Here’s the real scoop: It was because of his health.
And also so he can watch his twin sons play their senior year of high school football.
And also because he had grown weary of the assaults on his integrity over the recent ugly cases of Joe Mixon and that rotten video, and Frank Shannon, and Dorial Green-Beckham.
And also because he has successfully elevated Oklahoma football again, like he did before, although the most recent rebuild wasn’t nearly as steep a climb as the one in 1999.
And also because he knows that if offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley had ever taken another job, he might not come back.
Now was the time. For Stoops. For the Stoops family. For Oklahoma football. And for Riley.
“I’d rather not be totally specific on it all. Obviously, personal things are personal,” Stoops said. “I think all of it goes into your decision. There’s not any one thing or any one part of it that pushes you over the edge. It’s really the combination of all of these things. I think as much as anything, it’s the right guy (Riley) is right here, right now. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity.”
Given all the circumstances, it was just time.
“Yeah,” Barry Switzer said, “at least it wasn’t dopin’ and rapin’ and shootin’ by his players, like what happened to me.”
He left on his terms, and that’s rare, especially in this business. For 18 autumns on the Southern Plains, Bob Stoops fought the good fight. Now, he has finished the race.
“The timing on the this makes it seem impulsive, doesn’t it?” Switzer asked in an afternoon interview with The Franchise. “You’d think it’s impulsive.”
Maybe. Switzer said he was in Stoops’ office three or four days ago getting a tour of the new facilities and Stoops was “unpacking his (stuff), putting it all in there and getting it organized,” though Stoops on Wednesday clarified that yes, there were lots of boxes, but he wasn’t really unpacking anything.
The truth is that Stoops has been mulling retirement for some time now.
A source told The Franchise last fall that people in Stoops’ inner circle were considering putting together a retirement party for him — during the season, specifically, after the Oct. 29 game against Kansas. No way the coach would have agreed to that. He wouldn’t even let the school plant the statue it had commissioned of him years ago until he was retired. His mentor, Steve Spurrier, might quit midseason, but no way Stoops would.
When asked during Wednesday’s press conference exactly when he had begun to think about it, Stoops didn’t offer a firm answer.
“Heck, I might have thought about it five years ago at some point,” he said. “But probably the last a week and a half, I started processing it.”
When asked last July during Big 12 Media Days how much longer he intends to coach, Stoops said that was “something you would ask a guy that’s maybe 65, but I’m only 55. So I don’t see myself anytime soon, that being the question that I need to answer. I would like to think I’m in really good health. I take care of myself. I can’t wait for this season, much like I couldn’t 17 years ago for my first one as a head coach. It’s exciting. You have a new team every year, and I can’t wait for it. So hopefully I’m going another 10 years or so. I don’t think I will be one of those guys, God bless him, like Coach (Bill) Snyder, I’m not going that long, but I sure can go to retirement age.”
Turns out that isn’t the case.
Although Stoops repeatedly said he wasn’t experiencing any serious health issues that would suddenly force him out of the game, multiple sources on Wednesday told The Franchise that Stoops had recently had an issue with his heart that he continues to address. One source close to Stoops suggested “hypertension issues” related to the job might have set in. Another said that family history, combined with his age, has given him pause to think about spending more time with family.
Stoops’ father, Ron Stoops, died at the age of 54 after collapsing on the sideline during a high school football game. With a family history of heart ailments, Stoops, now 56, has long been cognizant of his health, visiting heart specialists regularly, taking medication, monitoring his diet and exercising daily. He told me two years ago that outliving his father — and being in the same profession — gave him reason to examine his own mortality.
“I understand there has been some speculation about my health,” Stoops said in a statement before the press conference. “My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching.”
So, why Wednesday?
“After 18 1/2 years, when is the right time? We’re in a cycle yearly (as coaches) that never stops,” Stoops said. “When that thought comes to you after 18 1/2 years, do you act on it? … I felt it was time.”
An OU source said the school has known “for some time” that Stoops would be retiring and had planned to announce it on Friday. That timetable was fast-tracked, however, when someone leaked the news to The Oklahoman. As word trickled out that the newspaper would soon publish the scoop, OU quickly finished its press releases and social media campaigns and hastily called a 5:30 p.m. news conference.
Stoops knew. But he also knew that if he continued to put it off, preparations for the 2018 season would be underway — incoming freshmen reported for summer workouts and class this week — and that wouldn’t do at all.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said his brother told him “about two weeks ago.”
“Oh, it was hard,” Mike Stoops said. “When he told me, I was a little bit shocked, like y’all.”
“Yeah,” Bob Stoops told The Franchise, “that’s about when I started really thinking about it.”
That was, of course, after Riley got his big contract extension and pay raise. Still, Stoops knew then, back on May 11, that he soon would be stepping down and had earned the right to name his own successor. So he made sure Riley was taken care of in the short-term (a three-year, $3.9 million deal) and was positioned to be named head coach, pending the approval of the OU Board of Regents.
That board, by the way, stands behind Riley “a hundred percent,” said regent Renzi Stone.
Stone is eager to start the Lincoln Riley era, but also hates to see Stoops go.
“You know,” Stone added, “when is the right time (to choose one’s own retirement)? Is it after you have a bad year when you feel like you have to go? Is it after you win a national championship and you want to come back? So when is the right time? What he said is very telling.”
“Yeah, a little bit of a shock,” Mike Stoops said, “but when you really analyze it, maybe not. … I’m just happy that he’s in a good place, his health is good. He’s happy. He seems like it. It’s different for all our kids and our family. You know, it’ll never be the same. That’s the hard part. Nothing ever stays the same forever. We’ve all got to adjust to it differently. But, that’s part of life. You know, as long as he’s good with it, I’m happy for him.”
OU president David Boren said Stoops “took a football program that was struggling and he brought it back to national prominence with the highest possible standards.
“We’re going to be talking about his era for many years to come.”
Boren’s description was of the immediate rebuild when Stoops arrived in Norman after three losing seasons under John Blake in 1999 and went 7-5 and then won a national championship.
But there’s also the time Stoops lost his 2014 team — a national contender that suffered multiple blowouts and inexplicably finished 8-5 — and then made some tough decisions about his staff, brought in Riley and guided the Sooners back to consecutive Big 12 Conference championships and a College Football Playoff berth.
That second rally, when it seemed certain that Stoops’ tenure at OU had run its course, was nearly as impressive as the first. And above all, it allowed Stoops the distinction to be able to go out on top, on his own terms.
“Very few people make that decision about when it is time to go,” Boren said. “And I would say that I’ve never seen it made with greater unselfishness and greater concern not for himself, mainly, but for the good of the institution and the strength of this program.
“He has decided to hand on this program to new leadership at a time when it’s never been stronger.”
Athletic director Joe Castiglione fought through tears recollecting the day he announced Stoops’ hiring back in 1998, and he, too, extolled Stoops’ “selflessness.”
“His character, which has been on display in so many different ways over the years has been such an impetus to the legendary success that we will celebrate and always remember,” Castiglione said.
Now Stoops will spend the fall watching Isaac and Drake play football for Norman North. Maybe he’ll go on some recruiting visits with them, too, something he said last week that his wife had taken care of to this point. Carol Stoops said she expects that this time next year, the twins could very well be playing college football at different schools, and that means Mom and Dad could be flying to different stadiums to watch their boys play.
Stoops told me a few years ago that chasing the three national championship plateau that Switzer and Bud Wilkinson had achieved continued to drive him. But no more. Stoops will take his 190 victories and 48 defeats (121-29 in Big 12 play, 101-9 at home) and 10 Big 12 championship trophies and his national title and happily ride off into the sunset. Sort of.
He’ll stay on the payroll as a special advisor to the athletic director, and he’ll pop into Riley’s meetings once in a while, maybe lend some advice here and there, and he’ll help Castiglione with fundraisers, and he’ll visit sick kids at Children’s Hospital.
But make no mistake: Oklahoma’s winningest coach is on vacation. And he’s earned it.
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. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.