If you bought the narrative way back on June 7, 2017, that Bob Stoops was indeed retired and would coach no more, then you’re probably wondering today exactly what happened since then to entice a College Football Hall of Famer and the winningest coach in Oklahoma history to take on something like the XFL.
Maybe Stoops just grew bored with retirement. He hinted as much in his six-minute introductory press conference this afternoon at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
“At first,” Stoops said, “I thought, ‘Nah, that probably wouldn’t be for me. But then the more I started to analyze it and look at it, and Oliver’s calling, and visiting with my wife Carol … through our discussions as a family, started to think this may really fit us correctly. For a lot of reasons.”
The Dallas club doesn’t even have a name or any corporate branding yet, but it has a head coach and general manager.
It has Stoops.
“It’s been 20 years and three months since I was last named a head football coach, so I’m not really used to this,” Stoops said. “But, I gotta admit, 38 years old then when I was introduced on the steps there at OU, I was a lot more nervous than I am now. I didn’t know what I was getting into then; now I do.”
The XFL is a new venture owned by professional wrestling mogul Vince McMahon and commissioned by former NFL quarterback and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck. Luck introduced Stoops by reading his OU accomplishments from a teleprompter.
“He earned 19 — I’m sorry — 19 coach of the year awards. I thought it was a typo, but it’s not,” Luck said. “… His 190 victories make him the winningest head coach in University of Oklahoma history, putting him ahead of legendary coach Barry Switzer.
“With that, I am honored and proud to name Bob Stoops the XFL’s first coach and general manager here in Dallas.”
So how did Stoops arrive at this decision?
Stoops, 58, certainly doesn’t need the money. Not long term, anyway. Over the last 10 years of his tenure at OU, he made nearly $49 million, per USA Today, and he owns several luxury rental properties around the country. Carol Stoops made her own millions as an executive at Mary Kay Cosmetics. As Joe Castiglione’s “special assistant” (aka golf course fundraiser), Stoops is still pulling down $325,000 a year.
Stoops has spurned numerous lucrative NFL offers over his career, as well as other high-level college jobs, so it’s probably fair to say the XFL project won’t have the same time demands, media and fan scrutiny and pressure that those would have. Stoops has grown comfortable in his own skin, cool and relaxed, almost laid back and charming. The XFL might be the perfect gig for an older, wiser Stoops.
And what of his brother?
It stands to reason that Mike Stoops may well be Bob’s first hire, or may eventually become his first defensive coordinator. Mike was making $950,000 a year at OU before he was fired last season, and his expected salary as one of Nick Saban’s analysts at Alabama is in the $50,000 range.
But multiple sources said last fall that Bob was displeased with Mike’s firing and how it went down. Might his taking an XFL job be Stoops’ first real step away from the OU athletic department?
Also consider the idea that in just under two years since his retirement, Stoops has begun to crave the spotlight that he himself switched on again at OU.
“I’ve missed it, obviously,” Stoops told SoonerSports.com. “You don’t do something your entire life — playing and coaching, and that’s all you’ve been a part of — and then step away and it be easy. None of that was a surprise to me. I was aware that it was going to be difficult. This just seems like a good window and opportunity to get back in and get a good feel of it. Enjoy the competition and working with the guys again.”
Lincoln Riley has gotten almost all the credit for the Sooners’ success in 2017 and 2018, including two more Big 12 titles, two College Football Playoff appearances and two Heisman Trophy winners. It’s not unreasonable to think that Stoops misses the gridiron glory that he created.
Stoops said all the right things on Thursday, but internally, his decision to take on the XFL at this stage likely will remain a bit of a mystery.
Stoops said the football fervor in the Metroplex was appealing.
“Playing in Arlington, this whole area, football crazy fans that love the game,” he said, “and really believe it connected well with us just a few hours away up in Norman, Oklahoma, where we have three children in school at OU right now. And as everyone knows, I still have an attachment to the football program and OU and Joe Castiglione, coach Riley and on and on. And so it sorta blended that, ‘Hey, this is, for our family and for that connection, this works pretty well.’ ”
The XFL, which starts in 2020, has teams in eight cities and will play a 10-game schedule, much like the Alliance of American Football, which starts on Saturday. Both leagues will run from February to April.
Playing games in the spring, Stoops said, is “different. I believe there’s enough crazy football fans out there that still want more football. And you give ‘em a good product, they want to watch it, they want to go see it and participate in it. And believe this league here in the XFL, and some of the methods that they want to implement with the faster clock, less down time with commercials and things like that, I think the fans will appreciate it and enjoy the different experience in watching the game maybe in a little bit different way, but still watching true football that they’re used to watching.”
Ultimately, Stoops said he’s embracing a new “challenge” and a new “opportunity.”
“I was also excited about the opportunity of starting something from the ground floor,” he said. “You know, when I stepped away a couple years ago, one of my major reasons is, and I made it very clear, I wanted my own time. I wanted to be the boss of my own time and live that way. You know, as the old saying goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ You know, and all of a sudden, I got to thinking after a couple years, ‘Some days I’ve got too much time on my hands.’ So you start to look at what are your options.
“And then, to start a program from the ground floor, to hiring coaches and then you’ve got to gather your — you’ve got to accumulate your players, get your organization all set up, it reminds me a lot of when I first arrived at Oklahoma, having to put the staff together little by little, get it correct. And I thought one of the best things I ever did in my entire career was my first staff at OU and getting the right guys with me right from the start, and it jumpstarted us and gave us an opportunity in the second year to win a national championship. And that’s what I’m hopeful for here, to jumpstart it by hiring the right guys. Here in time, it’ll take a little bit of time, but being able to accumulate the right coaches in all areas — and, look forward to working with them — but that’s exciting to me, the opportunity to put it together and help it grow.”
Vince McMahon tried a venture like this once before. The XFL played its only season in 2001, with wild west rules and controversial hits and, at best, talent that was borderline. Stoops seems undaunted by a perceived lack of elite football talent, and by competition from the AAF.
“The challenge to put a great product on the field,” he said, “I really believe the quality of players we’ll attract — you’ll enjoy watching ‘em compete. Even if it isn’t the NFL level, there’s still a lot of very good football players out there that may have been cut after 2-3 years or just maybe made it to the last cut on an NFL roster and all of a sudden they need a place to go. And these are guys that are gonna be coming out of school that have played a lot of football, you know, come out of college that have played ball that are experienced in this game. So I believe we’ll be able to put a great, fun, exciting product out on the field. So I’m excited about that challenge to put that together in this community right here.
“So for a lot of reasons, it just really fit.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.