OKLAHOMA CITY — Bob Stoops hasn’t been one to talk much about statues. Not his own, anyway.
Nonetheless, that day has arrived.
Oklahoma stages its annual Red/White Game on Saturday, and while there will be googly-eye emojis from the new head coach and NFL All-Pros and five-star recruits on the sidelines and country crooners pining over honky tonk badonkadonks and new quarterbacks trying to win over their teammates and coaches, the day — the weekend, really — belongs to Stoops.
There’s only one …
- Man who coached 190 victories in OU history,
- Man who guided the Sooners to 10 Big 12 Conference championships,
- Man who led his team to every BCS Bowl game, the BCS national championship game and the College Football Playoff,
- Man who did all that while avoiding major NCAA infractions during an unforgettable 18-year career.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, before the scrimmage kicks off at 1:15, before the Trace Adkins concert begins at 12:30, the Stoops statue that OU had commissioned years ago finally will be unveiled.
Stoops unexpectedly retired last June, handing the reins to Lincoln Riley, and has had ample time to reflect on a hall of fame career. If Stoops was still coaching, the statue would still be under a tarp in some storage facility somewhere.
But with Stoops’ coaching career in Norman now in the past, the Sooners can properly honor their fourth coach to win 100 games as a Sooner.
On Friday night, OU put on a “Salute to Stoops” in the Bennett Event Center at the State Fairgrounds, and before the party began, Stoops held court with a small group of statewide media. Wearing a trim, light-gray suit and white shirt and looking both fit and relaxed, he spoke on a wide range of topics — but mostly about the career accomplishments that led to that statue.
Stoops has always tried to avoid talking about his bronzed visage. He’ll get philosophical about OU’s other 100-game winners standing watch over the practice field south of the stadium, and he’ll talk for days about the Sooners’ five (soon to be six) Heisman Trophy winner statues in Heisman Park across the street.
But, while he was still the head coach, asking Stoops about his own statue often drew a humble, understate — OK, a lukewarm response.
On Friday, during a 30-minute Q&A, I inaccurately phrased my question about his past sentiments — “figuratively speaking, rolling your eyes at it”— and I’m glad he corrected me.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no,” Stoops began. “That’s not phrased correctly at all. I never rolled my eyes. Great appreciation for OU, our administration doing this whole thing. Maybe what you’re trying to say is, it’s not in my nature to want something like that, but I so appreciate it, to be in that group of coaches with of course Bennie (Owen), Bud (Wilkinson) and Barry (Switzer).
“I’ve gotten to know Barry so well, he’s such a great guy. So I’m very humbled by it and appreciate the efforts of everyone to do that. I spent my whole career walking into the Barry Switzer Center. That’s no small deal to walk by what he did, his record all those years. So to have a place alongside him is pretty special. Not pretty special — it’s incredibly special.”
Next, I asked Stoops where he thought his emotions the next day might take him as the statue — which originally arrived in Norman way back in November 2015 from the foundry in Bastrop, Texas, on the back of a flatbed trailer — is formally and permanently unveiled.
“To me, this is all exciting and fun,” Stoops said. “Great to see the players, tonight, tomorrow. It’s not a place — I’m not an emotional guy when it comes to all that. It’s just not my nature. But is it exciting and fun? Yeah, it’s great. …
“Emotions will be, not emotions, but again, appreciation for so many people. I said it when I accepted the job. When we get it turned around and we play like Oklahoma’s supposed to play, it’ll be because the efforts of everybody, not just me. And I know that. It wasn’t just me. A lot of administration, coaches, fans, sold out stadiums, and players — their efforts, commitment. All of that is what got it done. Not just me.”
I then asked him about the permanence of it all. Bob Stoops — right alongside Owen, Wilkinson and Switzer — will overlook the facilities long after he or any of us are gone. Has that hit him yet?
“Sort of,” he said. “I don’t know if it has or not. I don’t know when it hits you. Hopefully I’m around and I have grandkids that go by and see it. We’ll see. Hopefully it works out.”
Stoops acknowledged that in his previous life, an unforgiving schedule and a relentless drive to win and keep winning didn’t allow for self-examination or introspection.
But hey, now that he’s retired. …
“Yeah. I still — even though I’m a year out of coaching, I still feel like there is something else coming. So I’m not ready to look back yet. Maybe I should. You make a good point. All those years I was asked that type of thing and what you’ve done. I don’t care what I’ve done. I’m worried about what I’m doing next year or what is coming. Now it’s not there. Maybe I need to start reflecting back a little more than I have.”
Stoops said the transition from a lifetime of football every day and being the head coach and CEO of a multimillion dollar monster like OU to being, simply, retired, wasn’t easy.
“It was hard,” he said. “But it’s what I expected. I knew it would be hard. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just such a change. So it’s been difficult but I knew that. I knew it would be. You deal with it and you keep moving forward. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t right for me. It was. I haven’t adjusted to it totally. And that’s OK. I am little by little.. A little more travel, a little more golf – a lot more golf – a little longer workouts and not having to hustle back to a meeting. But it’s all been good.”
So what does Stoops miss most about coaching?
“All of it,” he said. “I knew I’d miss it. Just the camaraderie with the coaches, with the staff, with the support staff. Seeing the players daily. All of it. But the positive part is, I’m not a stranger to Lincoln and his staff. I’m not a stranger to the players. So me, I can come by two, three times a week, see everyone and go through the office or go out to practice and it isn’t a big deal. Everyone is OK with it. So that gives me, that helps me that I can still do it when I can.”
Stoops’ legacy goes well beyond 190 wins and 10 conference titles, well beyond the 2000 national championship and six Heismans, well beyond the All-Americans and the draft picks. And it goes well beyond having a 10-foot statue looming over the practice field.
What counts, of course, is what Stoops wants his own legacy to be.
“Just, hopefully I helped the program,” he said, “that I was a good steward to the university, I was good to my players, I loved my players, they benefited from being around not just myself but our coaches and our leadership. And we stood for what was right in so many ways, and feel like we did.”
Stoops said he got a sneak peek at the statue ahead of Saturday’s big reveal. So don’t expect any big surprises — at least not from him.
“I don’t know that it was totally finished, but I saw it close to finished,” he said. “I thought Mr. (Paul) Moore (the artist), did an awesome job with it. It looks exactly like me. I was disappointed it wasn’t more handsome. Sadly, it looks just like me.”
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.