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Bob Stoops Brought Oklahoma Football Into the Modern Era

After 18 seasons at the helm, the Sooners head coach abruptly resigned

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

It’s hard to remember now, but before Bob Stoops took over as Oklahoma’s head coach in 1999, the Sooners football program was lost. Long gone were the glory days of Barry Switzer, Lee Roy Selmon, and Billy Sims; in their place was the miserable tenure of head coach John Blake, who went 12–22 over three seasons before leaving and becoming embroiled in an NCAA scandal at North Carolina for steering players to an agent. During Blake’s debut 1996 season, Oklahoma lost to Nebraska 73–21, a result that remains a sensitive topic in Norman more than two decades after it happened.

Just four seasons after that defeat, under the guidance of then-second-year coach Stoops, the Sooners went undefeated and won the BCS national title. Despite entering the game as a 12-point underdog, they rolled over Florida State 13–2. After the victory, Stoops crowed to reporters, “We totally expected to win. It is easy to say that Oklahoma is back.”

Indeed it was — and still is. From 1999 through 2016, Stoops went a combined 190–48 with 10 Big 12 titles and that national championship. He produced 85 NFL draft picks and two Heisman Trophy winners, neither of whom was Adrian Peterson, who totally deserved the award over Matt Leinart for rushing for 1,925 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2004. Stoops’s squad went a perfect 9–0 in conference play last season, ranking fifth in the final AP poll. And then, on Wednesday, he abruptly resigned from his post, apparently in order to “go live life.”

“I’m grateful for this season of my life, and feel I’ve fulfilled my purpose here at OU as its head football coach,” he said in a statement.

The move is stunning for about a hundred reasons, from the curious timing to Stoops, now 56, claiming the decision is not health-related to him turning down the $5.55 million he was set to be paid in 2017 as part of a contract that ran through 2021. There have been plenty of instances over the course of Stoops’s tenure when he was rumored to be interested in other jobs — like those at Florida, Florida, and Florida again — and each time he chose to hold on to his gig south of Oklahoma City. He emerged as the university’s most recognizable figure, to the point that a statue of him was delivered to campus in 2015 without anyone at the school expecting it.

Maybe he just got tired. Maybe he just got bored. Maybe he felt like he had nothing left to prove — even though his critics would ridicule his nickname, “Big Game Bob,” every time the Sooners lost on a prominent national stage. Or maybe the justified criticism Stoops faced for his poor handling of the Joe Mixon scandal — the running back was given a redshirt and suspended from all team activities for a year after punching a female student in 2014, with the incident caught on video, before being reinstated to Oklahoma’s roster the following year — hastened his departure.

Stoops will hand the reins of the program over to 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, his former offensive coordinator. The Sooners, who went 11–2 last season and defeated Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, will move forward with half-quarterback, half-gymnast Baker Mayfield behind center, and Oklahoma will head into fall camp facing a wave of questioning that’s been absent for nearly 20 years. That last bit feels remarkable given the fan and media expectations that follow coaches in the modern game.

Stoops’s sudden departure will spark plenty of speculation, but mostly it offers a capstone on an entire era of college football. His first season in Norman coincided with the second season of the BCS. His team made the second-ever College Football Playoff field in 2015. He coached players like Josh Heupel and Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray, and against players like Marcus Spears and Pat White and A.J. McCarron. He worked as an assistant under Bill Snyder and Steve Spurrier, and he mentored coaches like Mike Leach, Bo Pelini, and Kevin Sumlin. He regularly got the best of Mack Brown and Texas, and he was on the losing end of the greatest play in the sport’s history. One of his running backs broke the FBS single-game rushing record, and one time he beat Kansas and danced in a Yoda mask.

With Stoops out, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz becomes the longest-tenured active head coach in FBS college football. May his calls to punt on fourth-and-short and his laughably favorable contract outlive us all.