Stoops in his comfort zone
Published: Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 at 10:54 p.m.
NORMAN, Okla.— His office is a shrine to longevity, a collection of game balls and posters and bowl watches that has taken years to accumulate.
Bobby Stoops shows them all off proudly, but the one he wants to make sure you see is a large photo of his wife Carol and his children, Mackenzie and twins Isaac and Drake.
“Mackie was born in Gainesville, and when I went back to Gainesville after taking this job, I found out Carol was pregnant with twins,” he said.
They are not the only mementos of his time in Gainesville. A team picture taken after Florida won the 1996 national championship sits prominently on a shelf and a glassed-in case that houses dozens of watches and rings includes the ones he won at Florida.
But this is a coach who is pure Oklahoma football these days. It seems hard to believe that Stoopsie, as his former boss Steve Spurrier calls him, is entering his 15th year as Oklahoma's football coach.
Has it been that long since he left Florida, where he was defensive coordinator for three seasons?
I went to Norman, which is about 20 miles from Oklahoma City, for two reasons. I always wanted to see the campus and the stadium and Stoops is one of my favorite guys who has ever coached at Florida.
He is also still a favorite of the Gator Nation because his arrival in Gainesville helped put Florida over the hump. I've always felt that Oklahoma is kind of an adopted team for Gator fans because of Stoops (except, of course, in the 2008 national title game).
I also remember when he took the Oklahoma job and we wondered if he could turn around a program that was staggering. Stoops went 7-5 his first season. Since then he's 142-32.
“In the world of coaching, it's pretty rare (to be at one school for 15 years),” he said. “I knew it wasn't a stepping stone job. I knew it could be a destiny job. I knew there weren't a lot of places better than here.”
His name has come up every time Florida has had an opening since he left. He didn't want to discuss the details of his interest, only to say, “I have a lot of affection for Gainesville. Surely, it was always something to be considered.”
But when you spend some time with Stoops in Norman, you get why he hasn't left. The Switzer Building that houses the football offices is spectacular and during a tour of the facility Stoops shows off every detail with great pride.
He is a man who is as comfortable as a coach can be in this day and age.
“I've been fortunate to have the same athletic director and president while I've been here,” he said. “That's a big deal. You never get too comfortable, but do we love the people here? Yes.”
Stoops talked about his strong feelings for Spurrier and for Florida.
“I root for Florida,” he said. “except when they play South Carolina. I have strong feelings for Coach.”
Spurrier's imprint is all over Stoops, from the team pictures taken after championship wins to the way the Sooners practice.
“I brought virtually everything we did at Florida,” he said.
Stoops has never been short on opinions and he shook things up in this offseason when he first said that he believed players had plenty and shouldn't be paid and then when he questioned the strength of the SEC because of its bottom half.
On the paying of players: “I've always been on the record in favor of stipends. Plane travel for parents, hotels rooms for parents, stuff like that. But to hand over a bunch of cash, that's different.”
On the SEC: “I didn't come out and talk about the bottom half, but I was asked a question. I don't want to generalize and I had great praise for what the SEC has done winning seven straight championships. But is everyone playing at that level? That's all I said, but it came out like I was against the SEC. This time of year things are going to be sensationalized. But you'd be surprised how little (of the criticism) I hear.”
As he gave me a tour, Stoops ran into several fans who couldn't believe their good fortune to be able to get a picture with the head coach. We talked about this year's team and past stars and the tradition of Oklahoma.
The only thing that made him uncomfortable on this day was a bandage on his face covering up the incision on his face after having some skin cancer removed.
Other than that, he's one coach who is in a comfort zone like few others.