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For Stoops, nothing tops OU right now

By Ivan Maisel

NORMAN, Okla. -- In an industry in which success is measured by the next rung on the ladder, Bob Stoops stands put.

In a coaching fraternity whose members speed-dial their agents at the drop of a rumor, Bob Stoops does nothing.

In a sport where coaches jump -- or are pushed -- from one job to the next, not staying anywhere long enough to register to vote, Bob Stoops has settled in at Oklahoma. He is the anti-Fran.

In four years as head coach of the Sooners, Stoops has gone 43-9 (.827), won one national championship, two Big 12 titles and turned down more suitors than Trista Rehn. Among the jilted have been Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State in college football, and the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. The 42-year-old Stoops fits Oklahoma and, though he is a Catholic from the Steel Belt who has planted himself in the Bible Belt, Oklahoma fits him.

"I love the way our program is going," Stoops says. "I marvel, when I look back four years, at what's happened here. When you look at facilities, the perception of the program, the championships." He hears himself, and steps on the brakes. "I say that in a humble way."

Bob has done everything right. He embraced the tradition, the ex-players, the ex-coaches. He wanted us to be a part of it. He has tremendous confidence. The players feel it. They know it. There's nobody perfect. Bob is going to win as many as there is to win at Oklahoma.
Barry Switzer

Stoops is sitting in his office on the third floor of the Barry Switzer Center. It would delight Stoops to know that he could double the size of his office, place it inside of Texas coach Mack Brown's office, and still have room for Bevo to graze. Stoops thinks of himself as a lunch-pail guy, the oldest son of a high school coach from Youngstown, Ohio. (OK, Stoops drives a Beemer, but even that is a family-friendly SUV; Stoops and his wife Carol have three young children).

Whether it comes in the form of a CEO-style office or simply the adoration of the public, most coaches enjoy a daily ego massage. One man's massage makes another man squirm. Having an outsider coo sweet nothings in his ear, even if that outsider is an athletic director or NFL general manager dangling big money, is not the way to get Stoops to leave. It didn't make him interested in talking to the Browns, the team of his hometown, and it didn't make him interested in the marquee value of the 49ers, just one of two franchises to win five Super Bowls.

"There may be a point somewhere in the future where I would like to coach in the NFL," Stoops says. "If that's the case, I hope I'm still successful enough here that I will have the opportunity. When I feel it's right for my family, and I've run the course and done what I've hoped for here, you hope that opportunity comes. And if not, so be it. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I know recruits will read this. I do have much more to do here and intend to be here for a good while. Hopefully. I always put hopefully at the end."

Earlier in his career, when he had the chance to make a career-changing leap, he let someone else jump. After the 1996 season, Stoops, the defensive coordinator of the national champion Gators, took himself out of the running for the University of Pittsburgh job and turned back others as well.

"I hadn't even been (at Florida) one year, and now I'm going to ride the coattails of Coach Spurrier and jump out? It didn't seem right to me," Stoops says. "I think I've always been patient. I wanted to be a head coach, but I wanted to wait, maybe, to do it when I wanted to, when it was the right time. Why be hasty and just do it to do it?"

The same sense of loyalty that made him listen to an old friend, Gator athletic director Jeremy Foley, who flew to Norman 18 months ago to ask Stoops to replace Spurrier, made him remain with the Sooners.

"Bob never really felt comfortable through that whole scenario," says associate head coach Mike Stoops, younger than his boss and brother by 14 months. "He was very uneasy about it. I could tell. I just knew. We're brothers. He wants to help friends. But you can't help two places. His heart was still here. His commitment to the people who brought him here was very strong."

One prominent local expert dismisses the idea that Bob Stoops would leave Norman for another college program. "First thing you ask somebody is, 'Where do you go?'" former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer says. "Oklahoma is one of the top three or four jobs in the country. You don't go to Notre Dame, USC, Penn State or Alabama. You're there. You're where you want to be in the college game."

The truth is, Stoops loves campus life. He is a fixture at Oklahoma men's basketball games. Hoops coach Kelvin Sampson called Stoops from the road in January 2002 to "recruit" him not to go to Florida. A couple of months later, when Sampson's team won the West Regional to reach the Final Four, they didn't arrive on campus from Sacramento until after 2 a.m. When they got off the bus, Stoops was waiting for them.

"He likes being able to go three blocks at the noon hour and play a quick nine holes," says administrative coordinator (bureaucratese for right-hand man) Matt McMillen. "We play in the spring, the summer and we may even sneak out during an off week. He loves being able to get on the university course. Norman is an easy place to get around. He has no interest in driving an hour. He can go out and not have to talk about football. He'll go to the grocery store and they'll give him the ol' double take. They leave him alone for the most part. People get used to seeing him out."

And if that NFL owner writes an eight-figure check?

"Sometimes the salaries get people," Stoops says. "Me, I put a much higher value on quality of life than I do money."

Stoops' kids -- his daughter Mackenzie, and twin sons Isaac and Drake -- are regular visitors at practice. The boys try to be good. Last year, at a team meeting, they shared a chair, jostled for room, and pretty soon began wrestling on the floor. The players dissolved into laughter.

"You make money," Mike Stoops says. "You have good friends. You have quality of life. What else is there?"

The perfect marriage
A generation ago, coaches built empires. They weren't coaches as much as campus icons: Bear Bryant at Alabama, Woody Hayes at Ohio State, Darrell Royal at Texas. As they retired, coaches such as Don James at Washington, Tom Osborne at Nebraska and Joe Paterno at Penn State became one with their schools.

Longest running coaching tenures
Coach School Years
Joe Paterno Penn. State 37
Bobby Bowden Florida State 27
Fisher DeBerry Air Force 19
Frank Beamer Virginia Tech 16
Bill Snyder Kansas State 14
Barry Alvarez Wisconsin 13
Jeff Bower Southern Miss. 12
Paul Pasqualoni Syracuse 12
Jackie Sherrill Miss. State 12
Phillip Fulmer Tennessee 11

As the 2003 season begins, Paterno and Bobby Bowden of Florida State have not only lapped the field as the two winningest active coaches in Division I-A, they are far and away the leaders in length of service at one school (see chart). That they straddle age 75 (Paterno is 76, Bowden turns 74 next month) only buttresses the notion that one coach, one school is as antiquated as the dial phone.

It's not as if coaches today don't know their Xs from their Os. With computers, digital video and burgeoning staffs at their disposal, coaches are smarter than they've ever been. But more is demanded of them -- by fans whipped to a froth in Internet chat rooms, by athletic directors who need the revenue from a filled stadium to fund their women's crew team and by the increased scrutiny of a 24-hour news cycle.

"Fans and maybe administrators are more impatient and often want change just for change," Stoops says. "There have been winning coaches who have been let go. Even though it's been good, the fans want more."

Conferences get bigger. Championship games must be won. Scholarship limits get lower. The number of practices gets curtailed. The demands on coaches are greater than they've ever been. Yet Stoops came to Norman in 1999 as a rookie head coach, taking over a 3-8 team, and by the end of the 2000 season, he had led the Sooners to the national championship.

"Think about this," Switzer says, the excitement evident in his tone. "Bob won his national championship in his second year. He didn't recruit but one class. They didn't contribute. He won with what was here. We had players. Bob proved that."

Switzer won three national championships in 16 seasons before resigning under a cloud of scandal after the 1988 season. Sooner fans love him for the former and have forgotten about the latter. Switzer lives in a student-union-sized home on the edge of campus. Last Sunday morning, he rode his motorcycle over to practice, watched while chatting with his former assistant Merv Johnson, now the director of football operations, and rode off before it ended. "Too damn hot," he says.

"Bob has done everything right," Switzer says. "He embraced the tradition, the ex-players, the ex-coaches. He wanted us to be a part of it. He has tremendous confidence. The players feel it. They know it. There's nobody perfect. Bob is going to win as many as there is to win at Oklahoma."

The right choice
Few people recall the grumbling that occurred when Oklahoma hired Stoops. In the wake of John Blake, the career assistant who was clearly overmatched as a head coach (12-22 from 1996-98), Sooner fans called for an experienced head coach. They got Stoops. At the announcement, athletic director Joe Castiglione recalls, "People got me over to the side and said, 'What are you thinking? Why did you do this?' I reminded them that virtually every successful coach hired at Oklahoma did not have head coaching experience."

That includes both Switzer and Bud Wilkinson, who also won three national championships "Find the best people, whether or not they have the best title," Castiglione says. "Bob had so many other things going for him. It's the leadership qualities. I had a real strong sense about Bob and what those qualities were."

Castiglione offered Stoops the job on a Sunday afternoon. Stoops told him he couldn't take it, because he had promised Iowa, his alma mater, that he would listen to them the next morning. Castiglione winced, but liked the fact that Stoops felt so strongly about keeping his word. To Stoops, that sounds like praising him for breathing. After the meeting with Iowa, Stoops called Castiglione and accepted his offer.

Castiglione and Stoops are a mutual admiration society. Stoops and members of his staff heap praise on Castiglione and David Boren, the university president and former United States senator. When Castiglione arrived at Oklahoma in the summer of 1999, he was told the athletic department had a $5 million deficit. Several months later, he learned the deficit actually was $12 million. In the interim, he hired Stoops and promised him a new practice field and a new, bigger locker room. Despite a deficit that more than doubled, Castiglione followed through on his promise.

"I was told the budget was $26 million," Castiglione says. "I got here and found out that they've got a $26 million budget." He pauses and smiles. "But they're only taking in $23 million." Four years later, he says, "The budget is $48 million -- and we're taking in $48 million."

Actually, the athletic department is taking in more than that. A $100 million capital campaign has funded the indoor practice facility and a stadium expansion. There are 71,278 season-ticket holders. There are 176 donors who, by giving at least $10,000 annually, have become members of the Bud Wilkinson Society. The legacy of Wilkinson, and Switzer is important to Stoops.

"It's a benchmark more than anything," Stoops says. "People have written it like I stayed here because I aspire to beat their records, and that's not true. That has nothing to do with it. I have great respect for them both and what they accomplished. It's a benchmark, and while you are here, it keeps you pretty humble, too. When people want to talk about the championships we already have won, we're still quite a ways away from what they have done. I like that. It keeps you motivated, too, to pass them."

Stoops has his own players now, five years of his recruits, and the Sooners will begin the 2003 season as the No. 1 team in the nation. Mike Stoops, just on the other side of an office wall from his brother, says, "Our players know how good they are. They know what's out there for them."

Bob is clear-eyed about his success. He understands the deal with fans, even as he estimates that 90 percent of the Sooner faithful recognize you can't win every year. The way Oklahoma fans feel about Stoops, he'll be governor before he'll be run out of town. He isn't interested in politics, and he isn't interested in leaving anytime soon.

"I don't think you ever say 'never' or 'always,'" Stoops says. "Those are words that are hard to live up to. I believe I have one of those special programs that you can stay a long time. You have everything here. You have a great stadium, you have fans who sell it out. You have a great tradition and history. You have a great recruiting base. You have the financial structure with donor dollars and TV exposure. You have everything you look for. This is a place where it's easy to stay for a long time.

"Or could be easy, I should say, provided you win," he says. "I understand that. To me, I'm at peace with that."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

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