Gee, Bob Stoops, couldn’t you at least allow the NCAA championship softball team to celebrate back on campus before abruptly stepping in to announce your retirement as head football coach?
Why the rush? Was sooner the better to grab the spotlight, the headlines, from the softball team at Oklahoma?
Commentary by Arnie Leshin, Courtesy Photo by Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s softball team had barely returned to Norman with is second-straight NCAA Division I championships, it’s fourth in all, and thought the moment was theirs.
The skies were clear, the sun looked down, the temperature was almost perfect, and the Sooners returned to their campus after the short ride home from their home away from home in Oklahoma City.
Despite this, it sure didn’t take Bob Stoops long to rain on their parade. As quick as Patty Gasso’s softballers could hoist yet another championship trophy, he stepped in to announce he was retiring as the school’s long-time head football coach.
No doubt he could have put this off until Gasso’s team had its chance to celebrate on campus, maybe even a parade, after going 17 innings in five hours 28 minutes to win game one over top-seeded Florida, and then coming back the next night to secure its third national title in the last five years.
But for some reason, it became Stoops’ call. He was stepping down after 18 seasons, winning a lone NCAA championship in 2000, and appearing in three other finals.
It was abrupt, like a well-executed blitz by the 56-year-old Stoops, the longest-tenured in major college football. He put together a 190-48 record (.798 percentage) in his only college head-coaching role, had more victories than former Sooner head coaches Barry Switzer (157) and Bud Wilkinson (145), and won 10 Big 12 titles.
He said he will stay on as a special assistant to the athletic director. Aside from that, he has an open mind about his future. It’s a known fact that he has heart disease, but he added that his health was not a factor in his decision, and reports that he was ill were false.
No doubt young offensive coordinator, Lincoln Riley, didn’t want to spoil the softball celebration, but he had no choice after he was promptly announced as the new head football coach.
At 33, he becomes the youngest gridiron head man in FBS. It was only a month ago that the school gave him a 3-year contract extension worth $1.3 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country. And now this sudden promotion will probably increase his worth.
But now it was Riley being greeted with this new news, saying he had no idea that Stoops was retiring at this time.
Naming him is probably a plus when it comes to recruiting. While the years have passed Stoops by, Riley is at the age when he should have much success recruiting players whom he can relate to after his two seasons on the Sooner staff. He knows the program well by now, and has the drive and energy to keep it successful.
Stoops, whose brother, Mike, is the team’s defensive coordinator, said the two started talking about the move within the past two weeks. He was surprised as were other staff members, players, students and alumni.
His final game brought a 35-19 victory in the Sugar Bowl over Auburn on Jan. 2. Only four times did his Sooners win less than 10 games, and he never had a losing record.
He also lost games that it was felt he should have won. There were times when Oklahoma blew a big lead, times when it played one quality half and one shoddy one, and times when it just didn’t finish what it came for. The Sooners led Clemson, 21-20, at halftime of the College Playoff semifinals and didn’t score again.
But no one is perfect, and Stoops’ program was as consistent a national power as any in the land. The lone national championship was over Florida State at the Orange Bowl in year one of the new decade.
Now he leaves Riley with a team that again will be among the favorites to win the Big 12 and reach the College Football Playoff as it did in 2015. He gets back Heisman Trophy finalist, Blake Mayfield, at quarterback. His initial contest will be at home against UTEP on Sept. 2. Next comes Ohio State in Columbus.
“I don’t really don’t have a plan of exactly what I’m going to do,” Stoops said. “It’s a little frightening, but I’m really a spiritual person, and I believe until you open yourself up to something, you don’t know what the opportunities are that can come to you, so we’ll see what can flow my way.”
Hopefully, it’s a parade for the softball team, with Stoops at least giving it some space, maybe even celebrating with it after interrupting its triumphant return home. It took one season for these Sooners to win 61 times, and the Stoops announcement could have been put on hold.
Go figure what looms in the mind of others.