For years Bob Stoops told close friends and a few writers who knew him well that he wasn’t going to coach forever, that he’d walk away when he felt the time was right and the Oklahoma program was in good enough shape to carry on without him.
The time apparently felt right on Wednesday because Stoops shocked the world and walked away from one of college football’s iconic programs (seven national championships) after 18 seasons, one national championship, ten Big 12 Conference championships and a 190-48 (.798 winning percentage) record. The sudden decision has triggered all sorts of speculation that it’s his health or his marriage is on the rocks but neither one of those thoughts have any legs.
His health is fine. His marriage is strong. Because he’s saved and invested wisely, he won’t miss the $5 million plus they paid him at OU.
So why is he leaving? Steve Spurrier, who won a national championship at Florida with Stoops as his defensive coordinator, says he knows.
“Bobby’s pretty much able to go out on top,” Spurrier told ESPN Wednesday. “He’s had a wonderful career. He knew when enough was enough.”
Those who know Stoops say he did not want to go out like his dad, Ron, a high school coach at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio, who had a heart attack on the sideline at age 54 and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
So, instead of staying well past his sell-by date expired (see Bobby Bowden; see Joe Paterno), Stoops leaves while he’s still young enough to enjoy watching twin sons Drake and Isaac play their senior seasons in high school at Norman North, enjoy the summer at his Crescent Beach condo, and catch up on his golf game with his buddy Spurrier.
As for OU football, Lincoln Riley, who was already being groomed to succeed Stoops, takes over. Riley is 33 and an offensive genius. He gets the ultimate parting gift from Stoops – quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has thrown for 7,665 yards and 76 touchdowns in two seasons.
SOME HISTORY ABOUT FLORIDA’S FOOTBALL COACHES
In light of Bob Stoops walking away from the Oklahoma job, here is a bit of history of Florida’s football coaches. Starting with James Van Fleet (1923-24) only four Florida football coaches have walked away from the job. All the others have been fired.
Those that walked:
Van Fleet (1923-24, 12-3-4 record): While serving as football coach, was commandant of Florida ROTC. The Army called him to active duty as the battalion commander of the Panama Canal Zone. Promoted to General, Van Fleet led the 8th Infantry of the 4th Division onto Omaha Beach on D-Day. Shortly thereafter he became George Patton’s top general for the Third Army. Following World War II, he turned back the communist insurrection in Greece and took over as field commander of UN forces in Korea after President Harry Truman fired General Douglas A. MacArthur. His counter-offensive forced the communists to sue for peace. Truman called Van Fleet, who retired as a four star general, “The greatest general we ever had.”
Tom Sebring (1925-27, 17-11-2): While serving as Florida’s football coach, was a law student. Once he got his law degree, went into private practice but became a highly respected football referee. Was one of the judges at the Nuremburg Trials and became a Florida Supreme Court Justice and later dean of the Stetson University law school.
Steve Spurrier (1990-2001, 122-27-1): Spurrier won six SEC championships and the 1996 national championship while becoming the winningest coach in UF history. Just a couple of days after the Gators beat Maryland to win the Orange Bowl and complete a 10-2 season, Spurrier announced his retirement from the University of Florida. Shortly thereafter, he signed a contract to coach the Washington Redskins in the NFL. Spurrier lasted two years in the NFL before he and Redskins owner Dan Snyder had a parting of the ways. He finished his coaching career at South Carolina, where is the winningest coach in school history.
Urban Meyer (2005-10, 65-15): Meyer led the Gators to two national championships in three years (2006, 2008). After losing to Alabama in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, Meyer was rushed to the hospital upon his return to Gainesville complaining of chest pains. He announced his retirement three weeks later, but was talked out of it. He coached the 2010 season and finished 8-5. Prior to the Outback Bowl, Meyer announced he would retire for health reasons when the season ended. He spent 2011 working for ESPN but returned to coaching at Ohio State in 2012. At Ohio State he won the 2015 national championship.
Six with winning records who were axed:
Bob Woodruff (1950-59, 53-42-6): Although he had a winning record, had taken the Gators to the only two bowl games in school history and had beaten Georgia six times, UF president Dr. J. Wayne Reitz concluded UF would never be more than a middle of the pack team without some serious changes. He demanded the ultra-conservative Woodruff shake up his staff and hire some innovative assistants. Woodruff refused and Reitz told Woodruff 1959 would be his final season. Woodruff went on to become the athletic director at Tennessee.
Ray Graves (1960-69, 70-31-4): Ara Parseghian almost took the UF job after Woodruff was fired. So did Davey Nelson. Having gone 0-2 in his coach search, Reitz turned to Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd, the head coach and AD of what was then one of the top five programs in the country. Dodd recommended his defensive coordinator, Ray Graves, inventor of the 4-3 defense that became the rage in the NFL. While playing college football at Tennessee for Bob Neyland, one of Graves’ coaches was Woodruff. Graves was hired for $19,000 a year, just $1,000 a year less than Reitz was making. Over the next 10 years he became the winningest coach in UF history but just before the 1969 season, Dr. Stephen C. O’Connell wanted a change. In August before the 1969 season, O’Connell told Graves that he would no longer coach football when the season was over. O’Connell offered Graves the chance to stay on as athletic director. Unknown to Graves or anyone else, O’Connell had already hired Douglas Adair Dickey, who had taken the Vols to four straight bowl games, won the 1967 SEC and had beaten Alabama twice. Ironically, the Gators faced the 1969 SEC champ Vols in the Gator Bowl. Jack Hairston of the Jacksonville Journal investigated and broke the story that Graves was out and Dickey was in following the bowl game. Florida’s players considered boycotting the game, but they played for Coach Graves and beat Dickey and Tennessee, 14-13.
Doug Dickey (1970-78, 58-43-2): Dickey never gave Florida fans the warm and fuzzies. He had the Gators on the rise and close to winning the SEC in 1975 but lost to Georgia and it was downhill from there. The Gators went from 9-3 in 1975 to 8-4 to 6-4-1 and then 4-7 in 1978. Some say his lasting legacy is “Fourth and Dumb” in 1976, but Dickey did give Steven Orr Spurrier his first coaching job in 1978.
Charley Pell (1979-84, 33-26-3): Lou Holtz was the first choice to replace Dickey but Florida took too much time and Holtz elected to stay at Arkansas. Pell was the second choice. Hired from Clemson where his recruits would go on to win the 1981 national championship, Pell went 0-10-1 in 1979 but he was 33-16-2 after that and essentially left UF with an NFL team when he was fired for NCAA violations three games into the 1984 season.
Galen Hall (1984-89, 40-18-1): Taking over for Pell, Hall, a former Penn State QB and Barry Switzer offensive coordinator, went 17-1-1 in his first two seasons, the best start of any coach in UF history. Then the NCAA sanctions set in and UF struggled from 1986-89. Hall was accused by the NCAA of making an illegal payment of child support for Jarvis Williams along with paying assistant coaches out of his own pocket and was fired on the afternoon before the Gators played LSU in Baton Rouge. Allowed to coach the game, the Gators beat LSU, 16-13. Hall’s 1988-89 recruiting classes formed a foundation for Spurrier’s first SEC championship team in 1991.
Ron Zook (2002-04; 23-14): While all eyes were on Bob Stoops to replace Spurrier in 2002, Jeremy Foley shocked the world by hiring Zook, who had never been a head coach or a coordinator. Zook had numerous close calls with greatness, but he couldn’t get the Gators over the hump. After 12 seasons in which Spurrier never won fewer than nine games, Zook never won more than eight. Fired at midseason in 2004, he left behind the foundation for Meyer’s 2006 national championship team.
THE LOGIC OF CAMERON JOHNSON
Former Pitt shooting guard and summa cum laude graduate in three years Cameron Johnson announced he is going to transfer to the University of North Carolina despite Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings’ efforts to restrict him from leaving for another ACC school. There is no NCAA or ACC rule that would place a restriction on such a transfer but that hasn’t stopped Stallings from drawing a line in the dirt.
In a statement announcing his transfer and denouncing Pitt’s efforts to prevent him, Johnson wrote: “Besides incorrectly attempting to block me, there are other reasons Pitt should have granted my full release. During my last season at Pitt, Coach (Jamie) Dixon left to become head coach at TCU, Coach Stallings left Vanderbilt to come to Pitt, we had one director of athletics leave and another (Heather Lyke) come to Pitt, and just in the last week the associate AD at Pitt who presented the case against me in my hearing has left to join another school.
“All five of these individuals left their jobs under contract and all had the freedom to move as they please. As a student-athlete, who is not a paid employee of the school, and a graduate, shouldn’t I be granted the same freedom of movement?”
It must be noted that Johnson isn’t the only Pitt player who would rather move on than stick around and play for Stallings. Seven other players have also announced they are leaving the program with eligibility remaining.
In this day and time when it seems we can’t go a week without some high profile athlete arrested for drugs or driving under the influence, here’s something novel. Former Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota reveals that he’s “never had a sip of alcohol.”
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott already had a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in workforce leadership. Now he wants to get his doctorate in psychology and tells the Talk of Fame Network, “It’s very important to me.”
One high profile name you can scratch from the list of potential successors to Thad Matta at Ohio State is University of Arizona coach Sean Miller. UA president Dr. Robert Robbins says, “They [Ohio State] will have to come over me to get him. As the saying goes, over my dead body.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
The French Open has reached the semifinal rounds. Have you bothered to watch even a minute of the tennis so far? Do you plan to watch the finals? When is the last time you actually watched tennis on television?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Local boy makes good Tom Petty (Gainesville High School, 1968) is doing a 40th anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers. Here is the full concert from Atlanta’s Phillips Arena in late April.