Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops still calls former Florida coach Steve Spurrier the best he's ever been associated with. But because of his tie with coach Bill Snyder, he quickly adds, "I gained an appreciation for attention to detail and everyday persistence in getting the job done one way or the other every single day."
That association started in 1982 when Stoops was the team MVP and an All-American defensive back for the Iowa Hawkeyes when he practiced against Snyder's offense every day. Later he was an Iowa graduate assistant prepping his defense against Snyder's offensive attack on a daily basis.
"He came from a football family and was in it for the long haul," said Snyder of the hire. "I always liked the way he would compete. It was probably a hard choice for Bobby because he could have looked at Kansas State as maybe one of those dead-end programs."
But to hear Stoops tell it, "I looked at it as an incredible opportunity. That's how naïve I was. I came from the Big Ten and we didn't keep up on that many Big 8 teams. I had no idea how bad it was at K-State. Losing never entered my mind because of my belief in coach Snyder. He didn't lose."
What Stoops later found out is that he was indeed rolling the dice on his coaching career going to a school that had lost 13 games in a row, was 0-26-1 in the last 27 games, and in Big 8 play had gone 0-18-1 in its last 19 starts.
Today, Stoops reflects on the KSU program of 23 years ago, "It's impossible to describe how it was in words. I just couldn't give the situation justice. People have no idea how beat up the program was. The facilities were so poor, the community attitude toward the players was so bad, and we didn't have players."
Emphasizing, "This is the truth," he added, "We went through that first spring camp with four defensive linemen and two of those were not on scholarship. That's all we had. We would stop practice to hose them off, they'd catch their breath, and we would start all over again. Honestly, there's no way to describe how bad it was."
Stoops coached at K-State through the 1995 season when the Wildcats won 28 games in his final three seasons and started the run of bowl games that first took the team to the Copper, Aloha and Holiday bowls.
He would go on to be Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida where the Gators won the 1996 national title, and then he became the head coach at Oklahoma in 1999 and won the national crown in 2000.
Now into his 14th season with the Sooners, the two-time National Coach of the Year has won 141 games, which includes victories in the Orange, Rose, Fiesta, Cotton, Holiday, Insight and Sun Bowls, plus the victory over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl that wrapped up a national title.
All of that, yet Stoops says, "I honestly tell people today that one of my all-time favorite victories in coaching was that first win with Kansas State (20-17 over North Texas in 1989). That win ranks up there with most any of them. I've never been around kids, or a community, that needed a win so badly."
K-State had opened the 1989 season with losses to Arizona State (31-0), Northern Iowa (10-8) and Northern Illinois (37-20), and trailed North Texas State 17-13 after the Mean Green completed a deep ball over Stoops' secondary.
"We had the game won and then all of a sudden the ball flies over every defender we had and we were behind. At that moment I thought that maybe this program was cursed," said Stoops of the Wildcats, who had lost 16 games in a row and owned a record of 0-28-1 over the previous two-plus seasons at that point.
"We came back and won it on the last play of the game. I went from being as depressed as I've ever been, to as elated as I've ever been."