Even a season and a half into a shockingly sudden retirement, with a here-and-there-beard to show for it, the fire still flickers in Bob Stoops. For one thing, he’s still not accustomed to being the guy who used to coach Oklahoma football for 18 years.
But at least it’s not awful.
“It was really awful a year ago,” he said at a news conference Wednesday before the SMU Athletic Forum. “That doesn’t mean it was wrong.
“I anticipated it would be awful and it was, because it was so strange.”
Strange is when the morning comes at 58, and there’s no nowhere he has to be. Strange is absence of competition. The intensity. Strange is sitting in traffic to get to OU games where he has nothing to do but clap.
Strange is no longer having to answer for Sooner football, though he could get used to that.
Asked about his successor, Lincoln Riley, firing his brother, Mike, after the Sooners’ 48-45 loss to Texas last week, Bob said, “You know it’s not for me to comment on. That wouldn’t be fair to Lincoln, wouldn’t be fair to Mike. That’s not my job anymore. So to have anything out there that I’ve got to say wouldn’t be right.”
Any reaction to the game?
“Again, you’re not gonna get me . . . . That’s gonna be blasted all over the place. I don’t have a comment on it.”
Thoughts about Texas?
“Again, I’m not gonna expound on the game or anything this year. It isn’t my place, and I’m gonna stick to what’s my place.”
Stoops’ place these days is on a golf course or traveling with his wife, Carol, or maybe spending a few more minutes working out instead of cutting it short to get to the office.
A speaking gig every once in awhile. Maybe a little TV work. Possibly a book.
He still gets by the football facilities occasionally to visit. Someone told him he’s like a grandparent of OU football — all the fun with none of the responsibility — and he liked the analogy.
If he didn’t want to comment on his brother’s dismissal, it’s clear he doesn’t hold it against Riley. Stoops hired the man who succeeded him. One of the reasons he retired at 57 was because his legacy — surpassed only by Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer in Sooner lore – and the program would be in good hands.
Asked Wednesday about his relationship with Riley, Stoops said, “We have a great relationship. We have since he came here. It’s a friend and to some degree a mentor. Lincoln’s a bright guy. He doesn’t need any advice.
“Fortunately we’ve got a really strong friendship and respect for each other, so it works out really well.”
After the loss to the Longhorns, Riley cited the Sooners’ record under Stoops in bounce-back games and seasons. Stoops spelled it out Wednesday. They lost to Texas in 2015 and made the College Football Playoff. They lost at the State Fair in 2008 and played for the national title.
Oklahoma’s CFP hopes aren’t necessarily dead. Neither, apparently, is Stoops’ career.
Asked if he’s ruled out the possibility of coaching again, he said, “At this point, yeah. Never know what the Lord has in store for you, but it’s not my intention to coach.”
What about the Cowboys?
“Again, not my intention to coach,” he said. “The Cowboys have an excellent crew of coaches and they do a great job.
“I think an awful lot of Coach [Jason] Garrett and his staff.”
Just the same, it’s not hard to imagine Jerry Jones trying to talk yet another former Sooner coach into getting up off the couch.
Jerry could do worse than Stoops, and has. He wants his seventh head coach to succeed. Wants Garrett to be his own Tom Landry. But he also turns 76 Saturday. Time’s running out on Jerry’s plan to prove he could win without Jimmy Johnson. The Cowboys appear stuck in neutral these days.
Sean Payton has always seemed like Jerry’s next head coach. But if the owner asked, could Stoops really say no?
To get at that answer, you’d have to know exactly why Stoops gave up the job in Norman. There was speculation about his health. His father, Ron, a long-time Ohio high school football, died from a massive heart attack after collapsing at a game. His second son has already outlived him by four years.
On Wednesday, Stoops didn’t deviate from the reasons he offered last year.
“Just something that started to come to me over time,” he said. “Over the season, little by little. You just kinda reflect, ‘Why does this come to me?’ Pay attention to your own inner being. It had never come to me before. I started analyzing and thinking through it.
“As time went on, it’s the right time.”
That first awful season out of football was so bad, it’s hard to imagine why he’d put himself through it again. Carol Stoops told a reporter there was “grief” in the process. Even now, her husband said, it’s just “a little better.”
How do you reconcile ambition with the reprisal of that pain later?
Better question: Did he get it out of his system the first time?
“I had a ball,” he said. “I had the best time. It’s like I never worked all these years.
“Again, I feel fortunate and blessed to have done what I did and I’m content with that.”
He misses the competition and camaraderie with players and coaches. He doesn’t miss everything else building to fall Saturdays.
“It’s a seven-day-a-week job,” he said. “It always has been. It just consumes your time.
“My big reason was that I just want to be in control of my own time at this point.”
The question is, now that he has so much time on his hands, what does he do with it? This remains a work in progress.
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