Third-year OU coach Bob Stoops is growing weary of hearing that the Sooners won the national championship with John Blake's players.

KELLY KERR / Tulsa World

Coach fights claims he did it with Blake's players

DALLAS -- If you want to tick Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops off, tell him he won a national championship last season with John Blake's players.

"They were mine the day I got them," Stoops said of the Dec. 1, 1998 date he was hired to replace Blake. "I told the kids that (that day) and I've treated them all that way, and I think that is what has helped us win."

Now if you really want to get Stoops' hackles up, repeat the claim many Blake-backers made after OU won the national title last January with a 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

That theory goes like this: Not only did Stoops win with his predecessor's players, he inherited a team stockpiled with blue-chip talent recruited by the previous staff.

When that proposition was presented to Stoops here during the Big 12 Conference Media Days, the third-year OU coach declined to comment as his face turned a shade similar to that of the Sooners' crimson helmets.

The media-savvy Stoops wasn't about to say anything that might sound like he's belittling OU players still on the squad that were signed by Blake's staff.

But enough is apparently a bloody enough. OU insiders will tell you that Stoops and his assistants are growing weary of hearing and reading that they were left with a boatload of talent. And had they been given the chance, the former Sooners coaches would have pulled off the same 13-0 feat.

Don't choke on your breakfast corn flakes; some people still believe that to be true.

The topic was raised again this summer when some preseason magazines, while praising the coaching abilities of the current OU staff, maintained that the cupboard was full when Stoops arrived.

"That's really humorous," said an OU source, who wasn't laughing. "You (media) guys need to check your facts."

The facts are these: OU had two seniors selected in the NFL draft -- linebacker Torrance Marshall (third round) and quarterback Josh Heupel (sixth round). Stoops and his staff signed both players when they scrambled to put together a last-minute recruiting class after they were hired.

Heupel and Marshall were also the only two OU players invited to the NFL's pre-draft combine. The NFL issues invitations to only those college seniors it deems as potential draft choices.

As a comparison, Nebraska had eight players at the combine and seven drafted, while nine Kansas State players attended the combine and six were drafted.

OU, as Sooner insiders and outsiders will gleefully point out, defeated Nebraska once and K-State twice en route to those 13 consecutive wins and the school's seventh national championship.

As close as Stoops would come to commenting on the less-than-full deck he was dealt two seasons ago at OU was when he reminded the media members gathered at Union Station that 23 of the Sooners' top 44 players last season were freshmen and sophomores. In other words, players his staff recruited.

And he also pointed out that during one defensive series in the Orange Bowl, the Sooners had five freshmen on the field against a Florida State offense led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke.

"And it was a three-and-out series," Stoops said of his young defenders shutting down the high-powered Seminoles.

Stoops wasn't as tight-lipped when it came to discussing some of the great OU teams back when the Sooners often led the Big Eight Conference with the number of NFL draft selections.

During the 2000 championship season, Stoops often pulled out old movies from those OU glory days to inspire his team. The Sooners had few highlights during the Blake and Howard Schnellenberger years, so Stoops had to dig deep in the vault to come up some great moments from yesteryear.

But now that 2000 was a yearlong highlight reel, will Stoops still show the young Sooners film clips of the old Sooners? After all, he has numerous videotapes from last season that he can pop in the VCR anytime he feels the urge to motivate his team.

"I will always bring out those old films of players like Joe Washington and Lee Roy Selmon," Stoops said. "I don't want our players to ever lose sight of the fact that they are at Oklahoma not just for themselves, but for this program. I want them to know what this program has been built on, and they need to perform like that."

And had Stoops found players the All-America caliber of Washington and the Selmon brothers when he arrived in Norman, he undoubtedly would have been the first to say he had inherited a team loaded with national championship potential.

But that, of course, would mean he had replaced Barry Switzer and not John Blake.