OKLAHOMA CITY — Bob Stoops showed up pitching the XFL’s Dallas Renegades hard. He wore a black polo with a Renegades logo. He pumped up the Renegades’ family-friendly ticket prices, the XFL’s non-gimmicky football, and his staff and players.
For a guy some media outlets connected to a college job all week, Stoops seemed as serious about giving this a go as he did when the XFL introduced him in February.
Besides, as he shared with his audience at this meet-and-greet/pep rally at Toby Keith’s Bricktown restaurant, in this gig he doesn’t have to worry about homesick freshmen.
A little later in the evening, Stoops pulled up a chair with a couple of sports writers who complicated his life those 18 years he was the Oklahoma Sooners coach. I asked if there was something he did miss about coaching in college.
“I loved it. There’s no getting around it,” Stoops answered. “I was in this ... you’d think I would have counted up the years by now, but I haven’t (it was 31 years). But I loved every part of it.
“And a big part of it was working with players at that age. You can affect them so much. I think you can affect them more than a 24- or 25-year-old. In fact, I know you can. So, yeah, you do miss that.”
That’s a flicker of hope for suckers like me who predicted Stoops would coach again, coach college again, the 2017 day he stepped down so stunningly at OU.
I don’t believe it’s going to be at Florida State, despite any reports to the contrary smoldering in Tallahassee.
“You just learn to not care about it,” Stoops said about his fate as rumor mill grist the rest of his life. “People that know you know. Really, that’s all that matters to me.”
Anyway, a task like restoring Florida State is the wrong challenge at the wrong time for a guy who was hanging out with Dan Marino and promoting tequila this week in Florida. Who has entered a rose-sniffing phase of his middle ages — he’s 59 — where he gets more comfortable slapping backs and posing for selfies every time I see him.
But back to coaching some college program again ... I do think there will come a challenge and time. Take Notre Dame down the road a bit, just as an example.
This can be after Stoops’ son, Drake, is no longer playing for Lincoln Riley’s Sooners, after Stoops has finished his duties with the Renegades, and after the guy who replaces Brian Kelly fails. That way, a man as aware of his Catholic faith as he is of college football tradition can ride to the rescue.
He can give it one more college try.
Stoops is still attached to the college program he ran for so long. He attends many of OU’s games and pops in on coaches meetings.
“I still go by once in a while,” he said. “I never say a word, but I love to listen and know what’s coming.”
Stoops also said: “I still care deeply in how they do. When you invest that much time in anything, you don’t just not care anymore.”
That goes for a profession. Football coaches never lose the taste of the spit in their whistle. Stoops working in a league owned by Vince McMahon, not two years after retiring from the Sooners, is solid proof of that.
He’ll be great for McMahon, the XFL and the Renegades as long as his mind is on it. Unless he was pulling a fast one on the crowd Thursday night, Stoops’ mind is on it.
It’s just if he’s really going to coach again, he’s bound to wind up back in college. That’s his real profession, the one he knows best. The one, despite the recruiting calendars, class schedules and compliance meetings, he can impact the most.
When I asked Stoops on Thursday night if he could see himself giving college another shot, he said: “You’re trying to get me to define the rest of my life. You can’t do that and I can’t do that. So ... I don’t think you ever say ‘ever’ or ‘never.’ ”
That was fine and all, but something else Stoops said later in the conversation resonated more. It was in response to a question about the attitudes of pro players.
“My favorite saying to everybody — you ask any of my buddies — people don’t change, they just get older. Right? At a certain point, you’re not affecting them anymore. People are just going to get older and do what they do. ...
“At a certain point you are what you are.”
Right now, Stoops is a professional football coach and he seems earnest about that. But I still think in time he gets back to who he is. A college coach.