Bob Stoops rides away: A look behind the football facade of OU’s winningest coach

  • 21 min to read

Less than three weeks after Bob Stoops announced he was done coaching football, he got on a plane and headed toward home.

Shortly before takeoff, he texted Jerry Williams, a childhood friend from back in Youngstown. Stoops and Williams grew up playing sports with and against each other, and as children in Ohio, they rooted for the Oklahoma Sooners. They liked Barry Switzer’s bravado and the flair of the wishbone offense. Like Joe Washington, young Bobby Stoops painted his shoes silver, and like his dad, Bobby Stoops dreamed of one day coaching football.

A lifetime removed from those youthful visions, Stoops texted Williams when he was scheduled to land and laid out a game plan he had been looking forward to for a long time.

Meet at the Royal Oaks.

Later that day, Stoops, Williams and several others gathered for chicken wings, kicked back cold beers and told stories like old friends do. The Royal Oaks is a dive bar in a tough part of Youngstown, and it’s the same place Stoops’ grandfather used to visit.

Stoops’ oldest sister was getting married that Saturday, and Sunday was the bocce ball tournament his old high school holds every year as part of a foundation that honors his father. It was a long weekend, and there were rounds of golf and drinks and a family brunch in between.

“When he comes to Youngstown, it’s amazing,” Williams said, “because he’s treated differently than he is in probably every other city or state in the country.”

From the moment Stoops sat down, Williams could tell there was a weight lifted off him. No more worrying about the team or who’s in class or who’s in trouble or what needs to be done next. Funny what happens when a man is no longer defined by his job title.

“Not that he wasn’t engaged before,” Williams said, “but you could always tell.”

Maybe, many of those closest to him say, this homecoming was part of what Stoops wanted all along — to remember what it was like as one of four boys sharing a bedroom on Detroit Avenue, to relive the feelings that came on summer afternoons painting houses with Dad, to reclaim a small part of a simple life that got lost in the harsh lights of college football fame.

Maybe, it seems, a part of Bob Stoops just wanted to be Bobby.

Bob Stoops retires

Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops waits to address media on his retirement at the University of Oklahoma on Wednesday, June 7th, 2017. Ian Maule/ Tulsa World

In Oklahoma, the people around Bob Stoops each found out in their own way. Athletic director Joe Castiglione first heard from Stoops two weeks before. Brother and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops found out around the same time. Close friend Matt McMillen, an assistant athletic director at OU, didn’t know until Stoops brought it up while grilling chicken two days prior to the announcement. Such odd ways are common in Bob Stoops’ life; he has shared different things with different people at different times. (Stoops declined to be interviewed for this story.)

In Youngstown, the rumor is Stoops didn’t tell his own children he was quitting his job until June 5. On June 7, word finally got out, and the OU brass scrambled to arrange one of the strangest news conferences the state has ever seen.

In the same breath, Castiglione and OU President David Boren commemorated Stoops’ service and ushered in Lincoln Riley as the heir to the Sooners’ football throne. Stoops and Boren wore blue, but Castiglione and Riley wore black, and the feel of a wake hung over the room.

When Stoops took his turn at the lectern, his words were sometimes strange. Why did he retire at age 56?

“I’d rather not be totally specific,” he said that day. “Obviously, personal things are personal. All of it goes into your decision. Not any one thing.”

He showed little emotion, never shedding a tear as he officially said goodbye to the best job he ever had, the one in which he won 190 games, 10 Big 12 titles and a national championship.

All this opened the door for skepticism, but if you study Stoops’ behavior, maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Stoops always has had a sharp edge about him, an unwavering sense of confidence in himself. If he said something, he meant it. If he made a decision, he was content in it. Choices weren’t made on emotion but rather through the fortitude of an iron gut.

That day also revealed a split in Stoops’ psyche that long has gone unstated. Away from the lights, he can be easygoing and fun. His family likes to be loud and social, go on vacation, have some drinks, maybe argue about politics by the beach. On the rare occasions Big 12 coaches would get together, Stoops could be the life of the party.

At OU, one of Stoops’ closest friends is Clarke Stroud, the school’s dean of students, who has an office filled with pictures of the good times they’ve had. At Stoops’ yearly golf tournaments, Stroud and McMillen would wear kilts. Stoops is less eccentric, but he loved to be part of the fun, and they’d all take pictures staring away from the camera or tackling one of their companions.

People who know Bob Stoops best are careful in their portrayals, but most — family, especially — acknowledge the divide between Bobby Stoops from Youngstown and Bob Stoops, the 18-year head football coach at Oklahoma.

When the trademark white visor was on, Stoops was often straightforward and strong-willed, if not enigmatic. He wasn’t rude, not really, but he developed the demeanor of a football coach and carried a laser focus that was tough to penetrate.

On nights before road games, Stoops often would have family and close friends up in his hotel room for a meal and chat. He was kind enough to entertain those who loved him, and he had a way of not obsessing over things out of his control. But often — especially in the middle of his career when the stakes felt magnified — there were times Williams could tell Stoops was drifting. When Stoops wasn’t fully attentive, wife Carol would sometimes say: He’s out there. Out on the field.

Other times, his mother worried he’d become too guarded. When Dee Stoops watched games from home, she paid close attention to the way her son handled himself when talking to reporters at halftime. More than once, OU’s football coach would get a call from his mother the next day, scolding him for not being nicer.

Bobby, you have to be patient with people.

The other side of Stoops is respected in his industry for embracing family and life beyond football. Wives on team planes, family nights at the stadium and, more importantly, the ability to go home and leave work at the stadium. People interviewed for this story all say the corny stuff you hear is real: Stoops is a loyal husband, a loving father of three, a man of deep faith. But one doesn’t become the head coach of a major NCAA Division I program without absorbing the costs of the job.

Once, Stoops has told people, he was away recruiting and gone for about a week. Stoops left his normal set of keys at home, so he arrived back in Norman at night and rang his own doorbell. Son Isaac, maybe 5 years old at the time, answered. He saw his father and — already aware of dad’s split persona — turned inside and yelled.

“Hey, everybody, Bob Stoops is here!”

STOOPS6

The Stoops siblings with their mother, Dee (center) on a family vacation. From left, Mike, Bob, Renee, Dee, Kathy, Mark and Ronnie.

In Ohio, they found out much like everyone else.

Kathy Stoops, the oldest of Bob’s two sisters, is a principal at a parochial school in Youngstown and was in a meeting when her phone kept buzzing and buzzing. Dee Stoops, the 81-year-old matriarch of the Stoops family, was the one calling.

“I thought maybe she was hurt or sick,” Kathy said. “She never really does that.”

So Kathy excused herself from the meeting, walked out in the hallway and answered the phone. That’s how she heard the news. She was stunned as everyone else. She said there’s no way her brother could have dropped his decision via a teleconference or group text — the entire family would have tried to talk him out of it. But once Kathy stepped back and considered where her brother was coming from, she understood.

“When you’re in charge of something, you’re never not in charge,” Kathy said. “Not for one minute of one day of one year.”

Still, it has been a strange time for the Stoops family. Football has long been at the emotional core of everything.

Mike remains defensive coordinator at OU, Ron Jr. is an assistant at Youngstown State and Mark is the head coach at Kentucky, but in many ways, Bob’s retirement signifies the end of a journey that started all those years ago in the kitchen on Detroit Avenue.

If you’re familiar with the Bob Stoops mythopoesis, you’ve likely heard it before. When the family gathered for dinner, there was Ron Stoops, the loyal defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School. Lights off, film and projector on the table, pen and paper in hand. He played film on the white of the Stoops’ refrigerator.

Ron Stoops was a diligent defensive mind. He could have been a head coach at a big public high school, but he was committed to Catholic education. He painted houses for extra cash, stayed late to pick up towels off the floor or mop the team’s locker room and stayed up later to shine his children’s shoes before school. He took his history class as seriously as his pass rush, and though he could fall victim to stress and emotion on the sidelines, he was always the cool hand in crises.

“We didn’t realize it because we were young,” Kathy said, “but we always, always looked for his validation, his approval.”

Bob Stoops developed a strong facade as head coach at Oklahoma, but there were always some cracks in the framework, and every now and then, something would come leaking out. It was never more evident than when Stoops would wax nostalgic about his father. He mentioned it publicly, and as the years went on, he mentioned it more often privately. He brought it up on his latest visit home. Dad had a simple life. No one could have loved their life more.

“I think Bob wants to go back to some of that,” Kathy said. “He wants to go back to what made life fun and just … real.”

Oubre OU Iowa 1979 2

Oklahoma's Louis Oubre (66) and Iowa's Bob Stoops (41) during OU's game with Iowa on September 15, 1979.

When Stoops went back to Youngstown in June, he took McMillen, Stroud and their wives cruising through his old haunts. He showed them the Cape Cod-style house where he grew up, the park where they played baseball and the neighborhood where they boxed in basements.

In a family with six children, Bob wasn’t the oldest Stoops child — that title belongs to brother Ron Jr. — but Kathy says Bob was the edgiest, the feistiest, the orneriest.

“A typical middle child,” she says.

While the entire family was and is competitive — and though Mike has become known for showing the most emotion — no one was more driven, determined or bothered by losing than Bob Stoops.

“I think most of us get to a point where you work really hard, but you realize that’s about as good as you can do,” Kathy said. “And that was really not Bobby. He was always gonna do a little bit better.”

Early in high school, Stoops set a clear goal for himself: He wanted to play football at a Division I program. He was undersized to play at that level, not even 6 feet and maybe 160 pounds soaking wet.

“He was David,” Williams said. “He would always find a way to whip Goliath.”

So that’s what he did, earning a scholarship to play defensive back at Iowa. He had a nose for the football and could see the field like a chess board.

In 1978, his mother, father and sister dropped him off in Iowa City, and Bob didn’t turn 18 until September. He was a long way from home, and on the ride back to Youngstown, Dee cried her eyes out, and Ron didn’t say a word.

After a tough freshman year, Bob returned to Youngstown and said he wanted to leave Iowa. He hadn’t dressed for games, and he wanted to come home.

Stoops and his father were doing some yard work, his dad clipping bushes with his strong forearms, when Bob brought it up for the last time. Ron Stoops stopped what he was doing, lowered his voice and leveled with his son.

So you’re just gonna be like a lot of different people? You’re just gonna give up, and you’re gonna fail. That’s bull----.

Hayden Fry’s staff took over at Iowa the next year, and Stoops became a Hawkeyes captain, a two-time All-Big Ten selection and the 1982 team MVP.

Ron and Dee Stoops were there for every home game, often getting in the car and starting the 10-hour trek as soon as Ron’s high school game was over. They’d drive as far as South Bend, Indiana, and the golden dome at Notre Dame, then someone would meet them to finish the drive. If there was a morning kickoff, they might head straight to the stadium.

Ron loved to be there early. He liked to watch the Hawkeyes warm up. Sometimes he’d stare through the morning fog, his breath showing from the cold, his eyes watching every second of his son wearing the No. 41 jersey.

When Bob Stoops tells the story of his career, he credits Dad for making him go back to Iowa.

STOOPS7

Bob Stoops (left) poses with his father, Ron (center), and brother Mike in Youngstown. Courtesy

On that trip back to Ohio, Stoops’ crew also stopped by Cardinal Mooney, where a plaque in memory of Ron Stoops hangs in the lobby and they named a practice facility after him. Two nights later was bocce ball. Around Youngstown, the Stoops family is beloved, and even after the mills closed and shops boarded up, Dee Stoops and her kids still have a hard time understanding how anyone could say Youngstown isn’t a great place to live.

“Bob’s really proud of Youngstown, and he’s proud of the community there,” Stroud said.

It’s hard to talk about Youngstown, though, without talking about 1988.

Stoops had just married Carol that summer in the Iowa girl’s hometown of Cresco. Williams remembers what a good time the wedding was, and he remembers Stoops getting anxious while getting dressed in a hot hotel. Ron Stoops played basketball with his boys, and Dee Stoops remembers how sharp Ron looked while they posed for pictures.

Stoops was in his first real job, coaching linebackers at Kent State that fall. One night after a Kent State practice, Stoops and defensive coordinator Chris Smeland drove 40 miles east to Youngstown to watch Cardinal Mooney practice. Smeland was concerned they’d get there too late — it was autumn and the sun was starting to set. But when they arrived, Ron Stoops and head man Don Bucci were coaching their boys in full pads. They were standing in the middle of the field, one big light pole shining on a 30-yard square.

Smeland went on to coach at several Division I schools and is now defensive coordinator at Kentucky State. But then, he was a young man from the West Coast, and he says this was the first time he really understood Midwestern football.

“Coach, this is how we do it over here,” Stoops told him.

Smeland turned, looked at Stoops and couldn’t help but laugh.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less coming from a guy like you,” he said.

Just a few weeks later, on Oct. 7, Cardinal Mooney was playing on Friday night, and Ron Stoops’ boys were locked in a close game. On the other sideline, Ron Jr. was an assistant at Boardman High.

“That dreadful October night,” Dee Stoops still says.

Ron hadn’t quite been himself all day, not eating his cake at a school party and staying more quiet than normal. During the game, he started having chest pains and was off to the sideline by himself. Everyone knew something was wrong.

Word got back to Bob, who got in the car with a few others and started driving home. He told his mom he had a bad feeling.

“I think he probably prepared himself,” Dee said.

They put Ron in an ambulance. Cardinal Mooney won in triple overtime. Ron Stoops died that night at age 54. He never saw the pictures from his son’s wedding.

A few days later, the wake was at St. Dominic’s Parish on Youngstown’s south side. The line wrapped around a city block.

“It was the longest line I’ve ever been in in my life,” Williams said.

At that funeral, they had a No. 41 jersey — which Bob, Mike and Mark all wore at Iowa — and placed it in Ron’s casket. Bob also dropped in his Rose Bowl ring and had it buried with his dad. Someone read a poem, and it ended with God needing Ron to come run his defense.

Shortly after that, Bob Stoops had to go back to work.

The coaches at Kent State don’t remember Bob saying much about his dad’s death in the days after. Those things don’t normally come up during coaches’ meetings. Smeland just remembers how focused Stoops was on doing his job.

“I really think that was Bob Stoops, to a T,” Smeland said.

Bob Stoops at Florida 1997 Gainesville Sun

Bob Stoops was Florida's defensive coordinator until he took the OU coaching job in 1999. Photo courtesy/The Gainesville Sun

The day before bocce ball was Kathy’s wedding, where people danced for three hours, and some thought they were never going to stop. Everyone had a blast, and it was kind of like the way things used to be, before all the boys moved away for good.

In the winter of 1988, Bob was at home and sat down at his mother’s kitchen table. He told her he had some good news.

“I’m going to Kansas State,” he said.

Bill Snyder offered Stoops a job coaching defensive backs, so he and Carol packed up and headed for the Little Apple in Manhattan. That’s where Stoops first met McMillen, and one night they went out to the county rodeo. McMillen is from Salina, Kansas, so he was used to the spectacle. He remembers Stoops looking around, confused.

They knew the stresses that could come with the coaching lifestyle, so for a long time, Carol didn’t hang drapes. They ate on a plain card table for two years, and Stoops painted McMillen’s house.

But by 1995, Stoops was still at Kansas State. He’s always had that level of loyalty about him, never leaving one job unless another was too good to pass up. Some say he was a little bit like his father, who spent his whole career at Cardinal Mooney and never wanted to leave.

One day, of course, Steve Spurrier called from Florida and wanted Stoops to come be his defensive coordinator. This one was worth leaving for.

From the earliest days at Florida, despite the Gators having one of the country’s best programs at the time, Stoops was never intimidated.

“He was doing his thing,” Spurrier said. “I pretty much turned the defense over to him.”

That was Stoops then, and in many ways, it’s still him now. He always was focused on the task, but never let it consume him. That’s part of what made him odd — the way he could check the same internal drive that made him great. His big mentor was Spurrier, who resigned at Florida, then coached the Washington Redskins for two years, then went to South Carolina, where he admits he stayed too long and stepped down midway through the 2015 season. Stoops also learned under Snyder, who retired, then came back, and at 77, is still coaching at K-State.

“Bobby just realizes that it can be all-engulfing,” Snyder said this summer. “So many people ask me, ‘Well, now that the summer has come, where’d you go on your two months’ vacation?’ Well, that doesn’t happen for college football coaches.”

From Spurrier, Stoops learned about how to run a more relaxed program. But Kathy credits Carol for much of Stoops’ balance. A Type-A driver herself, Carol wasn’t exactly a stay-at-home mom. She was a national sales director at Mary Kay, a job from which she retired just over a year ago. She had her own life and her own goals, but she was the yin to Bob’s yang.

“When he was young, he was always do, do, do, versus, what’s good for me?” Kathy said. “I think Carol is tremendously introspective and thinks about what’s good for you, what’s good to think about, how to clarify.”

Different people give different answers when asked if Stoops is introspective. He likes to be social, but he’s not the loudest guy in the room. He can be quiet and live in his own head, but it’s rare for him to share his internal monologue.

What’s most clear about Stoops from his actions is that he loves coaching football. All four Stoops boys are coaches. Kathy is a teacher turned principal, and younger sister Reenie is a nurse. There’s a common tie of helping and teaching. Those things, plus the thrill of competition, are what Bob Stoops lived for long before he got paid more than $5 million to be the CEO of Oklahoma football.

He always was recreating the world of Ron Stoops, and he was able to balance family and football better than most in his profession because in his world, they were always one and the same.

“I think if things would have worked out differently and he was a high school coach, he would have been just as happy,” McMillen said.

Stoops

Bob Stoops (center), wife Carol and AD Joe Castiglione enjoy a pep rally after Stoops was named OU coach on Dec. 2, 1998. Tulsa World file

In 1999, Bob Stoops became the head coach at Oklahoma. On the day of his introduction, he caught several players looking at his wife.

He smiled and quipped: Don’t stare too long.

That was the young Bob Stoops, 38 years old and maybe younger in the face. He was well-groomed and clean-cut, but intense and passionate about whatever he was doing, just like dad.

In so many ways, Oklahoma was everything Bob Stoops ever could have dreamed of. But he knew the magnitude of the job from the time he took it, once looking at a friend in Florida shortly after he got the job and saying, “What have I got myself into?”

Success came fast, and everyone remembers being there at the end of Stoops’ second season, when OU upset Florida State and won the national championship. They partied at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach until late into the night, then flew back to Norman the next morning and met a horde of fans at the Switzer Center.

Stoops was never intimidated by the job, confident he was going to win that game and so many more. But Barry Switzer wrote a book that was largely about his own father, and in it, he talked of a football program so big and important it could eat you alive. Such monsters don’t stay in closets forever.

Those who knew Stoops when he was young noticed how the job changed him. At bowl games, Stoops wasn’t as relaxed as he could be back home or out on the beach. There might be someone wanting to take a picture, and it wasn’t in Bob’s nature to say no. But one yes might lead to a circus of fans.

“He just had to become more cautious than is natural to our family,” Kathy said. “We’re naturally pretty open and honest, and what you see is what you get.”

Dee Stoops remembers her son holding her hand when he was hounded by crowds, and she says he didn’t like to sign things if he was with his children. Instead, she said, he’d try to remind them of designated days for autographs.

As Norman got used to Stoops and his personality, Dee said, things calmed down over time.

“He didn’t shun people, but he distilled them politely,” she said.

Around Norman, Stoops and McMillen would eat on Campus Corner nearly every day. Stoops made it a point early on to not let his job status keep him from living life the way he wanted. He built a big house off Interstate 35, but overall, he kept a low profile. Something as simple as showing up to his sons’ high school games meant pictures being posted on Twitter.

“I think one of the reasons he’s stepping away is you become too important,” Kathy said. “Your career becomes too important to a whole state, to a whole alumni base, a whole benefactors list, and there’s really no getting away from that. That’s not really what you sign up for at the beginning, but that’s really what it becomes.”

In some ways, the early years were easier before Stoops became a citizen of his own success. On a given day, if he came up the right elevator for a news conference, Stoops would walk past life-size portraits of Bud Wilkinson, Switzer, and then himself. Every day was a challenge to live up not only to the precedent of the past but also to his own reputation.

“I think Bob genuinely loved his simplistic life when he got to Oklahoma,” Kathy said. “That’s why the initial years were so much easier on all of us, I think, because the expectations were lower, he was young. … It was just different. It was much simpler.”

Bob Stoops always loved his job, but it was still a job. He didn’t love dealing with the media the Monday after a loss. He didn’t love the demands of recruiting or the tight-rope of player discipline.

Over Stoops’ final three years, he dealt with a laundry list of player controversies, most notably the decision to keep running back Joe Mixon at OU after he punched a woman at Pickleman’s Café. Stoops wasn’t known to talk about players or coaches or any other situation with his family. But there was an unspoken weight from big things like Joe Mixon and so many other little things that piled up over the years.

In an interview for this story, Dee Stoops brought Mixon up without any prompting.

“I know that was pressuring and it bothered him, but we didn’t talk about it,” she said.

McMillen said he was always impressed by how little Stoops worried. When Stoops hung out with his friends, they just laughed about things that had nothing to do with football. McMillen said he doesn’t believe Stoops felt more stress than he let on.

But Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, a famous boxer from Youngstown, gave a different insight.

“I think of all the people, I think he identifies with me in the sense that I’ve been in the public spotlight,” Mancini said. “I understand that. And not many people do.”

On the day Stoops retired, Mancini sent him a long congratulatory text. Per Mancini, this was Stoops response: “Thanks Ray. You would know the strain of being in this position. It’s all good — just the right time for me now.”

2016-09-04 sp-oufoot

Bob Stoops won more games than any other football coach in OU history. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

In 2015, the Washington Post ran a nice story on Stoops and the fact he was starting to seem youthful and re-energized despite the length of his career.

In that story, Stoops mentioned a poem a fan once sent him. It’s “If” by Rudyard Kipling. The poem is about grace under pressure, and Stoops knows it by heart.

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too …”

There was one connection, though, that the story missed. The poem’s final words read, “you’ll be a Man, my son!.

The whole thing is a letter from a father, providing advice on how to navigate life and its challenges. In times good and bad, Ron’s memory stuck with Stoops like that.

“I’m very aware of my father and what happened,” Stoops told the Pardon My Take podcast when he was in Youngstown. “In the end, that never leaves you.”

So that’s part of Stoops’ retirement, too. The whole family is aware of genetic heart problems, and Stoops has maintained a diligent workout routine for years. There never has been a confirmed report on whether some kind of health flare-up led Stoops to call it enough, but many people talk about how Stoops has always been fascinated by the idea of walking away from work while still young. He always has told Williams and McMillen he wouldn’t coach into his 60s. In Youngstown, he and Williams listed names of sports figures who went out on top. Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher was one of Stoops’ favorites.

Mancini walked away from boxing at age 24, after he won a world title and also killed a man in the ring over the course of 5½ years. Stoops often asked Mancini why he left the sport, and sometimes, they’d talk about things that usually stay beneath the surface. Mancini’s brother died when he was young, and he often has mentioned his brother coming to him in dreams. Mancini said Stoops has confided in him with a similar experience.

“Bobby said, ‘There’s times I feel like I hear my father, he’s talking to me, I’m talking to him,’” Mancini said. “And he says, ‘It’s like it’s real … and he is here, just not in the physical.’ There’s times he was coaching, he felt like his father had a hand on his shoulder to help guide him.”

No one else remembers Stoops ever saying something so vivid. Maybe an old boxer was exaggerating or Stoops might have been referring to his dad’s memory in a more figurative sense. Kathy said their father had such a strong personality that no one had ever wondered “What would dad say?” or “What would Dad do?”

The Stoops kids know exactly what their father would say, and sometimes they sit around and laugh, envisioning how he would react.

But it seems Stoops has always had thoughts he doesn’t like to talk about, his awareness of his own mortality being the big one. That’s one of those things beneath the facade — a coach reluctant in the spotlight, a son reeling from the loss of his father, a middle-aged man reckoning with his own finitude. He has had more than one reminder.

When his daughter, Mackie, was only 5 years old, Stoops left the team for a few days when Mackie needed brain surgery because her brain fluid and spinal fluid weren’t circulating properly.

Only a few years ago, one of Stoops’ best friends from Youngstown was diagnosed with cancer and died months later. Stoops knows what happened to his father, and as Spurrier told ESPN, “He didn’t want to go from the sidelines to the graveyard.”

At a banquet in Ohio, Stoops once reminisced about Dad, talking about mopping locker rooms.

Every once in a while, Stoops would be around OU’s team facilities. He might see a towel on the ground, and naturally, he’d pick it up.

The actions were subconscious, but he would always realize what was happening in the midst.

“Chokes me up every time,” he said in front of a room full of people.

Bob Stoops retires

After 18 seasons of coaching OU football, Bob Stoops announced his retirement on June 7. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

Later this summer, on the family’s annual trip to the ocean, Stoops’ mom and siblings teased him about what he’ll do now on game days.

“Maybe he’ll have sunglasses on and a real deep hat and be in the stands somewhere,” Dee joked.

Everyone wanted to know, but Stoops didn’t have an answer. Somewhere in the rush of retiring, some things were unaccounted for. Moving out of the office, what to do on game days, what to do next.

“I look at him differently now,” Dee said. “He’s just relaxed, and he feels free.”

In the first few months of retirement, Stoops has been all over. Youngstown with old friends, Iowa for a funeral, the beach with the family, golf with Spurrier, his property in Wyoming, more friends in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Stoops still is getting paid $325,000 in an advisory role at OU, and his two sons are seniors at Norman North and good football players. He was at their first practice and their first scrimmage. A couple of Saturdays ago, McMillen called Stoops and wanted to know if he was free to go do something.

“Every day is Saturday for me now,” Stoops said, and they laughed.

Stoops is adamant he’s not going to coach again, and everyone who knows him believes him. But if he doesn’t return to football, he’ll have to find something to replace it, and he’s said himself he doesn’t have a clear plan.

One August morning, Stoops visited an OU practice, and when it was over, he came rolling out of the parking spaces underneath Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. He was wearing sunglasses and driving a cream-colored Jaguar. He lowered the window and smiled at a crowd of reporters gathered outside, waiting to talk to new coach Lincoln Riley.

“Hey, guys,” Stoops barked out the window.

The car looked clean and new, and Stoops seemed like a retired man finally able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He would have looked good on a brochure for a retirement community.

But the wheels rolled, and the whispers came.

Where’s he gonna go now?

I heard he plays golf every. single. day.

Bob Stoops turned his car right and moved down Jenkins Avenue. He faded into the distance as he drove away from his old life and, for once, there was nothing in front of him but time.

Related: Read the anecdotes, tidbits and quotes on Bob Stoops that didn't make it into this profile. 

Cody Stavenhagen
Twitter: @CodyStavenhagen

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News