Most coaches either retire once their careers have hit the skids, or their retirement isn’t exactly voluntary; recently former Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown lobbied to coach for a few more seasons, but big-money boosters were ready to move on.
Now it’s Brown’s longtime rival Bob Stoops’ turn to step down. After 18 seasons at the University of Oklahoma, Stoops announced his retirement.
The timing of the retirement, fewer than three months from the beginning of the season, raised questions. Some speculated that health issues or family matters were at play. Others even posited that Stoops could be leaving to avoid some impending NCAA violation.
Amid the rampant conjecture, Stoops addressed the abrupt retirement with candor.
Bob Stoops, the longest-tenured coach in college football, has stepped down after 18 seasons with the Oklahoma Sooners, he announced Wednesday.
“Stepping down after 18 years as the head football coach here at Oklahoma,” Stoops said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “I feel like I’ve been absolutely the luckiest, most fortunate guy in the world and incredibly blessed to have experienced what we have over the last 18½ years. I felt I just didn’t want to miss the right opportunity to be able to step away and hand this baton off to Lincoln Riley and to help this all just keep going in a great direction.”
Riley, 33, will become the youngest head coach at the FBS level after two seasons as OU’s offensive coordinator. Stoops will remain as special assistant to the athletic director.
Stoops said he did not base his decision on health reasons and that he has “had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching.” A high-ranking Oklahoma athletic department official told ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski that Stoops’ decision “was not an overnight revelation.”
The source added that Stoops’ father, Ron, suffered a heart attack and died while coaching a high school game in Ohio in the late 1980s and that Stoops has always had that in his mind. The source also said Stoops didn’t want to get to the point at which the school forced him out, adding that he doesn’t expect Stoops to coach again at any level.
“He didn’t want to go from the sidelines to the graveyard,” former coach Steve Spurrier told ESPN on Wednesday. “He pretty much was able to go out on top.”
Stoops joined the Sooners as a rookie head coach in 1999, and he guided OU to the 2000 national championship, 10 Big 12 titles and 14 seasons with double-digit wins, including an 11-2 mark in 2016.
Stoops, who turns 57 on Sept. 9, is the winningest coach in OU history, with a 190-48 record (.798 winning percentage).
In addition, he coached two Heisman Trophy winners: quarterbacks Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008).
“The Bible says, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,'” Stoops said in his statement. “I’m grateful for this season of my life, and feel I’ve fulfilled my purpose here at OU as its head football coach.”
Stoops was finishing his third season as defensive coordinator under Spurrier at Florida when the Sooners came calling and hired him in December 1998.
Oklahoma had fallen into disrepair after three losing seasons under coach John Blake. When Stoops arrived, chicken bones littered the practice field, where fans had still been allowed to tailgate. Even more telling, the sign longtime coach Bud Wilkinson put up coming out of Oklahoma’s locker room, “PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY,” was dilapidated and missing letters.
After only two seasons with “Big Game Bob” at the helm, Oklahoma was a national champion again, beating No. 2 Florida State 13-2 in the BCS National Championship Game at the Orange Bowl following the 2000 season.
Stoops, who has two sons who play high school football and are entering their senior year, said he and his wife plan to stay in Norman, Oklahoma.
“The coaching life is like a relay race, and I’m thankful for my turn and am confident as I pass the baton,” Stoops said in his statement. “Carol and I intend on staying in Norman — it is our home. I will be available to Coach Riley and the athletic department in any manner.”
Spurrier offered additional comments on Stoops.
“Bobby is ready to go to the beach and watch his kids play ball,” Spurrier told ESPN. “He’s had a wonderful career. He knew when enough was enough.”
Although Stoops won a national championship in only his second season, he was never able to reach that pinnacle again, losing the championship game in 2003, 2004, and 2008. He also lost in the playoff semifinals during the 2015 season.
Despite these bitter losses, Stoops had a stellar career, and ended on a high note with an 11-2 record.
Newly-minted head coach Lincoln Riley will have big shoes to fill as he takes over for the winningest coach at one of the most storied programs in college football history.