When No. 3 Ohio State takes on No. 14 Oklahoma Saturday, both teams will be led by men who have been head coaches for nearly the entire lifespan of each player on the field.
In a country where the highest paid public employee of any state is often a college football coach, Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer are legends. Their combined record as head coaches is 336-74, and together they have three national titles and have coached three Heisman Trophy winners.
Stoops was hired in 1999, a time that current players can’t recall. It’s also unlikely any of them remember when Meyer took his first head coaching job at Bowling Green, less than a month before Stoops won his national title in the 2001 Orange Bowl.
Stoops kept winning at Oklahoma — advancing to the national championship games for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Meyer jumped from Bowling Green, to Utah, to Florida — where he won the 2006 national championship.
Then Stoops and Meyer met when Tim Tebow and the Florida team beat a Sam Bradford-led Oklahoma 24-14 in the 2009 BCS National Title Game.
Despite the win, Meyer said this week was one of the first times his high-powered offense was stymied.
"That's one of the first times that — that's one of those sick feelings on the sidelines. Use language I can't use right here, like son of a ... It's tough," Meyer said in his press conference Monday.
Meyer has adjusted and made tweaks, and his offense has been humming at Ohio State. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who lost to Meyer’s 2004 Utah team when he was the head coach at Arizona, said it’s the resiliency of Meyer and his offense that makes it so hard to beat his teams.
“They put stress on your whole defense, and that’s when you know you have a good system,” Mike Stoops said. “And they have answers. You keep trying to find things that may work — but their system, and that’s when you know you’ve got a good system. It’s pretty foolproof.”
Meyer and Bob Stoops have never been on the same staff or coached in the same conference — building legacies and followings at the same time in different parts of the country.
“I haven’t coached with him, but I can only imagine, just because of all the success, the attention to details, relating to players, relating to coaches,” Stoops said. “Motivating coaches, players — all of it together, when you’ve had all that success, go hand in hand.”
Stoops has seen several men leave his staff for head coaching jobs, including Mike Stoops, Washington State’s Mike Leach, Indiana’s Kevin Wilson and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Meyer’s coaching tree has sprouted Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Boston College’s Steve Addazio and Texas’ Charlie Strong.
“We both have had a lot of former assistants go on to (be) head coaches," Stoops said. "I don’t know that I’m measuring myself on that. I think we both just say that we’re always glad and happy for those coaches and families that get a chance to go do it. You’re always happy and proud when they do well, but I’m not sitting here measuring myself on it.”
That kind of track record helps attract assistant coaches like Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who came to Norman from East Carolina two years ago.
“Nobody's run a program as good as (Stoops) has run at Oklahoma for the last 16, 17 years, so I knew as a coach, regardless of whatever happens in the future, I knew I could come here and develop and learn," Riley said. "It wasn't as much about the future, but chance to get better was a big part of it for me."
Meyer’s success at Florida stopped suddenly when he resigned, citing personal health concerns. During his two years away from the game, he reached out to Stoops for advice.
“We talked, but that wouldn’t be for me to speak on,” Stoops said. “I feel I’ve been comfortable overall with the balance of my life and how I’ve gone about it. Urban has a great family, and he’s done a super job everywhere he’s been.”
Meyer took the Ohio State job before the 2012 season and reeled off 24 consecutive wins to begin his tenure. The legend of Urban Meyer successfully took root in Columbus.
With their long track records of success, Stoops and Meyer are larger-than-life figures in the eyes of the players they try to recruit.
“It was crazy,” Oklahoma sophomore linebacker Tay Evans said about meeting Stoops. “You see him on TV every Saturday. Watching him and then getting to meet him in person, (I) was kind of starstruck.”
On Saturday, other kids who dream of playing college football will tune in to watch Stoops and Meyer lead their teams in a clash of titans.