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Oklahoma football: Bob Stoops experiences host of firsts in retirement


Bob and Carol Stoops wave to the crowd at halftime at the game against Texas Tech Oct. 28.

Nov. 9, 2017 marks 155 days since Bob Stoops announced his decision to walk away from coaching football. Since then, he’s been living a life he’s not used to  a life he’s always imagined. 

He doesn’t have to worry about beating Texas, or capturing an 11th Big 12 title, or making the College Football Playoff. Today, those who know him say all Stoops is worried about is his golf swing and perfecting his homemade pizza recipe. 

“I’m just trying to get through this day,” Stoops said at his retirement press conference in June. “I do not have a plan… It’s a little bit frightening definitely, but I’m really a spiritual person and believe until you open yourself up to something you don’t know what the opportunities are. We’ll see what might flow my way.” 

A husband to one, a father to three and a friend to many, Stoops has enjoyed his 154 days of retirement, spending it the only way he knows how: with family and friends. 

“This is a guy that has built his life around his family, not around football,” said Clarke Stroud, University of Oklahoma Dean of Students and one of Stoops’ closest friends. “That’s something Bob’s always tried to do, is to make sure he’s got that balance. Family is his number one.” 

What follows is a recounting of some highlights of Stoops’ first few months of retirement and the stressful and busy life he left behind. He declined to comment for this story. 

Day 1: Reflection 

Twenty-four hours after addressing his shocking retirement, Stoops found himself on a beach in Florida with his wife, Carol, his good friend and Assistant A.D. of Football Operations Matt McMillen and Matt’s wife, Gina. This wasn’t something new  the Stoops and McMillen families go on vacation every summer, taking a pause from their usually busy schedules to spend time together. 

“We’ve done it forever,” McMillen said. “Everything fails in comparison to his family. It’s the most important.” 

However, this time it was just the parents, reflecting on a friendship that started in 1989 when McMillen and Stoops met at Kansas State. They shared memories and favorite stories throughout their relationship that week in Florida, not wondering what was next for the two best friends that started their careers in Manhattan, Kansas. 

Although McMillen no longer works under Stoops, their strong relationship continues. 

“We’re great friends, we were always great friends out of the office,” McMillen said. “I talk to him every day and see him most every day. Nothing's really changed.” 

Day 18: Sense of humor 

Stoops always had a causal relationship when it came to the media. He was professional when he had to be, and friendly when he stepped away from the OU backdrop. He was straightforward, never giving too much information, but just enough to satisfy the reporters. 

Eighteen days after his retirement, Stoops found himself in the back of a 30-year old van, talking to two of the most polarizing sports media personalities in the country — Barstool Sports’ Big Cat and PFT Commenter. Known for their hilarious yet insightful interviews on their No. 1 ranking sports podcast “Pardon My Take,” Stoops showed his lighter side during the 30-minute interview. 

“I run around with the dean of students, how about that? That’s my guy,” Stoops said jokingly on the podcast as he referred to Stroud, who was with him on the trip. “We may be throwing together a podcast to compete with you guys.” 

Stoops talked about anything from Bruce Arians’ Kangol hat to how much sunscreen Steve Spurrier uses. He even threw down the hook’em horns sign with the guys. 

“I think he enjoyed it,” McMillen said. “He was a bit more relaxed than he normally would’ve been.” 

He was candid with Big Cat and PFT, explaining he had no idea how he was going to spend his retirement. 

“I really don’t know,” Stoops told them. “I may come find you guys, I don’t know. I need to ride around in this van… This is sweet.” 

Day 30: Presence missed 

As all 10 head coaches gathered at the “Star” in Frisco, Texas, for Big 12 Media Days, there was an obvious void felt throughout the Dallas Cowboys facility. For the first time in 18 years, the face of the conference wasn’t present. 

“(Stoops) was a tremendous influence on his staff, on his players, on his university over a very long period of time, and he had a tremendous football teams and tremendous football players.” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in his opening remarks at media days. “The Big 12 is poorer for not having Bob Stoops any longer as a head coach in our league.” 

Dominating conference play with 10 Big 12 Championships and 121 wins, Stoops was the premier coach of the league. 

“He’s been highly successful, and he’s done things the right way,” Kansas State head coach and Stoops’ former boss Bill Snyder said at media days. “I appreciated the way he worked at things, I appreciated his approach to the game. He was a hard-nosed, aggressive player and coached the exact same way.” 

While coaches and players reminisced over his legendary career, Stoops was off traveling while his protégé, Lincoln Riley, made his first debut in the spotlight. 

“I learned a lot from (Stoops),” Riley said at media days. “He always had a great sense for the pulse of the team. He was very, very good to me in the last several years. Helped me to feel as prepared as I think you could in this position.” 

Day 56: Still around 

Almost nothing was different about Oklahoma’s first practice of the 2017-18 season. Same schedule, same drills, same field, same quarterback — even the man in charge was wearing a visor. The only difference was that man in the visor wasn’t Stoops. 

It was the first time since 1998 Stoops wasn’t on the practice field as head coach. But Stoops couldn’t stay away, returning to his stomping grounds on only the third day of Sooners practice. 

“We all get excited,” junior left tackle Orlando Brown said back in August. “It’s nothing new. He’s not totally in there sitting at films and looking at the defense calling plays. He’s looking at it more from a spectator’s perspective. It’s pretty cool having him there.” 

This isn’t the only time he’s made an appearance at practice. In fact, today, Stoops enjoys making regular visits with the team, occasionally sitting in on team meetings or roaming around during drills. He especially enjoys attending the quarterback meetings, something he rarely did as head coach. 

“(Stoops) had never done that before,” McMillen said. “He thought that was really interesting to listen to Lincoln work with those guys.” 

Stoops isn’t around the team near as much, but still comes into the office four or five days a week, working out of a suite on the second floor of the east side of the stadium. He makes subtle appearances, trying to attract as little attention as possible.   

“He tries to be around without being invasive,” McMillen said. “(He’ll) pop in the office, say ‘hi’ to guys here and there. He still has a presence.” 

Day 85: Clarity 

Two nights before Oklahoma’s season opener versus UTEP,  Stoops sat in his suite in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, gazing down at Owen Field. He watched as his twin sons, Drake and Isaac, led Norman North to a gripping 49-43 victory over crosstown-rival Norman High. 

“(I) can watch it with a clear head,” Stoops said about watching his sons play. 

Seniors in high school, Drake and Isaac have grown up as apprentices to a football mastermind. Both plan to play in college, combining for offers from Army, UCO, Ohio and Memphis, among others. Despite his hectic schedule, Stoops tried his best to make the majority of their games, missing about half of them due to being on the road worrying about his own team. Now, in their final season, Stoops hasn’t missed a game. 

“He doesn’t miss a game, and he can stay for the whole game,” Stroud said. 

Today, Stoops has attended all of his sons’ games, sitting in the stands alongside all the other parents. Despite his hectic schedule, Stoops has always been this way, putting his role as a parent above his role as a coach, even if that was driving them to school every day. 

“He took his kids to school, he still managed to get to their games and make sure he was a part of their lives,” Stroud said. “He wanted to be dad. He’s not a celebrity to them, he’s dad.” 

Day 87: New perspective 

In a small box with only about six chairs on the west side of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, opposite of his new office, Stoops sat with Carol, watching his successor, Lincoln Riley, lead his former team to a 56-14 win over UTEP. 

“We wanted to make it as comfortable to watch the game the way he wanted to watch it,” athletic director Joe Castiglione said, who arranged for Stoops to have his own space on gameday. “If we wanted to cheer, he could yell, he could express himself and there’s no worries because there isn’t anybody there. We’ve made it possible where he could use that box all year long.” 

It was an emotional day for Stoops, who had experienced 101 wins on that field. After being in control for 18 years, he found himself in unfamiliar territory, having no impact on the outcome of the game he had been a part of for so long. 

“It was hard,” Stroud said, who sat with Stoops and his family for part of the game. “He was watching kids he recruited, he can see everything up there and he knows what’s happening. It was the first time he had been on the other side of it.” 

Stoops would break down plays, analyzing every second of the game. He talked to himself, Stroud recalled, pointing out moments when players made or missed assignments, but never criticizing how the game itself was called.     

“He’s still emotionally invested in this program and will be for quite some time,” Castiglione said. 

Day 94: Confirmation 

With 11:19 remaining in the game, and Oklahoma leading then-No. 2 Ohio State 17-13 in Columbus, senior quarterback Baker Mayfield scrambled around the 10-yard line before hitting running back Trey Sermon, who bulldozed into the endzone. 

Cut to the press box. 

Stoops sat to the right of Carol and his daughter Mackie, watching his former team on the verge of completing one of the biggest upsets in program history, confirming he was right that Riley could keep them on the trajectory he created. As Sermon tumbled into the endzone, Stoops stood up, gave two Tiger Woods-esque fist pumps and began clapping furiously as if he had just finished watching Blake Bell hit Jalen Saunders in the back of the endzone to win Bedlam. 

After the 31-16 win, Stoops embraced his former players and coaches, congratulating them on a victory only a few believed would happen. During the game Stoops was calm, enjoying it without the pressure of coaching his team to a win. 

“He genuinely took as much joy in seeing the team have that success as anyone did,” Castiglione said who also sat with him during the game. 

As Riley walked up the tunnel in Ohio Stadium, Stoops bear-hugged his former offensive coordinator, slapping him on the back as if to say, “I knew I made the right choice.” 

Day 122: Distance 

As Mayfield’s pass intended for junior tight end Mark Andrews fell incomplete on 4th and 4, sealing Iowa State’s 38-31 upset victory over Oklahoma in Norman, 1,013 miles northeast, Stoops sat with his son Drake watching Ohio play Central Michigan. Stoops decided to skip the Sooners’ home game that Saturday, traveling to Athens, Ohio, instead for his son’s official visit. He would later find out OU had lost at home, something he had only done nine times in his career, but also something he knows comes with the job. 

“By the time I had spoke to him, he had watched the whole game,” Castiglione said. “He’s still emotionally invested, so he was disappointed like everybody else was.” 

It was the first time in 242 games that he wasn’t in attendance when Oklahoma played. 

“He understands that those things happen,” McMillen said. “The expectations that we’re going to win every game every year  it’s just not reasonable.” 

Typically, a loss like that would leave Stoops stressed for weeks, but not now. A tremendous weight has been lifted off his shoulders, a weight he carried his entire professional life. 

“He’s not stressed at all,” Stroud said about Stoops’ retirement so far. “You could tell when things were weighing on him, but now he’s really enjoying life. He doesn’t have the worries or the concern of ‘Oh God, I should be doing this, instead of doing this.’” 

Day 143: There’s a first for everything 

The past 18 years, Stoops spent most of his weekends patrolling Oklahoma’s sideline. Two weeks ago, he experienced a whole new perspective. 

As the halftime festivities began during OU’s matchup with Texas Tech, The Pride formed the name “STOOPS” across Owen Field. Stoops and Carol rode around the stadium in the back of a golf cart, waving to a standing ovation. Earlier that day, Stoops served as a grand marshal in the homecoming parade, riding in the back of a horse-drawn carriage down Boyd Street. Twenty-four hours before that, he was an honorary participant in Oklahoma’s Class of 2018 ring ceremony. 

“I’ve never been to a ring ceremony, I’ve never been to a parade,” Stoops said with a laugh. “It’s just all so different.” 

For the first time in awhile, Stoops was in the spotlight. He never enjoyed being the center of attention while coaching  in fact, he hated it, according to Stroud. He gave all the glory to his players in victory, and took all the blame in defeat. 

“He was very moved, very humbled, very grateful, and I say this for both he and Carol, for being chosen as grand marshals for homecoming,” Castiglione said. “But at the same time he didn’t look for that attention… He’s perfectly happy letting everybody else have the spotlight.” 

Current: Home 

Today, Stoops can be found doing many things. Occasionally you can find him in his kitchen cooking his famous homemade pizza, some days you can find him at Pepe Delgados on Campus Corner eating lunch with two of his closest friends, Stroud and McMillen, and other days you’ll find him on the 18th green at Jimmie Austin practicing his short game. 

He’s spending his time relaxing, but also keeping busy. 

“It’s too different, too strange,” Stoops said at the ring ceremony. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’m perfectly content with my decision. It’s too early to enjoy it.” 

With coaching searches starting to ramp up, many have begun to link Stoops to a host of jobs including Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida. He’s iterated over and over he has no intentions of coaching again, but still his name comes up. 

“I don’t see him going anywhere,” Stroud said. “He’s got his house here. This is where he’s made his home for almost two decades.” 

Stoops still claims he has no idea what he will do in the future. Maybe he’ll become a gourmet chef or coach middle school basketball like he’s always said he would. For now, he’ll continue to work for the university that he’s spent half his career with.

“He might tell you that he’s played a lot more golf than he’s ever been able to play,” Castiglione said. “There are so many ways that we are grateful for Bob, so many ways that he’s been an enormous influence on so many good things here… To try and predict what’s next, it would be pure guess-work.”

No matter what Stoops does for the rest of his retirement, his legacy in Norman will always be remembered.

“That south endzone,” Stroud said. “That’s the house that Bob built."

George Stoia joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore and has covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past three years. He graduates in May 2020.

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