When he took off the headset at the conclusion of the Red and White game 371 days ago, Bob Stoops had no idea he’d just coached his final game on Owen Field.
Neither did the players on the turf with him nor did the 43,723 in the stands.
And yet, less than two months later, he turned the program over to Lincoln Riley, stepping down as OU’s coach after 18 years tugging that headset over his signature visor.
A little more than a year after coaching his final game, Stoops and nearly 1,200 friends, family and former players gathered at the Bennett Events Center on the state fairgrounds to celebrate the man who still refuses to wax poetic about his legacy.
“Even though I’m a year out of coaching, I still feel like there is something else coming,” Stoops said Friday night. “So I’m not ready to look back yet. Maybe I should. All those years I was asked that type of thing and what you’ve done. I don’t care what I’ve done. I’m worried about what I’m doing next year or what is coming. Now it’s not there. Maybe I need to start reflecting back a little more than I have.”
If he was going to start being introspective, Friday night’s Salute to Stoops was the place to start doing it.
The Stoops-themed gala celebrated everything about the coach, from his classic rock music taste to his rogue pinkie to his iconic white visor.
Patrons were greeted with a 14-inch Stoops bobblehead at every seat and a white visor slung on the back of every seat. When attendees left, each person was given a chocolate bar to celebrate the coach’s sweet tooth.
For a coach that often deflected individual attention, the spotlight was inescapable on Friday night.
Throughout the evening, Toby Rowland and Sherri Coale circulated the room with microphones and collected stories from the likes of Barry Alvarez, Gabe Ikard, Gerald McCoy, Jason White and even Mike Gundy.
“You gave me the opportunity to experience something that only a coach’s son could experience,” former wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Without my father being there, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
From former longtime assistant Bobby Jack Wright: “I remember when the staff got back from recruiting (in 1999) and we had our first 5:30 a.m. workout. We looked at all the guys we inherited and he said, “look here, we can’t do it without these guys. They are ours and we are going to win.”
And from Alvarez: “I knew him as an 18-year-old freshman at Iowa. I would find jobs for players in the summer and created painting jobs. Bob Stoops was the best painter on the team.”
There was the time he went back to Gainesville, Florida, after a month on the job in Norman and told his car salesman that he’d ruined his life.
“I don’t know what the heck I went and did,” Stoops remembers saying. “I had a great job here at Florida. You have no idea the headache I have back in Norman, Oklahoma.”
It didn’t take long before he turned that headache of out-of-shape players and recruiting misses into the 2000 national championship.
Then there were the times throughout the 2000 championship season that Stoops knew he was on to something special.
“I went around the office Sunday before the Texas game,” he said. “Usually, we’re in there all night. I told the guys let’s get out of here early. We’re going to kick the whatever out of these guys. All I wanted to do was for them to be confident.
“I wanted energy and to be rested. I want the guys on fire tomorrow when we see the players. And Chuck goes, have you seen us play? We’re not very good. We were behind Kansas at halftime. The week before? At halftime, we’re behind. I just felt I wanted to project the confidence. I wanted the coaches excited and with energy. I told Chuck that.
“I had a method. Anyhow, it worked. What was it, 42-7 in the second quarter?”
And on and on the stories went.
Will those stories ever end up anywhere else, say in a book one day?
“I’m thinking about it,” he said with a grin. “Possibly. We’ll see. I don’t know if there’s a market out there for it or not. So we’ll see.”