Blue-Collar Roots Served OU Coach Stoops Well
Bob Stoops doesn’t care much about the fame and money he’s earned for being a successful college football coach. He’s got other things in his life.
“I’ll go pump gas somewhere,” the Oklahoma coach says. “As long as I can enjoy my kids and friends, I’ll have a good time.”
It’s a statement that reflects his blue-collar upbringing in Youngstown, Ohio, as one of six children of a high school coach and housewife.
Those roots have been the foundation for the Sooners’ stunning turnaround. In just two years under Stoops, they’ve gone from a losing team to No. 1 in the country.
With one more victory, against Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday night, Oklahoma would win its seventh national title, its first since 1985.
Stoops’ formula has been simple: everyone works hard, everyone is held accountable, everyone is treated fairly, no one makes excuses.
There are no gimmes with Bob Stoops. You get only what you earn.
“If there’s one thing Bob’s done, he’s gotten them to believe in themselves, believe that they’ve got an opportunity to win each and every game,” said Stoops’ brother, Mike, an assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator. “When you talk to Bob, I think you see that. He’s very confident and very secure in what he’s doing.”
Stoops and his brothers -- Mike, Mark and Ron Jr. -- grew up in a sports family, often trailing after their father, Ron Sr., as he went about his work as baseball coach and football defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown. Once a member of the Washington Senators’ organization, the elder Stoops continued playing baseball and later, fastpitch softball, in city leagues.
The boys watched how hard their father worked and competed.
“We’re a very competitive family. We love to compete,” Mike Stoops said. “That’s probably why we’ve been successful. We learned that from a very young age and that’s stuck with us throughout our life.”
Bob Stoops, a tough and smart defensive back, was a four-year starter and an All-Big 10 player at Iowa.
“I liked running into people, trying to get to the ball, that kind of thing,” he said. “I always appreciated defense.”
Stoops spent four years as a graduate assistant and volunteer assistant at Iowa, then went to Kent State for one season before joining Bill Snyder’s staff at Kansas State. In seven years there, in which he eventually became assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, Stoops had a hand in one of the great rebuilding jobs in college football.
Then it was off to Florida, where he was defensive coordinator for three years under Steve Spurrier and helped the Gators win the 1996 national championship.
Stoops’ resume was impressive, but it was his confidence that led athletic director Joe Castiglione to choose Stoops in December 1998 to take over a program that had won 12 games in the previous three years.
“He has a real knack for creating an environment that inspires people to be successful,” Castiglione said.
Stoops promised on the day he was hired that he would not make excuses for anything that happened on the field, and that Oklahoma would immediately be able to compete with anyone on the schedule.
There was never talk of a long-term plan.
“I don’t believe in that,” he said. “What’s it tell your players that are there right now, your juniors and seniors, that they’ve got to wait four years to win? Right away you give them an excuse not to, and it tells them that they’re not good enough to win and it tells them wait till we recruit over you.”
Last season, the Sooners led at some point in every game and finished the regular season 7-4. They went to the lower-tier Independence Bowl and lost, but it was Oklahoma’s first bowl of any kind since 1994 and helped serve as a springboard for this year.
Oklahoma started with four straight victories at home. Then came decisive victories over No. 11 Texas in Dallas, No. 2 Kansas State on the road and No. 1 Nebraska at home. That October blitz put the Sooners atop the poll, where they have stayed.
It also helped make Stoops rich. The university this year doubled his pay, to $1.4 million annually, a move he said was appreciated but unnecessary. The size of the paycheck has never been an issue for Stoops, who saw his father love his job and raise six kids on much, much less.
“He’d be more proud of how I am with my children and my wife and friends,” Stoops said. “I’m no happier than he was, and that means something.”