Bob Stoops walks away a winner, still at the top of his game

Dan Wolken

Bob Stoops, who brought Oklahoma back from the depths of scandal and mismanagement, won a national title title in his second season and dominated the Big 12 for the majority of his 18 seasons, is walking away from coaching at age 56.

To most people, it will come off as a bizarre decision — especially in June, less than two months from starting camp with a team ranked in the preseason top 10.

Stoops said in a statement there’s no imminent health crisis or looming scandal. Rather, he’s turning over the program to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley while it is still among the best in the country and walking away, ready to do something else with the rest of his life.

In other words, Stoops is taking the exit ramp while it’s still his choice, while his legacy is still pristine and while he still has many years to enjoy his family and the lifestyle he’s worked so hard to earn.


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And if this were any profession but coaching, where the typical impulse is to hold on for as long as possible until they make you leave, we’d all say toast to that and wish we could do the same.

Indeed, Stoops is making a decision others — including his mentor and friend, Steve Spurrier — haven’t been brave enough to face. Coaching is a brutal business, an endless cycle of nonsense that leads up to 12 Saturdays in the fall when they can put it all aside and just coach.

But even then, someone like Stoops isn’t fully appreciated unless he wins all 12, and we’ve seen recently at Oklahoma how some fans have criticized him for the program slipping maybe half a level from where it was in the mid-2000s.

Maybe Stoops could have made another run or two at the national title. Or maybe getting worn down from all the stuff that goes into coaching would have allowed Tom Herman and Texas just enough room to pass him, leaving his record scarred and his relationship rocky with a school he’s never wanted to leave despite numerous opportunities both in college and the NFL.

Instead, he will get a hero’s exit in Norman and hand off the program to Riley, a 33-year old offensive wunderkind who was pursued for head coaching jobs last offseason and almost certainly would have landed a big-time gig next year.

If not for the natural cynicism built into our 24-hour-a-day news cycle, it makes perfect sense.

The moment Stoops’ retirement leaked and it became clear there was no health reason forcing him out, many fans on social media immediately assumed there was some type of scandal looming.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. Stoops has a family history of heart problems — his father died at 54 — but he presumably has a lot of life to live and wants to live it on his terms, not begging 17-year-olds to come to his campus or fighting with media members over how he lost a game.

And perhaps it will be a road map for the profession going forward.

All of us — fans, media, alumni, everyone — take for granted how consuming these jobs are, how they grind on bodies and minds and families. Especially now, with all the scrutiny and pressure at a place like Oklahoma.

The coaches, of course, are paid well enough to make it worthwhile. Stoops made $5.5 million last season and has a $2 million-plus salary every year since 2000. Any coach these days that gets a five-year contract at a Power Five school should basically be financially secure for life.

That has fundamentally changed the profession and even affected how athletics directors view coaches. One of them, who had to make a high-profile football hire recently, told USA TODAY Sports that he expressly wanted to hire a young coach because he believed anyone who had been a head coach for more than a decade most likely had their prime years in the rear-view mirror.

Given all the money involved and the amount of stress it took to get there, it would only be natural for an older coach to take their foot off the gas a little bit. As much as the college football industrial complex tends to deify coaches, they are human beings at the end of the day.

Since 1983 — the year he graduated college — Stoops has known nothing but coaching football and did it as well or better than all but a few in his generation. He accomplished everything he could as coach. Now he has millions in the bank and a list of things he will have time to do as a civilian.

That doesn’t make him a quitter. It makes him a person.