The Norman Transcript

January 5, 2014

No denying Stoops was skipper when ship righted

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It’s hard to call 2013 Bob Stoops’ best coaching job and yet the reason why it’s such a hard thing to do may be the most telling thing about the job he performed.

It’s hard to call it the best of his 15 campaigns because he didn’t win a national championship, didn’t win a Big 12 championship and, really, couldn’t be seen pulling so many strings.

There was a fake field goal at Bedlam, yet it was a game won by a one-time starting quarterback who, that day, was nonetheless OU’s third choice.

The turnaround that ended in New Orleans actually began at Owen Field, with a Jalen Saunders’ punt return against Iowa State, but that’s just a great player making a great play.

Trevor Knight replaced Blake Bell in that game, too, and came back to life, but his re-elevation appeared overdue and, even taking Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel at their word, was made necessary by injury.

The first big eye opener was not that OU upset Kansas State in Manhattan, but how it pulled it off, without bells and whistles, but simply by being the better team, a possibility that seemed impossible after the Baylor loss. 

Still, without bells or whistles, it’s hard to find the head coach’s fingerprints all over it.

Then, four nights ago in New Orleans … what? Just try making sense of it.

If Bell’s emergence in Stillwater was inexplicable, Trevor Knight’s Big Easy makeover was stranger than fiction.

Having never completed more than 14 passes in a game, OU’s running quarterback completed 32 of 44 for four touchdowns. He ran the ball five times for 12 yards, 10 of it on a single scramble. 

Without giving it much thought, it seems entirely possible that no quarterback in the history of the college game has ever improved that much from one outing to the next, while also asked to play the position differently than he’d ever been asked to play it before. But Knight pulled it off. 

So dramatic a change, it’s hard to give anybody but Knight the credit. On the other hand, it happened.

And there were injuries on the offensive line, and Trey Millard was lost for the season, Corey Nelson, too, and the quarterback situation, at least, didn’t sink the season before its coming back to life. And when it was all said and done, once again, OU had won 11 games, posted three consecutive upsets to close the season, the last of which just maybe the biggest of the BCS era, maybe supplanting Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners (or Central Florida’s over Baylor only the night before).

Stoops can be taciturn and difficult. He can gloss over his team’s issues in ways he never would have 10 years ago and beyond. He can be obtuse and obstinate. He takes almost nothing personally, not longer than 30 seconds, anyway, but everybody, not just media, would appreciate his being more forthcoming.

But if he’s changed, plenty is still clearly working. 

There is always the temptation to ask, “Where was that,” when a football team comes from nowhere to somewhere fast, but this is not one of those times.

Case McCoy had his only day for the ages against OU inside the Cotton Bowl and Baylor was plainly too good for the Sooners one night in Waco.

These things happen.

What also might have happened was OU’s unraveling, which did not happen. 

The Sooners could have finished like Texas, limping down the stretch of another lackluster season. They could have finished like Texas Tech, piling up losses once things went the wrong way. 

Instead, the Sooner Nation was reminded what this program has been, what it can be again and soon, and, if it stops and thinks about it, it can reflect on the fact it’s never quit being relevant after Stoops first resuscitated it in 1999.

These are no small things. But is it the best job he’s ever done?

Hard to say. 

Hard to point your finger at anything and say, “Yes, absolutely.”

Easy is recognizing the magnitude of the Sooners’ accomplishment, an utter resiliency previously unwitnessed or recalling the number of times your mouth was agape watching OU beat Alabama. 

While you’re at it, remember something else. Somebody was coaching that team.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning


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