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Horning: Listening to Bob Stoops, it sounds like a return to college coaching could be in the cards

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Horning: Listening to Bob Stoops, it sounds like a return to college coaching might be in his future

Clay Horning / The Transcript

Patty Gasso and Bob Stoops pose prior to their induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame Monday night at Riverwind Casino's Showplace Theatre.

Ah, the walk-off.

When had Bob Stoops last availed himself of the walk-off interview?

There was a time he made it a regular thing, in the early days of the no-excuses express, the train that turned Oklahoma football around in 1999, won the whole dang shootin’ match in 2000 and 47 games the next four seasons, playing for the national championship twice more.

Then came the four-loss 2005 campaign, the preseason booting of Rhett Bomar from the program, some harsh media coverage in its wake and, pretty much, the end of the walk-off.

However, Monday night, a couple hours before his formal introduction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, Stoops spoke for about seven minutes with a microphone answering questions. He then walked off, yet welcomed a few more.

He did not disappoint.

Indeed, in a roundabout way, he even have signaled an eventual future back in the college game.

No, I didn’t ask him.

This was his night, as well as the night of Sooner softball coach Patty Gasso, longtime college basketball coach Lou Henson, NFL Hall of Famer Will Shields, Olympic gold medalist and former Oklahoma State wrestler Kendall Cross and longtime major leaguers Mickey Tettleton and Mike Moore.

It was not a night for speculation to become the story of the evening. There were television cameras in Stoops’ face, too, and putting the question to him in that setting could have soured everything.

Nonetheless, I know what he said and you’re about to, too.

I thought Stoops’ departure from OU was pretty much a perfect ending.

In his penultimate season, he’d reached the College Football Playoff. In his last one, he beat Auburn at the Sugar Bowl. In Lincoln Riley, he had the right man for the job as he made his exit. All of that and he’d always said he wouldn’t coach forever, there were other things in life.

That in mind, I asked if his two years away from the game were everything he’d hoped they’d be and did that make returning to it, as coach of Dallas’ entrant in the reformed XFL even better.

In the slightly less formal atmosphere of the walk-off, he was wonderfully forthcoming.

“It was extraordinarily strange. It was not good. It was awful,” Stoops said. “Yet, again, I knew that. That doesn’t mean it was wrong. That doesn’t mean I didn’t know it was coming. When that’s all you’ve lived all these years and years and then you’re not there, you don’t just adjust to that in a year.

“I said it the other day, to somebody … the first year was really awful, the second year was just awful.”

Then he qualified it.

A little.

“Don’t change the story that I regret it or something’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. But when you’ve lived your life with the team all these years, and all that time together, and all of a sudden you’re by yourself, that’s not easy.”

I get it.

Still, holy cow.

I’d thought the last two years of Stoops’ life might have been his best two. The ultimate reward of a life well lived and a job well done.

He was then asked if the XFL would fill that gap.

“I think it will to a point … I don’t have academics, I don’t have compliance, I don’t have recruiting, I don’t have anything but to go play and coach older players who already know how to play," Stoops said.

“And it’s a three-month deal, February, March, April. There will be some stuff out of season but not a lot. I don’t even get a team until October and I don’t even practice with them until December.”

What I heard?

“I think it will to a point.”

Stoops seemed to think he was saying that it’s not what he did for 18 seasons as Sooner coach, it doesn’t have to take over or define his life, it’s not all-encompassing and that’s a positive.

Yet, opening with “I think it will to a point,” it sounded like he might have been lamenting, rather than celebrating, what his new job won’t be.

Stoops has always been so interesting. His habit is to keep things close, answer questions without giving much away, but to still answer them, attempting to control the narrative externally even as he wrestles with it internally.

He appears to greatly miss coaching, and maybe not just the actual coaching and competition, but the headaches, too. Stepping into the XFL may demand a fraction of his old job and it may not be enough.

How about Stoops running things at Youngstown State? How about Stoops in the NFL?

As limitedly frustrating as he’s sometimes been with his thoughts, I’ve always liked him and for that reason I’ll root for the XFL being enough. I’ll root he not have to give back his life to get back the part of it that fills him up.

It may not be enough.

We may see Bob Stoops on a sideline again, longer than February, March and April.

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