Bob Stoops will forever be a Sooner, but what if history were different?

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 3: Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a first half touchdown during the first half of their game against the Iowa State Cyclones on November 3, 2016 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 3: Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates a first half touchdown during the first half of their game against the Iowa State Cyclones on November 3, 2016 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images) /

Bob Stoops was the head coach of Oklahoma football for 18 seasons, the second longest tenure for a head coach in Sooner history, and he averaged an incredible 10.5 wins a season during that time.

Bob Stoops statue to immortalize OU's winningest head coach. light. Related Story

From 1999 to 2017, Stoops’ Oklahoma teams won 190 games, the most of any OU football chieftain.

Oklahoma is the only school in the country that has had four head football coaches win more than 100 games, and for all four, OU was their first head-coaching assignment.

Stoops arrival in Norman followed a troubling 10-year lackluster period that was among the lowest in Oklahoma’s illustrious football history.

What Stoops and his Sooner teams accomplished over the first two decades of the new millennium stands alone as one of the greatest eras in OU’s 125-year gridiron history. He was absolutely the right man for the job.

But what if the Sooners had gone with one of their other three head coach candidates, and Stoops had not come to Oklahoma?

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione hired the then-38-year-old Stoops shortly after the end of the 1998 season. Stoops had built a solid reputation as a defensive coach and was coming off defensive coordinator roles at Florida and before that at Kansas State. His name was on the national short list of assistant coaches who were on the rise and primed to become a Division I head coach.

The beginning of the Stoops era of Oklahoma football

Castiglione, OU President David Boren and several members of the board of regents interviewed Stoops at the Dallas Ft. Worth Airport on Nov. 29, 1998. He was offered the job that same day, but Stoops asked for some time consider the offer.

In his recent memoir, “No Excuses: The Making of a Head Coach,” Stoops wrote that the real reason he had asked for some time was because he had an interview scheduled for the next day with officials at Iowa, his alma mater — and he did end up acknowledging such to the Oklahoma contingent.

Iowa was looking for a new head coach to replace the retiring Hayden Fry, who was Stoops head coach when he played defensive back at Iowa in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Stoops told Castiglione he would get back with him after he had met with the Iowa group, which no doubt made OU officials a little edgy and very uncomfortable.

During the Iowa interview, it became clear to Stoops that an offer would not be coming, at least not that day, in part because they were also interviewing Kirk Ferentz, who had been an Iowa assistant coach for nine seasons in the 1980s.

Stoops felt he couldn’t wait another day for Iowa to make a decision. “It wouldn’t have been fair to Oklahoma,” he wrote in his book, “and, anyway, my path had been identified.”

Stoops had contacted Barry Alvarez during a break in the Iowa interview session to ask for some advice. Alvarez had been at Iowa as an assistant coach when Stoops played there (he is now the athletic director at Wisconsin). He informed Alvarez that Oklahoma was putting pressure on him and wanted an answer. To which Alvarex replied, in no uncertain terms: “Don’t wait another second. Oklahoma is the better job. Take that job right now.”

Stoops did get back in touch with Oklahoma after the Iowa interview, as he said he would. Here is how he described that phone call in his book:

"“I think President Boren and Joe (Castiglione) were both on the line. I told them I had just finished talking with the Iowa folks. And then — and I didn’t do it on purpose — I paused, probably too long for Joe’s liking, and said, ‘I would just like to ask, when do you want me there.'”"

Buyer’s remorse?

A couple of weeks after Stoops had accepted the Oklahoma job offer, he remarked to a close friend back in Florida, where he had returned for the Christmas holiday, that he thought he might have made a mistake taking the OU job.

"“I think I just ruined my life,” he told his friend and related in his recent memoir, “No Excuses: The Making of a Head Coach.” “Swear to God. I think I ruined my life taking this job.”"

Obviously, Stoops endured and stayed the course, and his hiring proved many times over that President Boren and his athletic director, who preceded Stoops to OU by just a year, had made the best decision they could have made for the future of Oklahoma football.

In the six seasons prior to the 1999 season, Oklahoma was a pathetic 23-33 -1, completely uncharted territory by Sooner standards. Stoops wasted little time in returning Sooner football to national relevance. After going 7-5 in his first season in Norman, he followed that with a perfect 13-0 record and a national championship in his second year on the job.

And that was just the beginning. What followed was an overall record of 190-48,10 Big 12 championships, appearances in four BCS national championship games and 10 BCS bowl games,18 consecutive postseason bowl games and two Heisman Trophy winners (QBs Jason White and Sam Bradford).

In other words, 18 phenomenal years.

Eighteen years is a highly unusual number for a head coach at one institution, especially in a sport in which your lifeline is only as good as your ability to keep winning. And at programs like Oklahoma, that means winning a lot. Stoops’ teams produced a remarkable 12 seasons with no fewer than 11 wins and 14 seasons of 10 wins or more. Only four times did his teams fail to reach double-digit wins (and even then, no fewer than seven).

When you are able to consistently achieve this high level of success, people tend to notice, and Bob Stoops got a lot of attention when head-coaching jobs opened up at other major programs.

And it wasn’t just after he arrived at Oklahoma that schools became interested in Stoops as a head coach. Minnesota wanted to hire him two years before Oklahoma did, but he wasn’t comfortable going some place that didn’t have a university president in place at the time. More on why that was important later.

18 seasons is a lifetime at one school

Stoops had multiple opportunities to leave Norman in his 18 seasons as the Sooners’ head coach. Practically every time a head coaching vacancy came up at major program, invariably Stoops’ name would be tied to it. Florida went hard after him twice, so did Notre Dame, and Ohio State rumors were flying (after all, Stoops is an Ohio native, having grown up in Youngstown), before the Buckeyes hired Urban Meyer in 2012.

Needless to say, Stoops was a hot name in head-coaching circles, a reputation he had well earned, both as an assistant coach before and with his record at Oklahoma, but throughout he felt indebted to OU, and especially the two men he worked for: President Boren and AD Castiglione.

Stoops said the closest he ever came to leaving OU was in 2001, very early in his time on the Sooner sideline. His former boss, mentor and close friend Steve Spurrier had stepped down as Florida head coach to become the head coach of the NFL Washington Redskins.

Jeremy Foley, the Florida athletic director at the time, flew to Norman to meet with the Oklahoma head coach. Stoops had developed a close relationship with Foley during his time as an assistant under Spurrier at Florida, and Stoops and his wife, Carol, had loved their short time in Florida.

The stars were certainly aligning, but Stoops revealed later that the feelings he had for Florida were countered by the positive feelings he had for Oklahoma and the opportunity the OU officials had given him.

"“Had it not been for the leadership and faith I had in Joe Castiglione and David Boren, in all likelihood I probably would have gone to Florida,” Stoops told ESPN staff writer Chris Low in a recent interview."

But Florida wasn’t giving up. Gator officials made another serious run at Stoops after Urban Meyer had retired for a second time in 2010. Again, Stoops took his name out of consideration.

A year later, Meyer ended up coming out of retirement to take the Ohio State job, which in retrospect was a good thing for Sooner fans.

Stoops’ 18-year tenure as Oklahoma head coach is the second longest in program history. (Bennie Owen held the position for 22 seasons.) To stay in the same job that long at the same school place Stoops in rarified air. But rare also is to serve just one president and one athletic director over that same time frame.

Having that trio in place for as long as they were, and the strong relationship and trust they had in one another, is the overriding reason Sooner fans were able to enjoy so many wins and championship seasons under a single coach who may have served his entire career as a college head coach at one institution.

Bob Stoops had many chances to leave Oklahoma, but he stayed and he now has a permanent place along with three other bigger-than-life Sooner head coaches whose legacies will forever be associated and remembered as part of the greatness that is Oklahoma football.