In just the last two decades, the notion of loyalty -- that an individual owes his or her service to a program and its fanbase -- has either completely disintegrated, has wandered from its original meaning, or never existed in the first place, depending on who you ask. It’s a subjective word: my idea of loyalty is likely to be markedly different than yours.
Recent exports Kevin Durant and Brad Underwood have stirred up discussion about loyalty since fleeing for greener pastures. I’ve observed that, behind these dialogues, there’s an implicit line of questioning:
Why doesn’t [insert person] like it here? What’s wrong with Oklahoma?
Underwood and Durant will be blamed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be. There were faults in their respective processes, sure. In the end, though, they made career decisions, and that’s where all discussion should begin and end, in my opinion.
That being said, I have one question for those who cry loyalty:
If loyalty matters so much to you, where’s your praise of Bob Stoops?
Stoops is about to face the business end of his 19th season as head coach at Oklahoma, and he’s seen the coaching carousel take enough turns to make anybody nauseous. Some of those coaches have been fired by their respective universities, but Stoops has certainly not placed himself in such a position.
Nobody can be blamed for wanting a change of scenery — it’s only human. Oftentimes people get anxious, stir-crazy, and want to mix things up.
“When I accepted the job, I meant what I said, that this is a job that if done the right way, you want to have your whole career,” Stoops said in Monday’s press conference. “This is a special job with great tradition and history. Great fanbase. How many teams sell out for 19 straight years? That doesn’t happen but a few places.”
Rumors have been flying ever since Stoops burst onto the scene by winning it all in 2000, but if Stoops has flirted with taking another job — he’s previously been linked to the Cleveland Browns as well as Ohio State, Florida, Notre Dame, and a laundry list of other jobs, I’m sure — he’s done so with little fanfare and hoopla. And, to the university’s credit, he’s been paid accordingly when it comes time to get business done.
When Stoops arrived at Oklahoma, his daughter was just two years old. Twins Drake and Isaac, who have gained some notoriety of their own on the gridiron, weren’t even born when the Stoops family first moved to Norman. Since moving here, Stoops has watched his family grow and change. He’s watched his squad grow and flourish. He’s seen numerous assistants that began under his wing move on to other big-time coaching jobs. Not to mention that two decades is a long time for personal growth. This is home.
But home isn’t just where good things happen. Stoops has recently seen a microscope hovering over the program since the surfacing of separate violent incidents from star players in Joe Mixon and DeDe Westbrook. It wasn’t just stars, though: there was Frank Shannon’s suspension after he was found responsible for a sexual assault, and Dorial Green-Beckham — who never once played a down for OU — was allowed on campus after multiple marijuana arrests and allegedly pushing a woman down a flight of stairs.
The legacy of Stoops' long career is complicated at best. The good, the great, the bad, and the ugly all exist simultaneously. The responsibility of Oklahoma fans, Stoops supporters and detractors alike is figuring out how it all fits together.
I’d like to tell you a story I’ve referenced here before. My parents, both fairly football obsessed, hail from the great state of Iowa. Like most Iowans, they’re fans of Iowa, which is where the Stoops brothers played — very well, I might add. It’s hard to envision Bob and Mike running around, terrorizing receivers, but it happened. Both brothers were All-Big Ten Conference selections in the secondary, and Bob was a four-year starter.
My family’s move to the Oklahoma City area basically coincided with the Stoops hire at OU, so my father decided to nab season tickets to see what his squad could do. I didn’t know the first thing about football, but I was quickly educated. I learned a thing or two about tailgating, too.
Just one season later, Bob Stoops and his team reached the mountain top. I stood in the stands after Oklahoma took down No. 1 Nebraska as the goal posts came down and pepper spray vapor hung in the air, stinging my face a bit while the carnage on the field unfolded.
I was just a fledgling Oklahoma fan then, but many years and a degree from the University of Oklahoma later, it’s difficult to imagine life otherwise. I became an Okie alongside my family.
There’s a long tradition of people utilizing words that were originally intended to harm them. In the case of the word Okie – a disparaging term for poor Oklahomans in Dust Bowl and Great Depression times – it’s class-oriented, a jab that some people still use to imply contempt for the relative destitution of Oklahoma compared to states like New York, California, or even neighboring Texas. Remember, the Dust Bowl focused the nation’s attention on Oklahoma, warping perceptions of the state to this day.
Oklahomans have heard it all before. Questions like “Do you ride horses to school?” are still asked with regularity from people who simply don’t know any better or are just being assholes.
And it’s completely fine: there’s a weird, twisted sense of pride that comes from being from a state that so often ends up on the ass-backwards side of things.
Back to Bob.
When a reporter pointed out that Stoops has lived in Norman, well, longer than anywhere else, Bob seemed a bit surprised for a second, perhaps wondering for a split-second where all the years went.
He replied, “Absolutely. No one can recognize my accent here, but I go home and they don’t know where I’m from, either. I’ve kind of crossed between Youngstown and Oklahoma. But definitely, I left Youngstown at 17 to go to Iowa, so I’ve been here longer than anywhere.”
He’s an Okie now, for better or worse, and that distinction stays with you for life.