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Stoops may be ahead of trend of coaches retiring in prime

Bob Stoops may be ahead of trend of coaches retiring in prime

Why coach until you're a senior citizen when you're being paid more than $4 million per year?

by Dennis Dodd                - Sep 12, 2017


NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops surveyed his domain at 8 a.m. over a cup of coffee on the back patio of the Belmar Golf Club.

Except for a couple of workers on a beautiful central Oklahoma morning, the former Sooner coach was alone. While his coaching career had ended, another week of retirement was just beginning.

"That's Lon Kruger right there teeing off," he said of the OU basketball coach. "And that's the trainer, Alex Brown. He's been here 30 years. They play in about an hour and a half."

Um, good to know, Bob. Later, Stoops would hit a bucket of balls, work out and enjoy life to its fullest.

It was -- in Stoops' new normal -- a full day. If you get the idea the man has time on his hands, just watch. Just another day in (retirement) paradise becomes more plural with each sunrise.

"I've got more that I want to do," Stoops said last week. "What it is, I'm not sure yet."

Is that Stoops or a Jimmy Buffet lyric? Since shocking the world with his retirement on June 7, Stoops has spent a lot time convincing people he's really done. That and becoming the coolest guy in the world.

Steak tacos for breakfast last week at Belmar? On Saturday, he shot an 88 at Muirfield Village -- Jack Nicklaus' legendary track in Columbus -- before the Ohio State game.

The night before, there was a 40-year anniversary get together between Ohio State and Oklahoma officials, boosters and former players saluting the epic 1977 game.

"He was just the life of the party," said Dean Blevins, a quarterback on that 1977 OU team. "Bob had 'em just rolling."

In a sport where coaches frequently work into senior citizenry or get burned out long before it, Stoops just might be leading a new vanguard of coaches. With enough money for a couple of lifetimes, quality of life could easily become more important than the grind.

"Instinctively, I think you're right," said a source who works with schools during coaching searches. "The only question I have is that a lot of these guys can't do anything else …

"How he handles these next couple of years will be the template. Can he -- and will he -- enjoy it, or will he miss it?"

In an age when even average coaches command $4 million per year, there isn't the financial need to keep going. But for the overwhelming majority of coaches, the money is nice but not the motivation.

It's the juice of building, maintaining and winning.

Urban Meyer left Florida abruptly on Dec. 26, 2009. He quickly returned, taking a leave of absence before stepping down permanently on Dec. 9, 2010.

"I tried it one time … I knew within a month I made a mistake," Meyer said.

He came back less than a year later in November 2011, taking over Ohio State amid changing his lifestyle. At age 53, he is less than four years younger than Stoops, who turned 57 Saturday, the day OU upset Meyer's Buckeyes.

Meyer remains a picture of health, just as driven but has prioritized life.

"I did talk to Bob quite a while [after his retirement]," Meyer said. "I gave him his space then I talked to him afterward. Bob has always done it his way. Not many people get to do it his way.

"Successful people are worried about who is going to take over for you, too. Is it going to be a mess when you leave?"

Those are almost the exact words Stoops used that morning at the golf club. Part of the reason it was easier to step away, he said, was the continuity. No a single staff member was released when Stoops' OC was promoted.

"Bob can just as easily walk off Muirfield after cocktails and walk on to five pro jobs, just like that," Blevins said. "He can go to Mississippi tomorrow. I don't think he's going to, but a coach gets to sit back and look around and field offers. … You could have the best of both worlds."

A vanguard of like-minded coaches might be hard to assemble at the moment. Let's take a quick glance at coaches who loosely fit Stoops' profile: championship coaches at a similar age at the top of their game.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (61): Coach D is a couple of years removed from a Big Ten title and playoff berth, but he seems determined to lead the Spartans out of recent scandals. 

Mike Leach, Washington State (56): Never won a championship at Texas Tech or Washington State, but he is a proven commodity for a school looking to make a splash. He doesn't look ready for retirement.

Chris Petersen, Washington (52): No chance. He's the game's second-winningest active coach (next to Meyer) and just getting started at UW.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (55): If Kelly is going anywhere, it's the NFL. It may not be his call. Kelly first has to survive a current hot seat run (5-11 in his last 16) in South Bend.

Stoops' closest brush with football these days is ducking into Oklahoma quarterbacks and offensive line meetings from time to time. That's a seamless byproduct of his former OC now running the show.

Stoops said on more than one occasion last week he was "nervous" about traveling to Ohio State.  During warm-ups Saturday night, he stood almost anonymously in a corner of Ohio Stadium. Among the players, only Baker Mayfield found him for a big hug.

After the upset, Stoops made his way down the field, but again, he stayed off to the side, smiling, giggling and, this time, hugging after one of the great moments in OU history.

Stoops waved off media who wanted his reaction, saying at one point, "It feels like I just retired last week."

In that moment it sure seemed like Big Game Bob had become just another fan.

"I don't see [coming back] as a possibility," Stoops reiterated. 

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