It’s the toughest decision for anyone who’s in charge to make. Ask anyone who’s ever managed large groups of people or had oversight over an organization. Having to let go from someone causes some people to have anxiety attacks, break out into the sweats, and throw up. It’s a serious deal.
Of course, it’s easier to make change when things are in turmoil, or when someone steps out of line. It can be tough to let go of someone you really like, but their performance doesn’t cut the mustard. However, what do you do when someone performs at an extremely high level over an extended period of time, yet when it’s time to claim that ultimate prize…the continually fall short? In the corporate world, you’d simply be transferred or given different responsibility. In football, that’s not really an option.
You either continue to live with what you got, or you move on to find a successor. This is the conundrum that Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione faces with his football coach, Robert “Bob” Anthony Stoops. It’s a conundrum that has plagued other elite teams that, in the grand scheme of the things, weren’t ever really elite.
Let’s be clear about something: I am in no way shape or form saying that we should fire Bob Stoops. As far as I’m concerned, the man has a lifetime contract in Norman, so long as he keeps up his continued success, like he has since 1999. OU has gone to a bowl game in every single season of Stoops’ tenure and have a 135-31 record in his 12th season. The 2000 National Championship will always be one of my proudest moments as a sports fan.
So when I was out at the casino drinking and betting my life away last Saturday night and noticed the bevy of texts and tweets hitting my cell phone, I already knew what it was. The Oklahoma Sooners were going to lose a game they had no business losing; in this particular case, a 41-38 defeat by the hands of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, at home, and in Norman. For the 11th consecutive season, a dream of a national championship was flushed down the drain in a game that Oklahoma was a heavy favorite.
It’s become commonplace, at this point. Fans who mock the Sooners like to call OU “Chokelahoma.” Funny, I’ll admit, partially because anyone whoever calls us that usually has never achieved what OU has. It’s also sadly funny, because it’s true. Outside of the 2004 National Championship vs. Southern California, where OU lost 55-19 in the Rose Bowl, I’d contend that OU had no business losing those games. Some games on the biggest stage, while some, the opponents were laying in the weeds.
So what’s an AD to do?
As much respect and admiration that I have for the great Bobby Cox-led Atlanta Braves of the 90’s and the Tony Dungy/Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts of the 00’s, their label of being all-time elite coaches must come into question, to a certain degree. It’s not that they aren’t elite, but how can that adjective be placed on teams that can’t win games on the biggest stages?
But Ed, the Braves won the World Series in ’95 and the Colts won the Super Bowl in ’07.
Good point…do you mind if I counter? It’s my blog; of course, you don’t.
The Braves, under Cox, won 14 consecutive division titles, an MLB record. The Colts, under Dungy, never won less than ten games and made the playoffs every single season. If you were paying attention, the Braves were 1-of-14 in titles under Cox, with arguably one of the greatest pitching rotations of all-time. The Colts were 1-of-7 in titles under Dungy, with arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. Are we, as fans of those teams, not supposed to feel that maybe, just maybe, we left something on the table there? That there was something missing to get the team over the hump? This is where it gets interesting…
See, Cox and Dungy are the perfect controls for this “theory” of mine. Because at what point do you potentially peak as a/an team/coach/organization and quit leaning on the tried-and-true methodology of, “Oh, that’s how the ball bounces sometimes?” Nah, I’m not on that. See, the Braves organization stood by Cox all the way. Hell, he is the greatest manager in the franchise’s history, a history that, outside of the great Hank Aaron, hasn’t had that type of success in ages. ATL stood by Cox, and he did the best he could. Admirable work, really, but ask any Braves fan why we only have one title and their faces will turn sour quickly.
Dungy, on the other hand, had a different set of circumstances. In four seasons of vast improvement of the Tampa Bay Bucs, Dungy had built an all-world defense but struggled to get the offense in order. The Bucs brought in Jon Gruden from the Raiders to get the offense going and jump-start a sometimes inconsistent Bucs squad. The very next season, in 2002, the Bucs went on the warpath and slayed all comers to get their first Super Bowl. The Bucs management had to make a decision: either we can stay “pretty good,” or we can take a chance at being “great”, that chance paid off quite well.
The bigger example is in college football, and Stoops is one of the prime candidates. People forget that, back in 1999, Stoops replaced “Uncle” John Blake, aka Papa Blake at OU. John Blake is arguably one of the best recruiters this nation has ever seen. Unfortunately, he couldn’t coach worth a lick. When Stoops got to Norman, he moved some players to different positions and got a noodle-armed, but smart JUCO quarterback, by the name of Josh Heupel and, in his second year, brought home that crystal ball. That was 2000. But he’s not alone.
In 2001, in Larry Coker’s first season, he led the Butch Davis-built Miami Hurricanes to the title.
In 2002, in Jim Tressel’s second season, he led Ohio State to another title.
In 2003, in Pete Carroll’s third season, USC took home a national title, finishing number one in the AP.
In 2006, in Urban Meyer’s second season, Florida brought home a ring.
In 2007, in Les Miles’ third season, LSU brings another title home, after Nick Saban leaves for the NFL.
In 2009, in Nick Saban’s third season back in college football, he brings Alabama another title.
In 2010, in Gene Chizik’s second season, Auburn wins a national title.
People, that’s just in the last 11 years. There are eight head coaches who, within three seasons, have brought the crystal ball on home to their school. Bob Stoops has been employed at OU longer than any of the other seven coaches. Coker, Tressel, and Meyer don’t even coach anymore. Carroll’s in the NFL. Miles and Saban are now on their third college team.
Old men have been known to say that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In life, however, we humans are an evolutionary type of creature. We try to take things that already work well and make them work better. The Oklahoma Sooners are a well-oiled machine with their offense, their defense, their coaches and recruits. OU doesn’t rebuild; they just reload. Yet, OU’s penchant for losing at the worst time has come to rear its head once again. Maybe the machine isn’t as well-oiled as we’d like to believe. At a certain point, you’ve got to have a heart-to-heart and be honest with what’s going on here and what you’re willing to live with.
An “A” on the report card is always dope, until someone else is walking around with an “A+.”