NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops abruptly announced his retirement Wednesday, a stunning offseason move by the 56-year-old future Hall of Famer who led the Sooners to 10 conference championships and a national title in 18 seasons.
Stoops was the longest-tenured active coach in major college football, taking the job at Oklahoma a day before Kirk Ferentz started at Iowa. Stoops was 190-48 (.798) at Oklahoma — his only college head-coaching job — giving him more victories than Sooners coaching greats Barry Switzer (157) and Bud Wilkinson (145).
“I understand there has been some speculation about my health,” Stoops said in a statement issued two hours before a campus news conference. “My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching. I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins.”
There is a Chicago connection.
Stoops and his wife own two Gold Coast homes; the second, a row house, was purchased in April.While some might try to link that Chicago connection to a potential future Bears job opening — John Fox is under pressure to improve in his third season — it’s possible Stoops is intent on leaving the game for good.
Despite their intense demeanor, the Stoops brothers — Mike is the former head coach at Arizona and Mark is the Kentucky head coach — have long been aware of the stresses of coaching.
Their father, Ron Sr., was the head coach at Youngstown, Ohio, powerhouse Cardinal Mooney. At age 54, he felt chest pains during a Cardinal Mooney rivalry game, stayed to watch the rest of the contest from sideline, and died minutes after being placed into an ambulance.
Bob Stoops turns 57 in September.
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, 33, is being promoted to head coach, making him the youngest head coach in FBS. Just last month, Oklahoma gave Riley a three-year contract extension worth $1.3 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country.
“The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players,” Stoops said. “Now is simply the ideal time for me and our program to make this transition.”
Riley takes over a team that will again be the favorites to win the Big 12 and a College Football Playoff, with a Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback Baker Mayfield. His first game will be at home against UTEP on Sept. 2. His second game will be at Ohio State.
Stoops was 39 when he left Florida, where he was defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier, to take over at Oklahoma in 1999. The storied program had struggled for more than a decade to replace Switzer. Stoops quickly returned Oklahoma to national prominence, winning a national championship in his second season with a win over Florida State.
His early success that included three straight victories in major bowls and a five-game winning streak against Texas earned him the nickname “Big Game Bob.”
While Stoops was not able to bring another national championship to Norman, he did lead Oklahoma to three more BCS championship games and a spot in the College Football Playoff two years ago.
Spurrier said the retirement was not a complete shock.
“There is life after coaching and once he decided the time was right, he was going to move on,” Spurrier said. “He wanted to go out at the right time and he feels good about where the program is right now.”
Stoops’ shortcomings in championship games and lack of another national title frustrated some fans. Oklahoma lost consecutive BCS championship games in 2003 and ’04 and dropped another title game in 2008.
Big Game Bob wasn’t delivering the biggest wins, but the program was as consistent a national power as any in the country during his tenure. Only four times in Stoops’ career did the Sooners win less than 10 games, and he never had a losing record.
“Few athletics directors get a coach who better combines success and cohesiveness like Bob Stoops,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, who hired Stoops. “I can’t help but feel somewhat sad today because Bob has been such a constant in my life, and that’s why I am so thankful that he will remain with us. He will continue to do great things for OU.”
Former Sooners cornerback Aaron Colvin, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, took to Instagram to thank Stoops.
“Thank you for giving a skinny broke kid with 3 stars a chance,” he wrote. “I will forever be grateful to the opportunity you gave me.”
The son of a football coach from Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops is one of four brothers who became college football coaches. His father, Ron, died at 54 of a heart attack suffered while coaching a high school game.
Younger brother Mike Stoops is Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator. Another younger brother, Mark, is head coach at Kentucky. Ron Stoops Jr. is an assistant coach at Youngstown State.
“Bob truly represents what is good about college football and the success of his career speaks for itself,” Mark Stoops said. “What he means to me as a brother and a coach is immeasurable.”
Former Texas coach Mack Brown, who was 6-9 against Stoops in the annual “Red River Rivalry” showdown games, wished his old foe the best.
“Bob did a tremendous job turning things around at Oklahoma and putting their program back in national prominence,” Brown said. “Our rivalry game became a focal point of college football every year and was great for both schools, the Big 12 and college football as a whole.”
Bob Stoops and his wife, Carol, have three children. A daughter attends Oklahoma and twin sons are seniors in high school who are potential major college football players.
Contributing: Patrick Finley