Why Stoops made Switzer big part of his weekend
Bob Stoops popped out of his chair almost before the introduction for Barry Switzer was done.
There were many dignitaries at the dedication of the Stoops statue on Saturday. Heisman winners. All-Americans. University leaders. None received as much enthusiastic applause from Stoops as Switzer.
As the cheers died down on the blustery spring morning, Stoops motioned to Switzer and his brown fur coat.
“Can I borrow that?” he asked.
The connection between Switzer and Stoops is unmistakable, and if anyone doubted it, these past few days solidified it. Oklahoma turned its spring game weekend into a multiday celebration of Stoops, complete with a video at halftime and visors painted on the field, but all along the way, Stoops found ways to make reference to Switzer.
References of reverence.
“It’s an incredible honor to be in this plaza here across from Barry Switzer,” Stoops said of his statue’s place directly across from Switzer’s in the area just south of the stadium. “So appreciate Coach.”
Stoops recalled a photo snapped the day he was announced as the head coach at OU. It was a winter day in December 1998, and the public ceremony was held on the front steps of Evans Hall. Stoops was behind the podium, and just to his left was Switzer.
“Been a friend to me since the day I arrived here,” Stoops said.
At first blush, that’s no small thing. Switzer, after all, is the Pied Piper of Sooner football. Even after all these years, his success as the OU coach and his charm as a human make him beloved by Sooner faithful of every generation.
Having Switzer on your side when you’re the head coach of the Sooners is significant.
But Stoops’ appreciation
of Switzer goes deeper than that.
Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops had a chance to see the Sooners play a couple times a year. College football broadcasts were limited back then, but even at that, Stoops was captivated by the Sooners.
“I loved Oklahoma football,” Stoops acknowledged Friday night before a massive gala held in his honor. “Who didn’t?”
Everything about those OU teams got Stoops’ attention. Their speed. Their schemes. Their swashbuckling.
“That was the best,” he said. “It was exciting.”
Imagine being Stoops, then. Twenty-five or so years after watching Switzer and the Sooners on the TV in Ohio, Stoops was standing beside him as he took over their program in Oklahoma.
And that was just the beginning of the relationship between Switzer and Stoops. Even as a man who wasn’t from the Sooner family tree took over the program, The King was supportive of The Visor. He was a
sounding board. He was a confidant.
“I’ve gotten to know Barry so well,” Stoops said. “He’s such a great guy.”
Their relationship could’ve been different, of course. Switzer is such an icon, he didn’t have to be so available or amenable to Stoops.
“I spent my whole career walking into the Barry Switzer Center,” Stoops said. “That’s no small deal to walk by what he did, his record all those years.
“To have a place alongside him is pretty special.”
Stoops paused and corrected himself.
“Not pretty special — it’s incredibly special.”
So it was that during a weekend that was all about Bob, there were plenty of mentions of Switzer. There were even a few moments when Stoops even channeled Switzer’s fun-loving personality.
Stoops recounted returning home around dinnertime after a particularly long recruiting trip and having to knock on the door because he’d misplaced his key.
His son Isaac, who was 5 then, answered.
“He looks at me,” Stoops remembered Saturday, “and announces to everybody at the dinner table, ‘Hey, everybody, Bob Stoops is here.’”
Stoops even cracked on his looks.
“It looks exactly like me,” he said of his statue, then paused a beat for comedic effect. “I just wish it was more handsome.”
The usually stoic Stoops usually doesn’t drop one-liners in public. But he gave a great speech that was as heartfelt as it was humorous. He was clearly humbled by all the events to celebrate his career and all the efforts to honor his legacy.
“I can’t believe I’m in this plaza with Bud Wilkinson and Bennie Owen and Barry Switzer,” he said. “It hasn’t still really hit me.
“Don’t know when it really ever will.”