Why Stoops made Switzer big part of his week­end

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Jenni Carl­son jcarl­son@oklahoman.com

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.”

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