Back Stoops to The HBC, “I’m Hanging ‘Em Up”

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Stoops to The HBC, “I’m Hanging ‘Em Up”

By Buddy Martin
SouthernPigskin.com
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There’s a body clock in the mind of most coaches that tells them when it’s time to retire, but the hands move slowly and the outcome is mitigated by time, circumstance and the frailties of mental and physical health.

There’s a body clock in the mind of most coaches that tells them when it’s time to retire, but the hands move slowly and the outcome is mitigated by time, circumstance and the frailties of mental and physical health.

None of those were apparent in the life and career of Bob Stoops.

So we are left to the simple explanation by the Oklahoma coach that "it was time.” What’s ahead of Stoops nobody but him knows, but he’ll stay with OU in some capacity. Perhaps as an “ambassador” like his good friend Steve Spurrier?

The college football world may have been shocked, but some of Stoops’ peers weren’t stunned by the timing. “Not shocked, but surprised,” was a common reaction among them.

Very few people saw it coming. Stoops’ peers didn’t know, but his former Florida boss and long-time good friend Steve Spurrier got a heads-up.

“I got a tip from Bobby, who left me a message,” Spurrier said. “He left me a voice mail, but he didn’t tell me what it was about. He always leaves a message. He just said, ‘Call me if you can.’"

When Spurrier called back, Stoops “told me he was hanging ’em up — resigning, retiring. Said it was a good time. That he’s done it for 18 years. That he had good health and wanted to continue in good health. He just felt like his job at the University of Oklahoma was finished. He wanted to leave the program in excellent shape."

It’s not so shocking when a coach steps down. But the fact that Stoops is only 56 and chose early June was a little out of the ordinary. With another Top 10 season projection and another possible Big 12 title ahead, it became even more of a head-scratcher. Why now?

Fellow Ohioan Urban Meyer said: “Part of me is surprised and part of me is not. I know coach Stoops fairly well. We’ve had conversations before about ‘How long?’ His family is important to him. You reach a point where he’s been at a place 18 years and he’s doing one of the greatest jobs in college football history. The suddenness was not shocking when you really evaluate and look at the job he’s done ... but when you look at that and what’s important to him, it’s not that shocking.”

So what prompts a coach to “hang ’em up” as Stoops did?

Each case is different.

Spurrier had one foot out the door after his 7-6 season at South Carolina in 2015, but because it ended up on a winning note, he talked himself into another year. He had reached what he calls a coach’s "expiration date," but signed on for another season, only to slip to 2-4 before quitting in mid-season.

“I should have quit the year before,” said Spurrier. “It was my fault. I had done a poor job. So it was time for me to step down and let the rebuilding start."

Spurrier sees Stoops' resignation as “the right time — he’s ready for the next phase of his life.” But Spurrier believes Stoops’ decision is totally different than his.

“Bobby won his last 10 games, won the Big 12, beat Auburn in the Sugar Bowl,” Spurrier said. “Other than winning (multiple) national championships, he’s going out as high as he can.”

And he walked away as the longest-tenured coach in college football, a label that now belongs to Kirk Ferentz, who started at Iowa one day after Stoops did at OU.

As for the real reason?

Meyer doesn’t think one size fits all.

“Coach Spurrier was a different situation because he had a full career,” the Ohio State coach said. "Coach Stoops is an awful young guy. When you’re in your 60s and nearing a retirement age it’s different. You’re at that age. The more difficult ones are when you are at a much younger age.”

Meyer knows of what he speaks. After winning a pair of national championships in Gainesville, Meyer suddenly quit at Florida when he was 45, reconsidered and un-resigned, then resigned for good in 2010. After a season away from football to clear up some health issues, Meyer returned to coach at Ohio State in 2012, taking the Buckeyes to the 2014 national championship.

Clearly, Urban is in the sweet spot of his coaching career. In 15 seasons as a head coach at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, Meyer’s teams are 165-29 with five league titles and three national championships. In the 2017 preseason rankings from Las Vegas, Ohio State is No. 2 behind, of course, Alabama.

For Meyer, spring has gone fast and summer feels like a rocket about to launch. He says the summers go faster now that he’s older – he’ll be 53 on July 10 – perhaps because he so cherishes doing things with wife Shelley and their three children.

He enjoys watching his son Nate play baseball. He often pilots the boat for Gigi, a wakeboard champion. He loves holding his six-month-old grandson Troy, born to daughter Nicki and her husband Corey Dennis on Dec. 4, the day the Buckeyes were chosen for the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Dennis family lives just across the seventh fairway at Muirfield Village where Urban plays an occasional round of golf these days – something he rarely used to do as coach of the Florida Gators. A week prior to the recent Memorial Tournament, Urban played a round of golf with the tournament director and course designer.

Some guy named Nicklaus.

“Jack and I play a round every year,” Meyer said. “This year, I did okay but I had trouble getting out of the sand. So he brought me out the next day and he gave me an hour sand lesson."

Being head coach of The Ohio State University does have its privileges.

Urban Meyer has made it to the top of Mount Everest, if not Mount Rushmore. If he’s not the best coach in college football, he’s only a wedge shot away from the guy who is – Alabama’s Nick Saban. Nearly 13 years Saban’s junior, with maybe the most talent he’s ever stockpiled and coming off a two-year stretch when 19 of his players were drafted by NFL teams, Meyer has a shot of going head-to-head with the Alabama coach a time or two.

We are blessed to have two of college football’s greatest coaches competing for the same space in this era, but circumstances rarely permit us seeing them head-to-head. Saban has five national titles to Meyer’s three. Head-to-head, they are 2-2, but in championship or playoff games, Meyer holds a 2-1 advantage.

They will always be measured side-by-side because they are coaching contemporaries. It’s tough to get either of them to talk about the other. So I asked Urban how he felt about the comparison.

“It humbles you because obviously he’s the best coach in college football,” Meyer said. "I know Coach Saban well, we’re good friends, and I have tremendous respect for what he does because he’s consistent and that’s what we all want to be. He might not win the national title but he’s certainly in the conversation for it every year.”

If the wind is right and the creek don’t rise, we just might get a Meyer-Saban Showdown if the top teams as picked by Las Vegas make it to the Final Four. The Superbook ranks the Crimson Tide a 3-1 favorite and the Buckeyes 4-1 to win a championship.

These are the halcyon days for Urban Meyer, who has battled through health issues, faced bitter criticism from some Gator fans who accuse him of faking an illness to get out of his contract at Florida and has watched in horror – like the rest of us – the self-destruction of his Florida All-America tight end Aaron Hernandez through a criminal mind and evil deeds.

Despite that, life is good.

Urban still has his lake home in Melrose, Florida and goes there on occasion. Meanwhile, he won’t be joining the group of “ambassadors” at the beach.

Stoops will stay on at OU and still has his condo in Crescent Beach, where he and Spurrier have cavorted over the years. It was suggested that the HBC should have a mini-gathering among the “ambassadors.”

“We probably need to have a meeting pretty quick,” Spurrier joked. “I hear Phil Fulmer is about to become an ‘ambassador’ at Tennessee. So we could get him. That would be fun!”

As the old adage goes, “living well is the best revenge."

On that count, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops are all ahead of the game.

Buddy Martin - Buddy Martin is a veteran columnist, talk show host and author. A longtime observer of college football, Martin is heard weeknights on the Buddy Martin Show on ESPN Coastal Georgia and WMOP/WGGG in Ocala/Gainesville Fla. and the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, where he also co-hosts The Terry Bradshaw Show. Buddy won an Emmy while he was with Terry at CBS as an associate producer. More of Buddy's work can be found at BuddyMartinMedia.com where his show is streamed live. Buddy's most recent book is Steve Spurrier's autobiography "Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football" published by Blue Rider Press. He also wrote Urban Meyer's authorized biography, "Urban's Way," and Terry Bradshaw's autobiography "Looking Deep." Contact him at Buddyshow@aol.com, Facebook/The Buddy Martin Show and @Buddyshow on Twitter.