It must be hard for Oklahoma football fans to not at least wonder a little bit.
But the Bob Stoops statue that was driven up I-35 this week from Fort Worth and practically paraded through Norman on the back of a flatbed trailer — to the great chagrin of Oklahoma’s athletic director — was not a premature leak about Stoops’ future or the impending end of his tenure at OU.
Timing often can create curiosity. And the timing of this thing is, apparently, purely coincidental.
Oklahoma has two home games remaining — this week against Iowa State and Nov. 21 against TCU — but there are no statue unveiling ceremonies planned in Norman for either date. Not even remotely close.
But the timing of it all does make one wonder.
Sunday’s news that Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will retire at the end of the season will make Stoops, now in his 17th season, the longest consecutively tenured major college football head coach in the nation if he returns for 2016.
(That’s a technicality, of course, because Stoops’ first season was 1999, which was also the debut season of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. But Stoops was hired in December 1998 a few days before Ferentz was — Stoops actually turned down his alma mater’s offer because at the time he had decided to take the OU job — so Stoops has been on the job longer.)
If nothing else, the timing of Beamer’s announcement and the unexpected emergence of this statue with the oncoming end of the 2015 season should give Sooner Nation reason to pause and appreciate its coach.
That national championship, now 16 years old, still shines brightly. So do all of those Big 12 Conference trophies and Stoops’ 175 career victories — most of any football coach in OU history. And he has done it without significant NCAA troubles shadowing him.
“I never envisioned it to be that long,” Stoops said this week, “but I also knew when I accepted this job that it wasn’t a job that you do well and go to another place or leave and go to a better school. I felt this was the better school. Sometimes guys have success and say, ‘Let me get a better job.’ I’ve felt all along that this is the better job. I guess I’d hoped that it would be a good run.”
Stoops isn’t about to stand idly by ahead of some randomly chosen home game while fans snap selfies with his new statue. That has almost no chance of happening unless Stoops has already called it a career. Just like Sam Bradford did, Stoops will not be a party to the erecting of his statue as long as he’s still on campus.
All of which piques one’s interest in the sudden arrival of this statue in Oklahoma: Is Stoops planning to retire soon?
Here’s the story with the statue: It was planned years ago as part of a commemoration of the Sooners’ all-time great coaches. OU is the only major college football program with four coaches who achieved 100 career victories, so Stoops’ statue was manufactured at about the same time as the ones of Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.
But while those statues were put up in 2010 and 2011, the original decision to erect Stoops’ statue in 2012 was put off indefinitely — at his request.
So the Stoops statue was kept in storage at the foundry in Fort Worth. The foundry and the school recently agreed that the foundry wouldn’t keep it any longer and the decision was made to move it to Norman.
But what unfolded was a gross miscommunication that inadvertently put Stoops’ visage on parade.
Sooners AD Joe Castiglione was so perturbed when photos of the uncovered statue popped up on social media, he put out a strongly worded statement.
“Several years ago, when we began the process of recognizing our most accomplished coaches, we certainly included Coach Stoops in our planning,” Castiglione said. “While statues of (Bennie) Owen, (Bud) Wilkinson and (Barry) Switzer have already been dedicated, Coach Stoops preferred to wait until a later date. Even though approvals of design, sculpting, production and storage took place, it was determined that the dedication would occur at a yet-to-be-determined point in the future.
“We did not receive any advance notice that the statue was to be transported to campus at this time. Moreover, we are extremely disappointed in the lack of consideration, respect and care that was shown in delivering the statue to Norman. This was completely unnecessary. It certainly is not reflective of the way we feel about Bob or the respect we’ll show him when his extraordinary achievements are properly celebrated.”
No, Stoops isn’t stepping down any time soon.
But when he does, his statue will be nearby.