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Why Is Bob Stoops No Longer "Big Game Bob"?

Because I’ve gotten some questions about it, I’ll let you know that we’ll be dealing with issues of note here locally forthwith, but, for now, I’m trying to wrap up the college football season as a whole . . . and, besides, all the news out of Bulldog Nation these days is bad, so who wants to dwell on that?

Consequently, I have a question for you, sports fans: "Is Bob Stoops still ‘Big Game Bob’?" Peter Bean doesn’t think so, but, if Peter is right, why is this the case? Here, for whatever it might be worth, is my theory:

Broadly speaking, successful college coaches tend to fall into two categories. In one corner, we have the guys who get "up" for big games, whether through emotional exuberance (after the fashion of Pete Carroll) or through laser-like intensity (a la Urban Meyer). These types of coaches are second to none in their ability to bring their focus to bear on the big game.

If you tell Pete Carroll in the offseason that Southern California’s big game is against Ohio State, well, then he’ll concentrate on that and the Trojans will annihilate the Buckeyes. If you tell Urban Meyer at the start of the summer that Florida’s season is going to come down to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Gators will lay a whipping on Georgia like nothing we’ve seen in Jacksonville in a decade.

The problem is that no one can be that focused, that intense, and that emotional every single Saturday of the autumn. Consequently, while a Pete Carroll or an Urban Meyer will seldom lose a game that he has circled on the calendar, such coaches oftentimes stumble against the teams they take for granted; hence, U.S.C. can lose to an Oregon State or a Stanford and the Saurians can lose to an Ole Miss.

On the other hand, we have the more even-keeled coaches, with whom we are quite familiar in Bulldog Nation, as Vince Dooley and Mark Richt are both cut from this cloth; nationally, a more familiar example of this archetype is Mack Brown. These types of coaches get neither too high nor too low, so they virtually never lose games they are supposed to win, but they often split the tough contests on their schedule.

How does this relate to Bob Stoops? While I am by no means a keen observer of Oklahoma football, it seems to me that "Big Game Bob" has been in the process of making the transition from the first type of coach to the second, even as Mark Richt has shown signs of trying to move from the second class of coaches into the first.

Bob Stoops learned how to be a head coach from Steve Spurrier, a notorious holder of grudges and a temperamental sideline presence who clearly fit into the first category, routinely whipping such perennial rivals as Georgia and Tennessee by lopsided scores yet losing non-conference games to Syracuse, getting upset in bowl games by the likes of Michigan State and Notre Dame, and never beating Mississippi State in Starkville during his run in Gainesville.

That’s where Bob Stoops learned how to lead a college football team, and, sure enough, he performed exceptionally well in top-tier contests everyone had marked on the schedule (e.g., winning five straight over Texas, including 63-14 and 65-13 blowouts), yet he fell to 7-4 Mississippi in the 1999 Independence Bowl and dropped back-to-back games against Oklahoma State in 2001 and 2002.

Then, as time passed and Darth Visor’s influence upon his protégé began to fade, Stoops changed. After that second straight loss to the Pokes, he shifted gears and began moving in a different direction, becoming gradually less explosive and steadily more stoic.

Throughout the 2003 season, he yet remained "Big Game Bob," straight out of the Carroll/Meyer mold, annihilating the Longhorns in Dallas yet getting punked by Kansas State in Kansas City in the ultimate letdown game.

Then came the break point: Mike Stoops, Bob’s hotheaded brother, was hired to be the head coach at Arizona. Once the influence of his ill-tempered sibling was removed, the transition was complete . . . and the Sooners promptly lost the national championship-settling Sugar Bowl to Louisiana State.

In 2004, O.U. did not stumble against any of the little guys, going 12-0 through the regular season and the Big 12 championship game before getting blown out by the Men of Troy in the season’s biggest game. In 2005, Oklahoma’s losses were to teams that went 11-1, 10-2, 13-0, and 9-3; not a "little guy" in the lot of them. In 2006, Bob Stoops’s troops went 3-3 against opponents that were ranked at the time of the game yet 8-0 against teams that were not in the top 25 when they met on the field. That’s as classic an example as you will find of a coach who wins the ones he’s supposed to win and splits the toss-ups.

Absent the odd loss at Colorado, Oklahoma has become less like Florida and more like Texas, no longer winning every big game but no longer losing head-scratchers, either. Obviously, this theory, like all theories of human behavior, is imperfect and has exceptions, but the answer seems clear: Bob Stoops is no longer "Big Game Bob" because he is no longer the volatile driven coach who never blinked against major opponents yet often lost his edge against inferior opponents. Now he is a C.E.O.-style skipper who wins every game he’s expected to win but sometimes stumbles in the tougher tussles.

So how has "Big Game Bob" lost five straight major bowl games? Why, the same way Vince Dooley lost four Sugar Bowls, and the same way Tom Osborne lost seven straight bowl games between 1987 and 1993, and the same way Bear Bryant went 0-7-1 in postseason play from 1967 to 1974 . . . by getting there in the first place.

Go ‘Dawgs!