MIAMI GARDENS — Bob Stoops was born to coach. You might say he had his own private screening. Growing up in a family of seven, as a boy he watched his father stare at flickering black and white images dancing on the refrigerator door.
Bob got his coach’s training wheels right there in that jam-packed three-bedroom Cape Cod-style house on Detroit Avenue, with parents Diane and Ron in one bedroom, their daughter in one and four brothers in the other.
When Ron Sr. came home at night from football practice at Cardinal Mooney High School, projector in hand, he used make-shift screens — like the fridge.
“I never knew exactly what he was looking at,” Bob said in later years. The family ate many a meal in the dark with that movie projector whirring.
Ron Stoops died doing what he loved, suffering a heart attack during the fourth quarter of a game he was coaching as defensive coordinator for Cardinal Mooney — a job now held by his youngest son, Ron Jr. Mike is the head coach at Arizona where his brother Mark coaches the defense.
When you grow up in Youngstown, Ohio, coaching football is not a job — it’s a most noble calling.
“There’s something about Youngstown,” Bob later would say.
It must be in the water, because not only did three other Stoops boys become coaches, so did the Pellini brothers, Bo and Carl, now at Nebraska — among others.
Bob Stoops answered that call in a big way, first as an All-Big Ten defensive back under Hayden Fry at Iowa, then as a secondary coach for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, then as Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator for the 1996 national champion team. He loved Gainesville and it was almost a given that when Spurrier decided to step aside, one day he would return.
When that day came, Bob Stoops was already ensconced in Norman, Okla. — it is said that midnight call from the school president preempted Jeremy Foley’s bid — where the Sooners are now back in the national championship conversation every year.
Okay, sometimes maybe it’s a negative conversation, being that Oklahoma last lost its last two BCS title bids after beating Florida State in 2000 for the championship. Although they have lost four of their last five bowl games, the Sooners remain one of college football’s elite programs.
When Stoops hit South Florida last week, the first thing he did was go into damage control mode, dodging the critical questions about his post-season performance, saying, “I’m not going to discuss it at all.”
“Stoopsie,” as he was nicknamed by his good friend Spurrier — they both own homes in Crescent Beach — was very popular with the fans, players and fellow coaches at Florida. But he may have angered some of his friends in the Gator Nation Monday by issuing a call to arms for all Seminoles and Hurricanes fans to back Oklahoma against the hated Gators.
“There’s a whole lot of ‘Cane fans and I’m calling on all the Hurricane and Seminole fans that are down here to root for us,” Stoops said. “That won’t be hard I don’t think. So there’s another part of south Florida that isn’t for the Gators, and we’re hoping to recruit them here this week.”
An alliance with ‘Noles and ‘Canes? What’s this treasonous act, Stoopsie? Is all of that orange and blue blood in your veins dried up? Don’t forget that you have to return to Crescent Beach one day soon.
Of course we all know why he said it: Anything to win a big game, especially the BCS title.
Meanwhile, as the fastest guy ever to win 100 games, Stoops has rapidly became one of Ohio’s most successful coaches in a state that boasts Stoops, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, Les Miles, Pellini and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel as current head coaches at BCS schools.
Coaches with strong Ohio ties can boast 14 of the last 18 teams that have been in the national title game and numbers other coaches — Nick Saban and Peter Carroll among them — according to the website Freedum4um.com.
Urban Meyer was raised in Ashtabula, so the opposing coaches in Thursday night’s game grew up in the same neck of the woods, 100 miles apart.
Football, football and more football are the reasons Meyer believes the game has such a special meaning in Ohio. Indeed, the Cradle of Coaches may be in Oxford at Miami University, but football coaches have come from every point of the state.
“Fridays were high school football, Saturdays were Ohio State and Sundays were the Browns and Bengals,” Meyer said. “And, really, nothing else. In the off-season you kind of played basketball and baseball to stay in shape for football”
“Did that have an impact on my life? Absolutely! I’m sure it did coach Stoops. We talk about that quite often when we’re together. He went to a great high school, Cardinal Mooney. I went to a great high school, St. John. Your existence at that school was to play high school football. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.”
Stoops says it’s old news that Ohio coaches have done well, but thinks the close proximity of he and Meyer is unique.
“There’s an awful lot of coaches from that area, from Ohio and with Ohio affiliations,” Stoops said. “That’s been well-noted. But it’s kind of different that Urban and I did grow up so close to each other.”
Bob thinks his father’s profession had a lot to do with it.
“Football is important there, and it’s developed,“ he said. “From the little leagues all the way up through high school, and look at the number of colleges that are all throughout Ohio that are playing ball. You know, just at every level it’s important, it’s attended and there’s excellent coaching, I think, throughout.”
Passions are also fueled by the great Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and the colorful tradition of the Buckeyes and the Wolverines, but Stoops was also fond of another team from out-of-state.
“Yeah, you know, it’s funny, growing up you talked about Ohio State and Michigan, and to be truthful, too, I loved coach (Barry) Switzer’s (Oklahoma) teams those years,” Stoops said. “You think back to how exciting it was watching that Wishbone with Jack Mildren pitching it to Greg Pruitt, you had Joe Washington back there, you had some exciting guys. I can remember as a young guy watching to love Oklahoma play.”
No doubt, though, it was watching Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler that stoked the fires.
And the legacy of Ohio coaching lives on, thanks also to the burning midnight oil of people like Ron Stoops Sr., who proved you don’t need a big video room with an expensive recording device to teach young men about the game of football.
Even in black and white flickering images on a refrigerator door, the hunger for the game comes through in living color. You might say that fridge also gave the Stoops family food for thought.