For Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, the hype surrounding the Red River Rivalry is nothing new.
He brought home nine wins in 15 matchups against former Texas head coach Mack Brown. But now, as Stoops prepares to take on the new head coach in Austin, Charlie Strong, for the first time, many fans and media alike see it as the start of a new era. Stoops, however, says he sees no change.
“I don’t see [this year] being any different at all,” Stoops said. “It would be different if [Mack Brown] and I were out playing but that isn’t happening, and I’ve never looked at it across as an individual issue — it’s not for me.”
Stoops has told various publications through the years that the historic matchup is about one great program against the other, not about any individual rivalries. He told the San Antonio Express-News in April he’s “not between the lines playing in the game;” and, even if he was, “football is the ultimate team sport.”
A team sport indeed, but Stoops holds plenty of personal accolades. The winningest coach in Oklahoma history, Stoops is the only college head coach with a national championship victory and wins in every BCS bowl game. Through 199 games at Oklahoma — 123 against Big 12 opponents — Stoops boasts a winning percentage above .800.
The nature of the rivalry and Texas’ historical advantage both add to the excitement of the annual trek to Dallas. Stoops says the Sooners remember last year’s 36-20 loss well. In the 16-point loss, four Longhorns recorded touchdowns, two running backs surpassed 100 rushing yards and then-senior quarterback Case McCoy, who played only because of an injury to then-sophomore quarterback David Ash, racked up 190 yards through the air, passing for two touchdowns. The memory of such an embarrassment for the Sooners doesn’t fade fast.
“This week with Texas, we understand the rivalry and what a challenge it will be,” Stoops said. “We went down there a year ago and got beat by 16 points. We are still very aware of that.”
With this awareness comes an adjusted game plan. Stoops must cater to Strong’s schemes rather than those of Brown, to whom he’s grown accustomed. Stoops and Strong have crossed paths over the years, and each expresses utmost respect toward the other.
“[Stoops] and I are friends,” Strong said. “When I was at Florida, I was leaving, and he was coming in and even at Big 12 meetings, we sit together and joke around. I really respect the job he’s done at Oklahoma.”
Stoops, too, said that the Sooner staff “think[s] a lot of Charlie Strong and the way he coaches,” and notes Strong’s progress early on.
“I know he is going to continue to work that program and we will see a team that will be motivated and ready to play,” Stoops said. “They are a team that is capable, and, again, they beat us just a year ago.”
As the No. 11 team in the country there’s little doubt that the Sooners field a better team than the Longhorns do each week. But Stoops and his players know that in rivalry games like this one, anything can happen. It’s anyone’s game this weekend at the Cotton Bowl.
And, despite Stoops’ insistence that the rivalry is restricted to men in shoulder pads, the veteran boss has been heavily invested in the competition for 16 years now. The hype is nothing new. And it will never get old.