He still has the beard. Don’t miss that. As you ponder Bob Stoops’ return to coaching, understand what being the new head coach and general manager for the XFL’s Dallas franchise really is:
A part-time gig.
That’s important. And it’s likely the only way Stoops — who shocked the college football world when he retired from Oklahoma exactly 20 months ago today — could have been convinced to grab a whistle again.
“When I stepped away a couple of years ago, I made it very clear I wanted my own time,” he said at an introductory news conference on Thursday in Arlington, Texas. “I wanted to be the boss of my own time and live that way.”
And he has. Since handing over the reins of the program to Lincoln Riley, Stoops has played a lot of golf. He’s traveled. He’s watched his sons play high school and college football. He has grown the beard, a carefree salt and pepper.
Free from the 24/7/365 grind of coaching college football, he has learned to slow down, relax and enjoy himself. He has been, as he put it Thursday, “the boss of my own time.”
But along the way, he has dropped hints that retirement isn’t easy, that he went from trying to beat Texas to battling boredom. After decades in football, it was jarring for Stoops, who was only 56 when he retired, to awaken each morning without a set plan. He usually headed to the golf course. But in December 2017, when he was only six months into retirement, he told me his life was “strange and different,” and added:
“I don’t know what I’ll do in the winter.”
It took another 14 months to figure it out, but now we know. The XFL, which is set to kick off in 2020, will play games from February through April. For Stoops, 58, this is quite literally seasonal employment. It will fill the time when the golf weather in Norman, Oklahoma, isn’t often great. And at least as important, it might fill the void created when he left football.
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“I got to thinking after a couple of years, some days I’ve got too much time on my hands,” Stoops said.
The key part of that phrase is “some days.” Stoops isn’t looking for a full-time job, at least not anything like the all-consuming grind he was immersed in for years. Coaching and running the XFL franchise won’t exactly be a hobby. It will require plenty of work. But there will still be many days throughout the year when Stoops can wake up without responsibility.
Additionally, the XFL job is likely to produce far less stress, which was a reason cited by many around Stoops when he stepped down. There won’t be 3 a.m. calls about players in trouble. He won’t have to do the calls and texts and travel that come with recruiting, which is the year-round, nonstop fuel for college football success – but also a catalyst for burnout.
All of the above is why after Stoops retired, the idea that he might return to college football or jump to the NFL always seemed far-fetched to those who know him best. Thursday’s announcement doesn’t change that.
Still, it was clear Stoops missed the game. He has remained an ubiquitous if unobtrusive presence at Oklahoma, attending most games and sometimes sitting in on position meetings with Riley and the quarterbacks.
Last December, on the day Ohio State’s Urban Meyer announced his retirement, I caught up with Stoops in a New York hotel lobby. Stoops had some advice for Meyer — along with an acknowledgment of what, for him at least, had been the most difficult part of being out of football.
“All of it,” he said. “The intensity, the competition, the challenge of this.” But he zeroed in on one aspect:
“For all of us that played as well as coached, it’s been 40 years of my life I’ve been with a gang of guys. It’s like, you always had your crew and all of the sudden you don’t have a crew anymore.
“You’ve got your players and your coaches and a fraternity of guys you’re constantly interacting with every single day, and all of the sudden you go to being alone. So that’s not easy to handle.”
Thursday, Stoops emphasized how much he looks forward, as much as anything, to building a coaching staff. Soon, he’ll have another crew to hang with, and a return to the challenge of intense competition. But the grind is much less than it ever was at Oklahoma – and all of it is only part-time.
“This just seems like a good window and opportunity to get back in and have a good fill of it and working with the guys,” Stoops said. “… The window of time that it entails fits my life at this point.”
In other words: Stoops can remain happily semi-retired.
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