Ratings are way down in Norman. (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
College football coaching tenures and those of sitcoms have much in common.
Some shows are canceled before they ever have an opportunity to find an audience. Last October NBC’s “Animal Practice,” which starred no one that you’d ever heard of, was yanked after just a few episodes, putting it somewhere between being the Mike Price (Alabama) and the Luke Fickell (Ohio State) of sitcoms.
Some sitcoms are midseason replacements that never really had a chance to begin with. Consider Tom Bradley at Penn State in 2011.
Others are spinoffs of wildly successful series that choose to base themselves in Seattle (Frasier/Steve Sarkisian).
And then there are those rare few that actually find an audience and become hallmarks of American culture. The 1970s had "M*A*S*H" and Bear Bryant. The 1980s gave us "Cheers" and Jimmy Johnson. The 1990s, "Friends" and Steve Spurrier. The 21st century, "Two and a Half Men" and Nick Saban (in this conceit, Chris Petersen would be "South Park" – wildly successful but appearing on a smaller network; Lou Holtz would be "Arrested Development" – had a great run, then stepped away for a few years before returning and failing to recapture the magic).
Anywaaaaaay, not every coach can be at the apogee of his profession, just as there are more sitcoms on television than the top-rated show in prime-time ("The Rules of Engagement," anyone?). Lots of coaches, just like plenty of shows, build an audience over time and hit a peak moment before an inevitable downward spiral, which we know as “jumping the shark.” A term, of course, that was spawned after an actual scene in "Happy Days" that heralded that popular sitcom’s eventual demise.
Which brings us to Oklahoma and Bob Stoops. The Sooner coach, 52, has had a long and by most non-Bud Wilkinson standards, successful run. In 14 seasons in Norman – which in itself is a tremendous feat – Stoops has amassed a 149-37 record, appeared in four national championship games and won one (in 2000, his second season). He has led the Sooners to eight BCS bowls with a 3-5 record. Oklahoma has finished in the top 16 in all but two seasons and has produced two Heisman Trophy winners (should be three: Adrian Peterson), Jason White and Sam Bradford, under Stoops.
Bob Stoops – hell, probably every coach – would’ve signed up for that deal 14 years ago.
So why is there a sense that Oklahoma football under Stoops is in its “Steve Carell has left the show” phase? The Sooners are 13-9 versus ranked teams since they lost to Florida in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game in South Florida. That’s not at all bad, but it is not dominant, either.
Last year the Sooners lost twice at Memorial Stadium, to No. 15 Kansas State and No. 5 Notre Dame, doubling their number of losses in Norman for the previous six years combined. For all that Bob Stoops has accomplished – the Sooners are 9-5 versus arch-rival Texas in the Red River Rivalry under him – there is a sense that his program has slipped a bit. That he has become content with respectable Nielsen ratings minus the critics slobbering all over him. That Bob Stoops has jumped the shark in Norman.
"Personally, I've always been a 'Home Improvement' fan."
The past month or two have not abetted Stoops’ supposed air of invincibility. Back in May he told the Tulsa World that the SEC’s hegemony – only seven national championships in the past seven seasons – is partly an illusion. “Well, it depends on what gap (between the SEC and the Big 12) you are talking about,” said Stoops. “What are the bottom six doing?”
Answer: They’re losing, Bob, just like your conference’s bottom six are doing. That’s how come they’re the bottom half.
Earlier this month Stoops’ home was burgled. That one of the two home invaders was heard discussing the crime and then apprehended at a party at 6:21 a.m. on Sunday morning does little to disabuse you of the notion that “criminal mastermind” is an oxymoron.
Of course, having one’s home burgled has no relation to one’s coaching prowess. It was simply an unfortunate incident.
The gap between the SEC and the Big 12 has in fact grown over the past decade, while the gap between Oklahoma and its in-state rival, Oklahoma State, has been markedly reduced. In the past quadrennial, in fact, the Sooners are 40-13 while the Cowboys are 40-12. Head to head, OU is 3-1 in that span.
Is the program tired? Is Stoops himself tired? If Oklahoma football were a sitcom, this would be the point in the life of the series in which a new character (a crazy uncle or perhaps a juvenile delinquent cousin) would be introduced to reinvigorate it.
What will inspire Stoops this season? The memory of the recent Tornado that swept through Moore? A visit to Notre Dame, which certainly did wonders for the last school from this state (Tulsa) to do so? Not having the luxury of Landry Jones at quarterback?
We will see. Oklahoma’s top four tacklers last season were all defensive backs, and most of the defensive line will be new this season anyway for a team that finished 80th in rushing defense. That spells trouble with an “OU” in the middle of it.
Bob Stoops and the Sooners: Is this a program that is prepared to return to the highest echelon of college football after a brief and, granted, minor slip from the top perch? Or is just one of those sitcoms that is still on TV but nobody really watches any more?