In three months, it will be 10 years since Hayden Fry retired as Iowa’s football coach. One myth will turn 10 years old at that time. That’s the one saying Bob Stoops’ first choice in late 1998 was to become Fry’s successor, not the head coach at Oklahoma.
OK, the Iowa-didn’t-make-it-happen part is true, at least according to Stoops.
“I’ve got to be honest,” Stoops told The Oklahoman newspaper of Oklahoma City, “I felt all along that business-wise, this was the best opportunity. And fortunately for me it’s worked out really well.”
Yes, a national-championship, 97 wins, and a team favored to win another Big 12 title this fall could make a coach feel secure in his decision. For a long time – at least until Kirk Ferentz started peeling off the first of three straight AP Top Ten finishes and two Big Ten co-championships, Iowa fans weren’t secure in Bob Bowlsby’s decision to hire Ferentz.
Many felt Bowlsby and his school bungled the interview process and let Stoops slip away to Norman. Some insist to this day that Bowlsby’s first choice was then-Northern Iowa Coach Terry Allen, but came to realize that would have gone over with a thud in Hawkdom.
Stoops does confirm that Iowa didn’t exactly come at him with single-minded determination. Bowlsby and Iowa’s search committee wanted to interview other people, including Ferentz. Oklahoma wanted to talk to just one person, the young hotshot defensive coordinator to Steve Spurrier at Florida.
But ultimately, Bowlsby’s slow-playing of the situation didn’t matter. Stoops said he interviewed at Iowa out of a courtesy to his alma mater. Now maybe he’s saying what he’s saying now because that is what will play best to his Oklahoma base. But it sounds totally plausible.
“Deep down, I truly felt as well that I had done the Iowa thing,” Stoops said. “I felt, though my wife’s from there, I had spent 10 years there. Sometimes, that’s enough. And I loved it. I loved the people.
“But it’s almost like you’re always that kid. It was just time for something different is what my feeling was. And you know what, my wife was supportive. She felt the same way. It’s time for something new.”
There’s no guarantee Stoops would have done any better than Ferentz over the last nine seasons. If he’d had a run similar to Ferentz’s from 2002 through 2004, he’d probably be gone now anywhere. For something new.
But this remains one of the great soap operas in Iowa football history. For more on what led Stoops to Oklahoma: