NORMAN ? Bob Stoops unflinchingly walked into a now-legendary team meeting in early August and uttered two words that might as well serve as Oklahoma's mantra for the season.
That day, Stoops struck down any sinking Sooner feelings over the dismissals of quarterback Rhett Bomar and lineman J.D. Quinn. He announced that Paul Thompson was the team's quarterback, that all goals remained intact, and then of all things, Stoops cued up a karaoke party for that night.
And just like that, the Sooners seamlessly moved on.
"In this building," Stoops said of an OU haven that houses ready reminders of national championships, Heismans and decades of success, "we never took our eyes off what our goals were or felt that we couldn't meet them.
"It was going to be tough, but we could do it."
While more potential pitfalls — the controversial setback at Oregon; the loss to Texas; the injury to Adrian Peterson — popped up along the way, all eventually were revealed as just hurdles cleared in a rewarding run.
Today the Sooners stand 10-2 as Big 12 South champions, heading to Kansas City to meet Nebraska in the conference title game Saturday. A win at Arrowhead Stadium sends them to the Fiesta Bowl, which to OU outsiders seemed the stuff of fantasy not so long ago.
Not coincidentally, Stoops was named Big 12 Coach of the Year in a voting of his coaching peers Tuesday.
"With the things that we've had to overcome, the way he's kept this team focused for months on our main goals is big," Thompson said. "That's the main thing in coaches, keeping your team focused, keeping them away from distractions, which include injuries.
"He's just done a great job overall."
It may have started that August day on the eve of the team's first practice, when Stoops settled the shock of the Bomar-Quinn dismissals.
"It was bad," said Sooner linebacker Rufus Alexander. "A big blow."
Said wide receiver Malcolm Kelly: "When it happened, everyone was like, ‘Man.' But coach Stoops always says, he doesn't care who you are, if you're doing wrong…
"When he did that, I guess it opened everybody's eyes. Once he said that, that we're not going to have any excuses, I think we just kind of rolled with that. We still knew we had a lot of talent in this room."
The Sooners also know what kind of coach they have in Stoops.
Direct. Confident. Demanding.
Stoops leaves no gray area; no room for interpretation.