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. No excuses. 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. "He's disciplined," Kelly said. "That's what he's always said, we're going to have discipline. Everybody's going to act like gentlemen, wherever we go. He's not going to tolerate anything else. "When that happens, and everyone's on the same page, then we can focus on the right things. And when we put that on the field, we come away winning ball games." Stoops can reveal a relaxing side, too, playing uniquely into the relationship with his players. "Most of the time, he's serious," said linebacker Demarrio Pleasant. "But yeah, there's a few times where we catch him and he'll let his hair down and just let go and kind of do what we want him to do." That doesn't include karaoke. "Nah, he doesn't participate," Pleasant said. "We try to get him to sometimes, but he won't do it." But Stoops can at times be coaxed into bustin' a groove. "We try to make him do a dance or something like that after a game," Pleasant said. "Half the time he won't do it. When he does, it's not really a dance. He'll just do something to make us laugh. He'll jump up and down or something like that, just to make us laugh." Kelly's holding on to a promise from Stoops to let loose of his keys. "I always joke about driving that car he's got, that BMW," Kelly said. "He says he's going to let me drive it, but that ain't come around yet." Other than the cool ride, Stoops remains a regular guy around his team. Players say he's approachable and receptive. "He's very conservative," said defensive end Larry Birdine. "You'd think a guy that makes all that money would go around in all these nice clothes and everything. He wears the same stuff we wear. Nike issue team stuff." Some say considering all the Sooners have been through, this has been Stoops' best coaching job yet. With a national championship, five South Division titles and an overall 85-18 record, that's saying something. Stoops dismisses personal accolades. But he will say that this has been one of the most satisfying seasons of his eight at OU. "It's been one of the most enjoyable for sure, just because of the attitude of the players," Stoops said. "Their attitude, their excitement, their enthusiasm. You enjoy that as a coach. You're not pulling teeth. You feel like they're listening to you. They like to play. "All of that. So it's been pleasing for sure."
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Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was named Big 12 Coach of the Year on Tuesday in a vote by fellow coaches. Stoops has led the Sooners to a 10-2 record and a spot in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game. By CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN