NORMAN — Oklahoma fans might have been a little nervous in December 1998, when an outsider was hired to guide the Sooner football program.
Sure, it would have been hard for Bob Stoops to do much worse than the 12 wins in three years that John Blake provided. But the fans remembered the last time someone from outside the "OU family” was the team's head coach.
His name was Howard Schnellenberger. And from the moment he took the job, Schnellenberger started talking about the legacy he would leave, seeming to ignore the one he was joining.
But that was never Stoops' plan.
From the day he arrived, Stoops has worked to make one point clear to each of his players: OU football is what it is because of the past, not the present.
"All the championships, all the great coaches they had, all the great players that came before us,” redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray said. "Oklahoma wouldn't be here without all the players from the past.”
Schnellenberger had his own inventions in mind for OU tradition — the walk to the stadium, stripes on the jersey sleeves — and abandoned some of the school's long-standing ideas. Like giving water to players during practice.
Stoops immediately embraced Sooner tradition. He routinely shows the team clips of historic OU games, teams and players. And he makes his players understand that Sooner football doesn't end with them.
"It really humbles you, knowing all the great players that played before you,” senior tight end Joe Jon Finley said. "No matter if you're here or not, it's gonna keep on going. In 10 or 20 years from now, there's still gonna be 80,000 or 100,000 people in that stadium.”
OU football history wasn't a new tale to Stoops. The stories of him watching the Sooners as a youngster in Ohio — painting his shoes silver to match Joe Washington's — have been told over and over through his eight seasons as head coach.
Stoops' early success at Oklahoma brought the motivation and the money to renovate the poorly designed and under-funded Barry Switzer Center in 2004, making it a place worthy of housing everything from national championship trophies to Bud Wilkinson's fedora.
OU: The Best 100