NORMAN — On the day Bob Stoops was hired, Dec. 1, 1998, here's what he said: “I'll not shy away from expectations — I will embrace them. There are no excuses. We're not going to talk about rebuilding.”
Nine months later, after the final scrimmage of preseason drills, here's what Stoops said: “I'm not going to make excuses for them. They played bad and they need to play better.”
Three months after that, almost a year to the day after taking the job and after winning Bedlam to finish off a 7-4 season, here's what Stoops said: “I shy away from (talking about injuries) because I don't want our players to ever have a crutch or an excuse.”
Thirteen years later, here's what Stoops said about the Notre Dame game: “We were just on the wrong side of some judgment calls … I'm not complaining at all. I'm just saying, when you're in a tight game, those decisions are tough to overcome.”
Complaining? No. Excuse-making? Sounds like it to me.
The Sooners lost to Notre Dame not because a flag was thrown late in the first half and a flag stayed in the pocket late. The Sooners lost to Notre Dame not because officials gave Manti Te'o an interception and replay review didn't overturn it. This wasn't Oregon and Gordon Riese.
The Sooners lost to Notre Dame because the Irish were better. They ran the ball and didn't let OU run it. Notre Dame produced a game-changing pass play and OU didn't. The Irish were better in the trenches and better with the ball.
Not by a ton. It was a great, hard-fought football game. But Notre Dame was better.
It wasn't a judgment-call game. Maybe a call to judgment game, but not a judgment-call game.
So why is Stoops making excuses? Why has he slipped from his laudable standard of yesteryear? Stoops is no redneck, but where did his Git-R-Done attitude go?
Is Stoops telling his troops the same thing, that an official's call here or there would have reversed the outcome? I doubt it. So why is he trying to sell us?
Maybe he's just frustrated by the losses to Kansas State and the Knute Rocknes. Or maybe he's just tired of the notion that Oklahoma football is somehow in free fall because it hasn't won a Big Bowl in 12 years or a Big 12 title in 22 months.
Can't blame him for that. I'm not into sky-is-falling mode, either. The Sooner program is in good shape.
The Sooners need to get better to challenge for a national championship, no doubt. OU could use some linebacking help, and the lines could use some reinforcing.
But the idea that Stoops has gone soft, that he's lost his edge and his innovation and the program is sliding, I don't buy. He seems mostly the same old Stoops to me.
Except on this excuse thing. The old Stoops wouldn't have trotted out “judgment calls” as a key to the game, especially unprovoked. Stoops volunteered the theory in his opening soliloquy Monday.
“We were just on the wrong side of some judgment calls, a tight football game, they're part of the game,” Stoops said.
He was referring to the holding call on Bronson Irwin and the lack of an interference penalty against Notre Dame's Dan Fox on the pass in which Te'o intercepted.
Those weren't blatant missed calls. Looked like holding to me. The Fox hit on Jalen Saunders was bang-bang, and the fewer bang-bang interference penalties in football, the better. Te'o's interception looked good, too. Close, but good.
Judgment calls did not determine the OU-Notre Dame outcome. And there was a time when Stoops wouldn't have said anything even if they had.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.