NORMAN — Jeremy Beal figured Bob Stoops was in his early 40s. Landry Jones thought 41, then switched to 45. DeMarco Murray tossed out 48.
Then Ryan Broyles nailed it. Fifty.
Just like his players' guesses, Bob Stoops' age is rising. Today, life hangs half a hundred on the Oklahoma football coach.
"I'm enjoying my last days in the 40s," Stoops joked the other day.
Stoops is like most of us. Doesn't feel his age. I get to 50 myself in January; don't feel a day over 25.
Same with Stoops. "That's how I feel," Stoops said. Just a couple of weeks ago, Stoops high-fived his doctor, after a cholesterol check came in at less than 200 for the first time in years. Stoops, whose father died of a heart attack at age 54, constantly monitors his health and is zealous in his physical fitness.
"He doesn't seem 50," said longtime lieutenant Brent Venables.
"He's very young at heart," said longtime wife Carol Stoops, who still calls her man Bobby.
Leaving his 40s means Stoops never again can be called a young coach. Leaving his 40s puts Stoops in rare Sooner status.
Excluding the bewildering hire of 60-year-old Howard Schnellenberger, only three of OU's 15 coaches of the last 100 years were on the job in their 50s.
Gomer Jones was 49 when he was promoted and 51 when he stepped down.
Bennie Owen, hired in 1905, turned 50 on July 24, 1925, and didn't coach after 1926.
And Barry Switzer turned 50 in October 1987; he was forced out in June 1989, at 51.
If Stoops is on the job in September 2012, he will become the second-oldest Sooner coach ever, behind only the Colonel.
Ask me 10 years ago, after that Orange Bowl beat down of Florida State, if Stoops still would be on the job at 50, I'd have said no way. But ask me now if he'll be on the job at 60, I'd say likely.
"I'd agree wholeheartedly," Venables said. "I think he feels more loyalty now. I think the relationships, this is where home is."
Stoops has lived in Norman longer than anywhere else except Youngstown, Ohio. Norman is the only home his kids, ages 14, 11 and 11, know.
And Stoops still loves his job. "Always have," he said. "I wouldn't do anything, whatever occupation, if I wasn't enjoying my life. I'd do something else."
Josh Heupel, recruited by a 30-something Stoops to quarterback the Sooners 11 years ago, now is the QB coach for the 50-something Stoops.
"Pretty much the same guy since I've known him," Heupel said. "Demanding. Brings his lunch pail every day and goes to work."
Stoops, in his 12th Sooner season, seems more relaxed than ever before. Less edge. More patience.
"I'm wiser," Stoops said. "I get it. Little things don't bother me as much they used to.
"Every day there's a problem or an issue. I'm lucky if there's only one. You become, not immune to it, but you're expecting it."
Stoops was hired at the age of 38, which seems young but was old by OU standards. Gary Gibbs and Jim Mackenzie were 36 when they got the job. Switzer was 35. John Blake was 34. Chuck Fairbanks was 33. Jim Tatum was 32. Bud Wilkinson was 31. Bennie Owen was 30.
Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione selected Stoops and said he was hoping for a long-timer.
"Absolutely I was thinking long-term," Joe C. said. "Thinking of a program-builder."
Castiglione was hoping he would find a coach who would last into his 50s. Now he's hoping that coach will stay until his 60s.
"Sixty is the new 45, or whatever they say," Castiglione said. "If he sees and feels he consistently has a chance to be successful, why would you go anywhere else?"
There will be no big gala tonight at the Stoops homestead. No surprise party, Carol said. Stoops' mother is flying in from Youngstown today, and the family will have a nice dinner and await Stoops Bowl I, with brother Mark coordinating the defense for Florida State on Saturday at Owen Field.
Get a victory Saturday, and the Stoops clan — sans Mark — can celebrate with a little more revelry the milestone birthday of a man who is becoming an elder statesman, even if he doesn't feel like one.
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 AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.