Emcee and former Oklahoma star Spencer Tillman announced Bob Stoops at the Sooner Caravan on Thursday night and the sold-out crowd at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum stood. And roared. Loud and long. In Bob they trust -- even in times of distress. One day after Stoops was forced to permanently dismiss two starters, including quarterback Rhett Bomar for serious NCAA violations that brought an unwanted spotlight on the program, Sooner fans reinforced their faith in their coach. "I think he's handled it as well as he could," said Ted Glover, 45, a season ticket holder of 13 years from Oklahoma City. Some came seeking a message. "Stoops is so positive," said Yukon's Billy Maxwell, 63, and a season ticket holder since '63. "I think he's going to reassure the hard-core Sooner fans that all is not lost." And Stoops delivered. "I told a civic group in Norman this morning, 'You need to lighten your heart and have a good day because we're going to.'" Later in a fast-paced address that lasted exactly 10 minutes, Stoops said: "Our expectations have not changed one bit." The approving roars kept coming. Basketball coaches Sherri Coale and Jeff Capel, speaking first, inspired cheers of their own. But the biggest responses were reserved for Stoops. Oh, Sooner fans are shaken. The school's reputation, those national title hopes spurred by the summer magazines that tagged OU as No. 1, both took a hit when Bomar and Quinn were sent packing. "Shock. Total shock," Maxwell said of his reaction to Wednesday's news. "I could not believe it because I know how Stoops runs his program. For something like this to blindside ... I couldn't believe it." Maxwell said he was home when he got a call from a friend, informing him of the dark details. "I said, 'This can't be.' I shut down everything, tuned in to the Sports Animal and ESPN. When it came on, I said, 'Oh man.' "We've worked so hard to get a clean bill of health from everybody. And this happens." It was much the same for Barbara Davenport of Oklahoma City. She and husband, Cal, season ticket holders since 1972, have been following the Sooners for years. "I hate it," Barbara said. "I really do. "But it doesn't keep me from being a Sooner. I'll go on rooting for them the same as always." Stoops urged continued support. For the team and for Paul Thompson, already installed as Bomar's replacement. Then he gave them reason to believe, providing a glimpse from Thursday's first practice, which he left early to join the Caravan. "I turned around to look out the back of my car and see one final play," Stoops said, "and I saw a 50-yard bomb to Malcolm Kelly from Paul Thompson." Another roar. Tillman, a vested Sooner, credited Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione for acting swiftly to address the issue. "You've got to applaud Joe," Tillman said. "You've got to applaud Bob for not letting this thing linger on and becoming a potentially bigger distraction. "I think by nipping it in the bud right now, it gives them a chance to have the best season they possibly can." Perhaps all is not lost. "We've got our coaching staff intact," Maxwell said. "We've still got our team. I'm hoping Paul Thompson can come in and have a breakout year. The kid's got a lot of athletic ability. That's proven. "(Adrian) Peterson's coming back 100 percent. If the line comes through like we hope, the Big 12 championship is still in the picture. Texas in October ... all I can say is eat more beef."
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Stoops says he'd help two Bob Stoops said Rhett Bomar and J.D. Quinn "stung" Oklahoma. Its team. Its coaches. Surely Sooners fans feel the same way. Still, Stoops said Thursday that he'd help both players revive their careers elsewhere. "I will help them," Stoops said. "I'm all for kids and feel, in a way, compassion for them, though they stung us in a big way. "It's just my nature to be that way. I think all us coaches are that way." Stoops reiterated that the dismissals of Bomar and Quinn were permanent and that neither would be Sooners again. He also said both apologized for the actions -- accepting payment not earned -- that led to their departure from the squad. Their actions could draw an NCAA investigation and already have given the program a black eye. Stoops said Bomar and Quinn seemed remorseful in private conversations. "I did sense that," Stoops said. So far, neither Bomar nor Quinn has given any indication of what's in their future. With NCAA suspensions likely, their options are limited. But when and if either decides to play college football again, Stoops won't stand in the way. "I would grant them a release and give them opportunity if they wanted to go somewhere else," Stoops said. "We'll see how that works for them. "We're going to do what we can if they want to choose another path." By John Helsley