Jim Stanley had a favored pregame ritual for his Oklahoma State football teams.
Watching John Wayne movies.
The man on the screen mirrored the coach on the Cowboy sidelines. Tough as a nail. Stoic as a statue. Just as a frontier lawman.
“He was an intense man,” former Cowboy linebacker Daria Butler said of Stanley. “He was a man of very few words. But he was a good guy, one of the old-fashioned football coaches that really concentrated on the fundamentals of the game and fundamentals of how you conducted yourself.”
Stanley died early Thursday morning in the Phoenix area after a bout with lung cancer.
He was 77 years old.
Stanley coached the Cowboys from 1973-78 and led them to a share of the Big Eight title in 1976. That season included a 31-24 road victory over No. 5 Oklahoma, which came a year after the Sooners' back-to-back national titles.
Those were heydays for Barry Switzer and his Sooners.
Stanley, who went 35-31-2 during his tenure in Stillwater, wasn't always loved the same way.
“He wasn't popular back in the 70s,” said Russ Farthing, a walk-on who played for Stanley. “Barry Switzer was the man in the Big Eight, in the country. Barry was great on TV. And Coach Stanley was terrible on TV. Terrible.”
“He was aloof. He looked mad. He was a one-liner guy. So, that's kind of how people remember him.”
Not his players.
They call him “Bubba,” the nickname he was forever giving everyone else. They remember a man who spoke in a low, slow voice, never hollering or yelling. But when he came around to the position drills during practice and saw something he didn't like, he wasn't above jumping in to demonstrate the proper technique.
Stanley, who was one of Bear Bryant's famed Junction Boys at Texas A&M, was never one to stand down from a challenge.
When Stanley was in high school, players from an opponent in the playoffs started spouting off. They told him that they were coming after him. They told him that they were going to get him.
On the first play of the game, one of them busted his lip wide open.
Not only did he stay in the game but also knocked opposing players out of the game. First came the quarterback. Then the running back. Then the back's replacement. Then the replacement's replacement.
Farthing asked Stanley about the story a few weeks ago when nearly a dozen of his former OSU players in town for the Fiesta Bowl visited him in his Phoenix area hospital room.
“Well,” Stanley said, “I don't know if there were four of them.”
Bill Young, the Cowboys' current defensive coordinator who played for Stanley, said, “He was an extremely tough individual and very hard-nosed.”
He was also the man who gave Young his break into college coaching in 1976.
“Jim Stanley is the reason why I have a job in college football,” Young said in a statement released by OSU. “An unbelievably good football coach who had one of the best defensive minds I have ever been around. He will be missed.”
Stanley spent nearly three decades working in professional football after he left OSU. He worked for 12 years with the Arizona Cardinals in scouting and player personnel before retiring in 2007.
Funeral services for Stanley will be Thursday in Stillwater.
“Great guy, great legacy,” Farthing said. “Touched a lot of lives. Helped a lot of people. He took most of it to his grave because he wouldn't tell you.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT JIM STANLEY
* Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder:
“The Oklahoma State family was saddened about the passing of former Oklahoma State coach Jim Stanley, who served as defensive coordinator from 1963 to 1968 and head coach from 1973 to 1978. We are grateful Coach Stanley had the opportunity at the recent Fiesta Bowl to visit with several players who played for him during his years as head coach of the Cowboys. Their visits over the years always lifted his spirits and spoke volumes about the amount of respect they held for their former coach. Coach Stanley led the Cowboys to their first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl in 1974 and a victory over BYU, 16-6. As a player for legendary coach Paul Bear Bryant, Coach Stanley preached toughness. His players worked hard for him, and he worked hard for them. He will be remembered with respect and admiration for his contributions to Oklahoma State football.”