NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops could match Barry Switzer's program-record 157 career victories as soon as Thursday night, when the Sooners travel to face No. 6 Baylor.
At age 76, Switzer is as beloved a figure as there is in Norman because of his three national championships, countless additional on-field achievements and folksy, approachable personality.
Could Bob become Barry? Could the 53-year-old Ohio native become that revered in OU lore? Might there one day be a Switzer Center equivalent honoring Stoops on OU's campus?
Will Stoops, like Switzer, spend his golden years in Norman?
Such questions seemed unfathomable five years ago, when Stoops was a hot commodity and seemingly could've taken his pick of attractive high-profile jobs.
As Stoops' status as coach-in-demand has cooled, though, his roots in Oklahoma seem to have deepened. Last year, he surpassed the legendary Bud Wilkinson on Oklahoma's career-wins list.
Stoops' children have been raised in Norman. He recently built gigantic a home here, visible on Interstate 35 as fans enter town on game days. He's developed friendships and connections with people in Oklahoma that go far beyond the gridiron.
None of that would've been possible, though, without the on-field success Stoops has enjoyed at Oklahoma. Like Switzer, Stoops has produced enough triumphs and good memories — eight Big 12 titles, four national-championship game appearances and 13 first-round NFL Draft picks, to name a few — for an entire generation of Sooner football fans.
And if, years from now, those fans harbor warm and fuzzy feelings about Stoops, much of it will have to do with how his era began.
Stoops took over after a rough decade of disappointment and failure for the once-proud Oklahoma football program. The Sooners hadn't finished with a winning record in five years before Stoops arrived.
“I'd been watching us waller around, embarrassingly,” Switzer said. “Prior to Bob, I didn't even go to football games. I lost all interest. It was embarrassing, what happened in the decade of the '90s there.
“But I saw how they played, how they lined up, how they coached. And I knew immediately that these guys know what they're doing.”
Stoops' first team finished 7-5, and the next season ended with Stoops lifting the national championship trophy after a 13-2 Orange Bowl victory over Florida State.
The Sooners appeared in two more national championship games in the next four seasons, and with each successful season, Stoops was tied to more and more vacant, high-profile coaching jobs around the country. He was linked to openings with the Cleveland Browns, Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and the San Francisco 49ers, but never left.
Switzer understood why.
“He had the product; he proved that he could coach; he proved that he could recruit,” Switzer said. “And once you do that, you have an opportunity to win consistently, and he was able to do that.
“Then you have the decision to make: Do I want to stay? Well, he's fortunate that they pay enough money today in college football that the pros don't come along and offer you the jobs. The college coaches make more than they make in pro football in certain jobs.”
Only Stoops knows how many opportunities he's had elsewhere in recent years, but his escalating salary — he's set to earn $4.55 million this year alone — and contract extensions remain a regular point of criticism for some fans, who have contended in recent years that he's more comfortable — and less driven.
Switzer never came close to a million-dollar annual salary at Oklahoma.
“It's what they're willing to pay,” Switzer said. “It's not what he demanded. That's what the market demands today. I missed out on it. I don't begrudge him doing that. It's just happened in the sport.”
‘I'M KINDA NUTS'
Stoops' one national championship — contrasted with Switzer's three — is a tough pill for some fans to swallow. Making it worse, the Sooners haven't played for a national title since 2008 and don't seem very close to that level right now.