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.
Still, the eras in which they coached made things different. Stoops operates under scholarship limits Switzer never dealt with.
“In my era, it was a free-for-all,” Switzer said.
And while Stoops' highs might not match Switzer's, his lows — both on and off the field — don't approach Switzer's.
Switzer lost four games in three consecutive seasons from 1981-83, causing some to call for his firing. And the off-the-field problems that ultimately ended Switzer's career at Oklahoma far exceed Stoops' incidents involving Rhett Bomar and Josh Jarboe.
Bomar was kicked off the team during the 2006 preseason after it was discovered that he was paid for work he didn't do at a Norman car dealership. Stoops booted Jarboe — who already brought significant baggage — after a rap video full of violent, offensive language surfaced online before Jarboe had even played a down in Norman.
Time and his natural charm have drastically dimmed the bootlegger's boy from Arkansas' bad times and shined the light on his glory.
“People have always felt like they can come up to me, and I'm ‘Barry' to them,” Switzer said. “I'm approachable. They've always felt comfortable. I'm extroverted. I'm kinda nuts.”
Where Switzer can often be seen pressing the flesh and happily interacting with fans and media, Stoops sometimes appears reluctant and combative in public settings.
Switzer's coaches' show was must-see TV in the 1980s; Stoops stopped taking fan calls during his weekly radio show last year.
“Bob's more private,” Switzer said. “He's a family man. But there's nothing wrong with that. … You can get it done different ways.”
Those who know Stoops best say his public image and his personality among friends, family and his players are nothing alike.
“Most of the public only sees Bob in one of two ways: He's either at his weekly press conference, or they see him on the sideline, wearing a visor and coaching the Sooners,” said Jim Ross, the former WWE announcer and die-hard OU fan who is as close to the program as any outsider.
“But they don't see that other side, what kids see when they're recruiting or what guys who are friends with him see when we're off camera, just being friends.”
A common denominator connecting the two coaches, though, is their big hearts and generosity. Stoops frequents the Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City, doing so without any interest in publicity.
He quietly rolled up his sleeves and went to work in Moore last spring after the devastating tornado that ripped through town.
Switzer hasn't missed the Special Olympics state games in more than 40 years, serving as an honorary coach
“Both are very, very giving,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “They do so much more for others away from the spotlight, and almost intentionally try to avoid people knowing about it. It's not because they're hiding it.
“It'd be almost impossible for me to quantify all the things that both have done through their careers for others.”
‘GO FOR A NATIONAL RECORD'
So how will history ultimately view Oklahoma's Bob Stoops era? How long will it last?
It's impossible to know for sure, but Switzer wants to see Stoops break bigger wins records than his own.
“All he's gotta do is stay here long enough and he's gonna win enough ballgames,” Switzer said. “He's obviously built a house out here. He isn't going anywhere.
“Now he's young enough, and he's talented enough, and he's healthy enough, that he oughta set a goal to win 300, 400 ballgames. Go for a national record.”
Records and achievements aside, though, will Bob someday be as beloved as Barry?
“Their approach is obviously viewed differently, and rightfully so,” Ross said. “They're two different men.
“He may not deliver the sizzle of Barry Switzer, but who does? But they both cook a great steak.”