NORMAN — Bud Wilkinson and Bob Stoops are alike in some ways.
Grew up in Big Ten country and played Big Ten football for a Big Ten icon. Wilkinson for Bernie Bierman at Minnesota, Stoops for Hayden Fry at Iowa.
Became the chief lieutenant for flamboyant coaches who succeeded at multiple Eastern Seaboard schools. Wilkinson for Jim Tatum, Stoops for Steve Spurrier.
Made their head coaching debut at Oklahoma, taking the Sooners to virtual immediate greatness and sustaining OU dominance for more than a decade.
But here's where they're most alike. For this week, and surely for this week only, they are tied in victories: 145 strong.
Just as Barry Switzer did a quarter century ago, Stoops has caught the hallowed Wilkinson, dubbed the Great White Father by his players and the father of Sooner gridiron glory by those who like their history post-World War II.
Wilkinson's victory No. 145 came 49 years ago this month, a 34-10 Bedlam rout at Owen Field. Soon thereafter, Wilkinson resigned to run for the U.S. Senate.
“I'm not doing that,” Stoops said with a laugh.
That's as good a place as any for the similarities to branch off. These Sooner giants are as different as they are alike.
Imagine Stoops saying this: “Life's eternal problems remain mystifying to me.”
Not going to happen. But that's exactly what Wilkinson wrote to his son, Jay, in 1965, after losing that U.S. Senate election and starting a new chapter in his life.
Imagine Wilkinson, the very picture of propriety, yanking off a headset (which he never did, by the way) to dress down some poor referee.
Wilkinson was reflective and scholarly. Stoops is emotional and earthy. Wilkinson was an instructor. Stoops is a ballcoach.
But both were wildly successful. Among major college coaches with at least 10 years, only 14 have amassed a winning percentage in the .800s. Wilkinson and Stoops are in the club. (So is Barry Switzer; OU is one heck of a job).
When Wilkinson left OU, he was four years removed from the magnificent '50s, a decade in which the Sooners won every Big Seven title and lost just 10 games total. Wilkinson's program had slumped; he won just one Big Eight championship in his last four years.
Stoops, too, has slightly slumped. Looks like by season's end he'll have just one Big 12 title in the last four years, after a string of six championships in a nine-year span, a reign in some ways as impressive as Wilkinson's, considering the competition.
But unlike Wilkinson, Stoops shows no signs of trying something else in life.
“I don't think even close,” said Matt McMillen, a longtime Stoops friend who has been on the football staff since Stoops' arrival 14 years ago and now is an assistant athletic director.
“I think the longer you coach, the longer you still want to coach. When you start, you're thinking, ‘I'll be done by the time I'm 50.' Then you realize, ‘it's what I love to do. I want to keep doing it.'”
McMillen says Stoops hasn't let up, that he's recruiting as hard as ever. “I think he's more into it than he's ever been,” McMillen said.
And clearly, Stoops is not a Renaissance Man. Wilkinson was, but Stoops still likes to tell the story of his corporate interviews while coming out of Iowa with a business degree, how uncomfortable he was.
“That's not me,” Stoops said. “There's a lot I want to do. As far as occupation, though, no. I've always wanted to be a coach.”
So I don't see anything pulling Stoops away from coaching. Not business. Not broadcasting. Lord knows not politics.
Of course, coaching could pull Stoops away from coaching. It's possible he could grow weary of the grind.
I told Stoops about the Eddie Sutton theory. Sutton used to say that you shouldn't retire until you knew what you were going to do the very next day.
But Stoops said he doesn't fear that.
“You just don't know what else is out there until you know you're open for it,” Stoops said. “That's the biggest thing. Sometimes you're amazed at wow, all these opportunities are out there but you haven't been open to 'em, because everyone knew you were coaching.
“So you just don't know. You never know when that time's right. I believe, in my heart, whenever I do (leave coaching), there will be other opportunities that will be exciting. I just don't know what they are, because I'm not there.”
No, he's not. Stoops still is going strong. He's at 145 victories and figures to pass Switzer's 157 sometime next season. Eddie Robinson and Bobby Bowden can rest easy; I don't think Stoops is going hit 300. But 200? Twenty-two OU seasons, to match Bennie Owen's record? Very well could happen.
“I think every day, he's really happy to be here,” McMillen said. “Just a great place. He enjoys it. You look at other jobs, are any of 'em better? I don't think so. Good friends, great place to raise your family, plenty of things to do.”
Wilkinson was 47 when he felt the call to Washington. He had already been serving as President Kennedy's consultant on physical fitness. After the U.S. Senate defeat, Wilkinson moved to D.C. anyway.
Stoops says he feels no such call, anywhere. Says he'd more inclined to step out into the great unknown.
“That wouldn't worry me in the least,” Stoops said. “Because I've got faith in a life lived properly, there's going to be opportunities, and exciting different ones, whatever they are.”
Not exactly the way Wilkinson would have said it, but the sentiment is somewhere close to the Bud camp. Stoops coaches not because he has to, but because he wants to.
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.