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Oklahoma football: How Bud Wilkinson and Bob Stoops are most alike

COMMENTARY — For this week, and likely this week only, two iconic OU coaches are tied in victories at 145 apiece
by Berry Tramel Published: November 6, 2012

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.'”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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