“I guess we needed a break before we headed home,” Dee Stoops recalled. “That was a wonderful gesture on his part. That's just how they are.”
Saban left Michigan State after the 1987 season, and Ron Stoops died of a heart attack only months later during a Cardinal Mooney football game, but the families stayed in touch.
Bob Stoops remembers visiting Cleveland Browns practices and studying their defense with his uncle during Saban's four seasons there.
“He was always very good to my family,” Bob Stoops said.
The relationship continues today, with the Oklahoma and Alabama coaching staffs visiting one another to exchange ideas. Mike Stoops said the Sooners looked to Alabama during OU's transition last offseason to a 3-4 defensive scheme.
“There's some people in the coaching profession that you just have sort of a professional relationship with, that you always like to trade ideas and have mutual respect for, and Coach Stoops has always been one of the guys we've done that with,” Saban said.
‘You don't forget people who treat you like that'
Ten years ago, Saban and Stoops met for the first — and, until now, only — time as opposing head coaches in the Sugar Bowl, a game that determined the 2003 BCS national champion.
LSU beat the Sooners 21-14 that night, earning Saban the first of his four national titles as a collegiate head coach.
Dee Stoops never got a chance to visit with Saban or his wife, Terry, during that trip, but said she's determined to catch up with her old friends this time.
“I have to make sure I see them this trip,” she said. “My husband had a great admiration for Coach Saban. I think for sure, he would remember my Ron in a fond manner.”
There's no questioning the fondness with which the Stoops family matriarch remembers Saban and the early impact she believes he had on her boys' careers.
“You don't forget people who treat you like that,” she said. “Little did I know my kids would go on to be coaching in a prominent fashion, and the kindness and consideration he gave to our family left an impression on all of us.
“I always pride myself on my family being about more than X's and O's, and Nick Saban certainly is that.”