A more hands-off approach: Stoops seems to operate with a lighter hand than he did in his early years, according to former OU fullback J.D. Runnels.
“It used to be, he was just like a position coach,” Runnels said. “I see him just overseeing things and trusting his players more.”
One clear example of that is Stoops' hiring last February of special teams coordinator Jay Boulware. The Sooners have had a few special teams coordinators through the Stoops years, but the head coach has generally overseen the units.
“Bob used to do all the special teams,” Runnels said. “Teddy Lehman, myself, all of us guys that wanted to be captains on special teams, we're sitting right next to Coach Stoops, answering every question that he has. He's right in the middle of it. Now he's kind of given that power away. I think it's a sign of him maturing as a coach.”
Less riverboat gambling: Speaking of special teams, Stoops' evolution as a coach is evident in the lack of surprising gambles he takes during games.
In 2002, Stoops dialed up a fake field goal in the fourth quarter at Missouri when his team trailed 24-23. The gamble paid off, resulting in a game-clinching touchdown.
The next year at Alabama, Stoops called a successful fake punt in the second half. One play later, quarterback Jason White connected on a long touchdown pass that secured a 20-13 victory.
Over the next several years, though, such attempts at trickery failed, making Stoops more cautious. In the third quarter of the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, OU had pulled within five points of West Virginia when Stoops called for a surprise onside kick.
The Mountaineers recovered, destroying all the momentum OU had built up, and the Sooners lost in a rout.
“What people forget is I was more of a gambler when they were working,” Stoops said last month. “All of a sudden you go to Vegas and gamble a few times and it doesn't work, you sorta quit going to Vegas.”
“A boxer's mentality”: Runnels compared Stoops' evolved game day mentality to those of competitive fighters.
“Early on, there was almost an MMA-type mentality,” Runnels said. “I feel like it was more of, ‘We have to deliver the knockout punch immediately. We've gotta make you submit. We've gotta beat you into a pulp.'
“Now, it's a boxer's mentality of wearing people down and waiting on your right plays and setting everything up, kind of controlling the fight and making sure everything goes your way. I think it's evolved into a marathon. He understands it's a longer game and a lot of things can happen. I don't think it's a bad thing, though, I really don't.”