Bob Stoops
From left to right, former OU players James Winchester, Trent Ratterree and Brian Lepak pose with coach Bob Stoops at the 2010 OU Football Banquet. (Facebook)

This week, college football stands at a deficit. One of the game’s most legendary coaches — Bob Stoops — has decided to retire. Understandably, Sooner fans and college football aficionados are reeling.

But this article isn’t about college football. It isn’t about what the Sooners will do next, or how Lincoln Riley will be able to fill the biggest coaching shoes in the country. Instead, I want to talk about how a man like Bob Stoops influenced more than 1,000 young men over the last 18 years.

And I should know. I am one of those men.

He has integrity

When I was nearing the end of my Weatherford High School career in 2006, all I wanted in the world was to play college football. Ultimately, I wanted it to be for the Sooners, but they had five tight ends on scholarship at the time I would be matriculating. I had accepted the fact I would probably never suit up in the crimson and cream. It was OK. Not everyone is cut out to play at an elite program like OU, and I totally understood that.

At least, that was how I felt until the day I decided to attend an OU practice and visit with the coaches. After that day, I was all in. I didn’t care if I was a walk-on, and from what I could tell during the conversations with the coaches, they didn’t care either. Coaches Kevin Wilson, Cale Gundy, Josh Heupel and even Bob Stoops all stressed I would be given equal attention and opportunity as every scholarship player. And boy did I.

You see, this is the thing about Coach Stoops: He sticks to his word. He tells you he will do something, and he does it. He doesn’t talk your ear off or make empty promises. He keeps it business, and he sticks to it. That’s what I find so admirable about Coach Stoops. He has integrity.

Bob Stoops
During a 2011 game,
OU coach Bob Stoops huddles with his defense between plays. (Michael Duncan)

He held true to his word

I will never forget the day he called me to tell me I had earned a scholarship. I remember an unfamiliar number popped up on my phone while I spent my down time, one summer, hanging out at the house. I answered and heard that familiar northeastern accent.

“Trent,” he said. “This is Coach Stoops. How you doin’? Guess what? We’re puttin’ you on scholarship.”

Truthfully, he may not have said it like that at all. I was so rattled about why Coach was calling me. And then to hear that I was getting a scholarship? I was absolutely elated. To me, that scholarship was never about the money. It was all about Coach Stoops and the staff recognizing me for the work I had put in and the contributions I had made to the team. It made me feel like every sprint, bruise and dislocated shoulder was worth it.

In that moment, I flashed back to our meeting during my senior year of high school where he told me, if I worked hard enough, I would earn a scholarship. He held true to his word.

He has a lighter side

We often hear stories about the politics of college athletics and the deceptions that coaches may use during the recruiting process to prevent talent from going elsewhere. Coach Stoops never did that. He told me if I did the right things, if I followed his example of an elite work ethic, that I would get what I deserve. And he gave it to me. He followed through.

People in the media and fans regard Coach Stoops as a business-only type of guy. They say he’s serious and that he doesn’t like to joke or be silly. This is the side the public sees. They see a guy who is serious about his work, and partly because of that, he has been massively successful.

However, players saw different sides of Coach Stoops. Once during my time at OU, the program selected me to be a part of the Sooner Caravan. For those who don’t know, that’s an annual event where fans get to hear straight from coaches and athletes about what to expect for the next season. Usually, there are somewhere around 1,000 people in attendance.

I remember it being Toby Rowland’s first year to take over as the new radio personality for OU football, and he was emcee for the event as well. He asked me a question: What is one story about Coach Stoops you would like to tell? I had not been prepared for this question, and I didn’t come with any story prepared, so one just popped into my head.

When I had been a redshirt freshman, I would sit toward the back of the tight end group during pre-game stretches. Coach Stoops would walk through the rows and columns, shaking everyone’s hand and telling them good luck. He would say, “Good luck, Jermaine. Good luck, Brody,” and so on. But, when he got to me, he would say, “Help us win today, bud.”

Before anyone starts to sympathize or take this as a knock against Coach Stoops, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. I also took it as a challenge. He will know my name by the end of this, I told myself. It was a lesson, and a little drop of hilarity during a time that is often chalked full of tension.

When I told this story at the Caravan event, the crowd erupted in laughter. I looked over at Coach Stoops and, while laughing, he was motioning for the microphone. As someone handed him the microphone, I gulped. He called out to the whole room through chuckles and rounds of laughter, “I know his name!”

It was absolutely hilarious. I hope he knows I wasn’t trying to put him on the spot, but at the same time, the story reflects something very personal about Coach Stoops and the way he ran his program. You get what you earn, and you earn it not just through hard work but also with the time you put in. It’s a value I’ve tried to emulate in my professional life after college.

He taught us valuable lessons

I think I can speak for all of the players when I say Coach Stoops, along with our respective assistant coaches, taught us valuable lessons about work ethic, knowing one’s role, overcoming fears and how to perform under immense amounts of pressure.

The years I spent as a Sooner were some of the most difficult and most fulfilling years of my life. I want to thank Coach Stoops for taking the time to encourage me to chase my dream. I also want to thank him for being a great example of what it means to have a strong work ethic and to always follow through with your word. Being a Sooner was about more than just football. It was about learning how to get out of my own way so that I can be successful.

And I learned that from Coach Stoops.