I plan on starting a small series on college football. This particular entry is about the University of Oklahoma (OU) Sooners.  I am not a fan of the Sooners, so hopefully the weight of my argument comes across with a little more objectivity.

When I started my job in September 2012, one of my co-workers was convinced that OU needed to fire Bob Stoops and hire some up and coming coach.  He was disappointed with the blowout loss to Notre Dame in a home game where OU’s pursuit of a national championship had been dashed yet again.  To be fair, the three seasons preceding 2012 are the worst 3 consecutive seasons of Bob Stoops career.  These sentiments were shared by a few other co-workers and friends on Facebook.

This is one of the funniest things for me as I have always seen Bob Stoops as the one of the best college coaches in the game.  For a big school, he runs one of the cleanest programs.  Whenever OU has violated NCAA regulations, under his leadership, they have turned themselves in and removed the players in violation.  This is huge difference from the Sooners’ beloved Barry Switzer who in his own autobiography admits to several recruiting violations.  Also, Switzer barely slapped the wrists of his own players.  Stoops, on the other hand, cut ties with his starting quarterback for a minor violation.

As one who generally cheers for Stoops’ opponents, mainly the University of Texas, I find it completely absurd to get rid of, statistically, the best coach in OU’s history.  Stoops?  The best coach in OU’s history?  Over Barry?  Over Bud?  That is my argument here.

To give some more perspective, I figured we should throw in the coaches in between Switzer and Stoops – Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger, and John Blake – as well as the coach who preceded Switzer, Chuck Fairbanks.  I believe it is important to set the surrounding circumstances to which the coaches were hired makes a huge difference for analyzing the coaches as well.  Wilkinson and Switzer were both hired under stable programs.  Switzer and Gibbs were hired in the midst of NCAA sanctions.  Fairbanks, Schnellenberger, Blake, and Stoops were hired with the football program in shambles.

Also, the eras that each coached in were completely different.  Bud coached at a time where bowls were not common, so comparing bowl victories are not very important.  Up until about 3 years ago, the Big XII conference has always had a championship game.  This affects things under Bob Stoops’ tenure that never affected either Wilkinson or Switzer.  Conference championship games, particularly in the Big XII, have affected the national championship picture more than about any other factor since the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) came into being.  To a smaller degree, Stoops never had the opportunity to end a game in a tie.  However he did coach OU in 3 overtimes with a 2-1 record, his only loss being the Boise State BCS game.

The BCS itself has also changed the college football landscape, as will the new playoff that starts next season.  Before the BCS, there was rarely (if ever) a true national championship game pitting the number 1 team against the number 2 team.  All of the national championships prior to the BCS are what I would like to call mythical.  It is constantly debated who the best team is in any given season.  Even the BCS did not always quell the mythical championship seasons, but it did put number 1 versus number 2.

Anyways, here are some of the stats I was able to pull up.

Coach Years Games Record Final Top 25 Bowl Record Conference Championships National Championships
Bud Wilkinson 17 178 145-29-4 15 6-2[1] 14 3
Chuck Fairbanks 6 68 49-18-1 5 3-1-1 3 0
Barry Switzer 16 190 157-29-4 15 8-5[2] 12 3
Gary Gibbs 6 69 44-23-2 3 2-1 0 0
Schnellenberger 1 11 5-5-1 0 0-0 0 0
John Blake 3 34 12-22 0 0-0 0 0
Bob Stoops 15 199 160-39[3] 14 8-7[4] 8 1

Stoops has the most wins as well as the most losses as an OU coach.  However, every season he has coached had more games.  He is the only coach to average over ten wins a season.  Only three times has he not won ten games in a season.

Switzer wins in conference ranks because he never finished worst than 2nd.  Stoops finished tied for 3rd in his division twice.  In the ten years between Switzer and Stoops, OU only finished 2nd in conference once (when OU was in the Big 8) and finished no higher than 4th in the Big XII.

Wilkinson and Switzer are tied for three national championships each, but Stoops has brought OU to the BCS National Championship game four times.  Assuming OU doesn’t implode next year, Stoops will also tie the big two in top 25 finishes with 15.

With these stats alone, it is easy to proclaim Wilkinson and Switzer the best coaches.  But to caveat, the 6 seasons preceding Switzer are pretty darn good at 49-18-1 (with players he helped recruit), whereas the 6 seasons preceding Stoops, the Sooners managed a 32-36-1 record, buffered mostly by Gibbs’ 15-9 final two seasons.  Schnellenberger and Blake left a legacy of a 17-27-1 record.

Where the stats start to get really interesting:

Coach Worst 3 Seasons Worst 3 Consecutive Seasons Best 3 Seasons Best 3 Consecutive Seasons
Bud Wilkinson 15-14-1 15-14-1 32-0 31-0
Fairbanks 20-12-1 20-12-1 32-3 29-6-1
Barry Switzer 23-12-1 23-12-1 32-1-1 32-1-1
Gary Gibbs 18-14-2 20-13-2 26-9 24-10
John Blake 12-22 12-22 12-22 12-22
Bob Stoops 23-14 30-10 37-3 36-4

If we take out Blake, Wilkinson is by far the best and worst coach on his three best and worst seasons.  When you figure that Wilkinson, Fairbanks and Switzer all had their three worst seasons consecutively, Stoops comes out on top.  No matter how you slice it, Stoops’ program could not stay down after one bad season.  With the parity that has spread over power conference football, this makes Stoops’ achievement all the more amazing.  This next table will show why.

Coach Vs. Rivals Vs. Texas Vs. OSU Vs. Nebraska Vs. Colorado
Wilkinson 51-13-1 9-8 17-0 14-3 11-2-1
Fairbanks 13-9 2-4 6-0 3-3 4-2
Switzer 50-17-2 9-5-2 15-1 11-5 15-1
Gibbs 7-15-1 1-5 5-0-1 1-5 0-5-1
Schnellenberger 0-3-1 0-0-1 0-1 0-1 0-1
Blake 2-10 1-2 1-2 0-3 0-3
Stoops 33-13 9-6 12-3 6-2 6-2

Against the traditional Big 8 rivals and Texas, Stoops holds his own with both Wilkinson and Switzer.

Maybe I was a bit grandiose in saying that Stoops is the best football coach in OU’s history, but he is right there among the top.  Save for Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, there is not a consistently better coach in college football right now.  Even as a Texas fan, it is hard not to respect Stoops.

[1] Wilkinson coached during a time when bowls were rare.

[2] During Switzer’s first two years, OU was banned from bowls for two years.  There is dispute whether the sanctions were in place because of Fairbanks or Switzer.  Despite that, Switzer won one national championship during those two years and probably deserved another.

[3] Stoops’ overtime record of 2-1.  If games ended in regulation, Stoops’ record would technically 158-38-3.  This would still make him OU’s all-time wins.

[4] This could be contested because the USC Trojans had to vacate their 2004 National Championship game against OU.  The final polls 2nd place was Auburn who was also undefeated that year.