When Bob Stoops was asked this week whether he was surprised when Bill Snyder returned to the sidelines almost four years ago, the former Kansas State assistant had two answers.
“Yes and no,” said the Oklahoma head coach, who served on Snyder’s staff from 1989-95. “I know Coach. I know when he retired he was ready for it. He doesn’t do anything without thought, but then again, I know how much he loves the game and the preparation and the coaching that when he was back — that didn’t surprise me. Coach is a great competitor and he’s a great coach.”
On Saturday, the former mentor and pupil will meet again for a 7 p.m. kickoff in Norman, Okla., televised nationally on FOX.
Much is on the line again for K-State and Oklahoma this season, as both enter their Big 12 opener undefeated and ranked in the top 15.
K-State (3-0) is coming off a 35-21 victory last week against North Texas, while the Sooners (2-0) have had two weeks to prepare for the Wildcats and a game that could go a long way in deciding the league champion this year.
Saturday’s game will also be the first chance the Wildcats have had to erase their second-half dud against the Sooners last season in Manhattan. OU charged out to a 23-17 halftime lead in that game a year ago before totally running away with the game in the second half by scoring 35 unanswered points for a 58-17 win.
“You can’t let one team beat you twice,” Snyder said this week. “The performance against North Texas is behind us, the performance a year ago in the second half with Oklahoma, that’s behind us. You learn from the mistakes and move on. It doesn’t mean that they won’t watch the ballgame from last year, but you can’t let your emotions run away with you in regards to something that happened in the past.”
But when these two teams meet, it’s the past that people always seem to go back to.
After all, it is Snyder vs. Stoops — two coaches that go back to their days at Iowa together when Snyder was an assistant and Stoops was a player. That past also includes six years Stoops spent on Snyder’s staff at K-State and a raiding of that staff in 1998 when Mark Mangino, Mike Stoops and Brent Venables left Manhattan for jobs at OU.
And that long history includes perhaps the greatest win in K-State history — the lone win Snyder has over Stoops — when the Wildcats shocked the top-ranked Sooners 35-7 in the 2003 Big Championship Game in Kansas City, Mo.
But despite that game, the series between Stoops and Snyder has been one-sided with Stoops owning a 7-1 head-to-head record over his mentor. And while K-State has had its share of success after Stoops left K-State in 1995, what the former Hawkeye defensive back has done at OU has been nothing short of remarkable.
Stoops owns a 141-34 record in 14 years at Oklahoma, including a 78-3 mark at home during that time.
Snyder knew his former assistant could be a special head coach someday.
“I knew that before Bob came here,” Snyder said. “We had him as a player at the University of Iowa, and I loved his competitive nature. I knew his father well, and he was heavily invested as a high school football coach, one of the most successful in the state of Ohio. It was just a family venture. All the brothers are heavily involved in football across the country. It was easy. I knew that he would be a great addition to our staff, and he certainly was.”
Snyder said what Stoops has built at Oklahoma didn’t come easy, either, despite the already-rich tradition the Sooners had long before Stoops arrived in 1999.
“It’s so easy for people to say it’s Oklahoma and they have 20 acres of national championships, but just because it’s been done in the past has no bearing on whether it can be done presently or in the future,” Snyder said.
“So, what Bobby has been able to accomplish there really is special because your program has to prove itself year in and year out, as you well know. That’s not an easy task, no matter where you’re at.”
But perhaps no coaching job was more difficult than the task facing Snyder when he arrived in Manhattan in 1989 — with Stoops by his side.
During Big 12 Media Days four years ago, Stoops recalled exactly what it was like that first spring at K-State.
“I bet we had 45 guys in the room,” Stoops said. “We had four total D-linemen — two of them were non-scholarshiped and that’s D-ends and D-linemen. We had four guys for four positions.
“We would be practicing team sessions and we’d have to stop and take five-minute breaks to hose them off and get some water — and the rest of the team would just stand around. That’s how bad it was. We didn’t have anyone to practice with.”
And this week, when asked if he thought K-State could be turned into a winner way back then, Stoops said he had no doubt it could happen, someday.
“I was naïve and probably (it was) good that I was,” he said. “I never thought for a minute we wouldn’t win. But who am I? I was 10 years at Iowa with Coach Snyder and Coach (Hayden) Fry and they changed the program that had 17 years of losing seasons, to where we were in the Rose Bowl and bowl games my last two seasons of playing, and then as a coach.
“It never entered my mind we wouldn’t win.”