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Bob Stoops’ one huge failure at Oklahoma

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FedEx BCS Head Coaches Press Conference Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

The Bill Parcells quote is: “You are what your record says you are.” Bob Stoops retired yesterday after achieving real, genuine football greatness at Oklahoma. His record in 17 seasons was 190-48, with a national title and 10 Big 12 titles to his name. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest football coaches of his generation.

Also, while he was at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops botched multiple cases involving violence against women involving players at the University of Oklahoma, and set an awful example by doing so for the university and the sport as a whole.

In spring of 2014, Stoops recruited transfer Dorial Green-Beckham, a wide receiver dismissed from Missouri a week after allegedly pushing a woman down stairs in a domestic violence and burglary incident. Police ultimately closed the case, “citing reluctant witnesses fearing retaliation.” Green-Beckhan went on to lose his appeal for an immediate year of eligibility, and opted to enter the 2015 NFL draft instead. Still, the offer alone was enough to draw fire, most notably from a standing United States Senator.

Stoops also welcomed back linebacker Frank Shannon in 2015, despite Shannon having been found to have committed sexual misconduct in January 2014 by Oklahoma’s own Title IX investigation. Shannon was suspended from team activities in April of 2014 after news of the investigation broke. No criminal charges were ever pressed against Shannon. However, in August of 2014, after Oklahoma’s Title IX investigation recommended expulsion for Shannon, the school’s administration settled on a year's suspension after hearing Shannon’s appeal in the case. On Shannon’s return, Stoops let him back on the team to play in 12 games in 2015.

These two incidents could be considered coincidental. However, they escalate up to the biggest failure for Stoops at OU: The case of Joe Mixon. Stoops played a huge role in ensuring that Mixon, who was arrested after punching a woman in the face in July of 2014, remained on the team after a year’s suspension. Stoops made this decision despite there being no doubt Mixon was guilty thanks to a brutal video of the incident that he, university president David Boren, and athletic director Joe Castiglione watched on Aug. 18, 2014. (After a long legal struggle, the video was finally made public in December of 2016.) Mixon eventually plead out in the case, and returned after suspension to play with the team in 2015 and 2016.

In summary: Stoops handled a player accused of domestic violence, a player the school found responsible for sexual misconduct, and a player who punched a woman on tape the same way — they were all allowed to remain or invited onto the roster at Oklahoma. In Green-Beckham’s case, Oklahoma supported a failed appeal to make him eligible to play immediately on transfer. In both the Shannon and Mixon cases, a year’s suspension was deemed sufficient punishment.

In all three cases, Stoops engaged in a pattern of behavior—one that could have suggested to a neutral observer that no incident involving violence against women would result in permanent removal from the team.

A young, inexperienced coach did not make these decisions. By the time Mixon punched Amelia Monitor in 2014, Stoops had been the head coach at Oklahoma for over 15 years. He was not feeling out a discipline process, or making a rookie mistake, or unfamiliar with the processes surrounding player arrests. He knew how it all worked.

In all three cases, Stoops chose the player. Even after the Mixon incident, Stoops and Oklahoma still offered JUCO wide receiver Dede Westbrook a scholarship in November of 2014. In December 2016, Westbrook was found by the Tulsa World to have two misdemeanor arrests for domestic violence predating his arrival in Norman. When asked about the arrests, Stoops said he was not aware of them even after a standard background check was run on Westbrook during the recruiting process.

There will be many glowing, heartwarming capstones placed on Stoops’ career. They are not totally inaccurate: Bob Stoops walked with his players during anti-racism protests in 2015, and he did and still does charity work in his community above and beyond what most football coaches would consider necessary. His assistants always praised his insistence on his coaches having a family life, something many coaches struggle to even conceptualize, much less work into the schedule as a priority.

Stoops is also known for being a good quote when he wants to be. Much of the time, he can be brutally honest with reporters and his players. Not cruel, or unfair, or even brusque, but honest.

Anyone properly summing up his career should return the favor. When writing the full account of his long tenure as the head coach at Oklahoma, note that Stoops failed. Like Tom Osborne at Nebraska before him, Stoops failed badly when confronted with violence against women.

That should always be part of his story. Writing it through in the name of tribute would not just be dishonesty, but a disservice to the victims of those incidents, and to everyone working to change cultures and institutions within college athletics that often make heinously negligent allowances for athletes committing violence against women. Stoops was a failure as a leader at OU when it came to the issue of violence against women. His record is what it says it is, and even Stoops has sort of admitted to regretting that.

It’s also necessary to remind people of it because it will try to disappear — something people in the media and college athletics will be more than happy to help along. The memory hole for coaches’ failures off the field is real, especially for someone as successful and generally beloved in his community as Bob Stoops. It’s not just that people will forget; they will sometimes not even attempt to write things as they actually happened in the first place.

For example: There are two words that do not appear anywhere in Bob Stoops’ 2,100 word Wikipedia entry, or in his nearly 3,500 word bio on the Oklahoma Sooners website, or in any of the statements from coaches, friends, and other colleagues that rolled out in the wake of his retirement yesterday. Those two words are “Joe” and “Mixon.”