tampabay.com

Orange Bowl: Stoops has made AD look good

By BOB HARIG
Published January 2, 2005


FORT LAUDERDALE - Bob Stoops feels fortunate to be the coach at Oklahoma. He believes athletic director Joe Castiglione took a chance hiring him before the 1999 season.

Stoops, after all, had no head coaching experience. And a team that had ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense could be excused for passing on a defensive coach. Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida.

But Stoops was hired, and the rest is history. The Sooners won a national title in 2000, lost in the title game to LSU last season and have another shot at a championship in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium against USC.

Nobody would be taking a chance on Stoops now.

Florida wanted him when Steve Spurrier left the school after the 2001 season. Stoops had to repeatedly say he wasn't interested in the job after Ron Zook was fired in October. And there is the chance the NFL will one day come calling, a scenario Stoops does not dismiss.

"I think there is a time for everything, if you get those opportunities," Stoops said. "And somewhere down the line, that may be for me. It's just hard to say never or always. Right now, I feel too great about what we're doing at Oklahoma."

Stoops, 44, is 55-10, 3-1 in bowls. He has that 2000 national title, three Big 12 titles in four appearances and two of the longest winning streaks in Sooners history: 20 games from 2000-01 and 14 from 2002-03.

NO WORRIES: If the game comes down to a kick, Stoops has no problem sending out Garrett Hartley to try it. Even though he has never attempted a field goal in a college game.

The freshman won the kicking job in the last game. He took over for junior Trey DiCarlo, who is 8-for-16 on field goals. Hartley has made 6 of 6 extra points.

"I have no problem with it," Stoops said. "He'll go in there, and I have great confidence he'll put it right through."

1 VS. 2 AGAIN: USC and Oklahoma have met before as Nos.1 and 2. In 1981, No. 1 USC defeated No. 2 Oklahoma 28-24 in a September matchup at the L.A. Coliseum. USC scored the winning touchdown with two seconds left.

SHAQ'S EVERYWHERE: Shaquille O'Neal is a hard man to miss, and he hasn't tried to hide. The Miami Heat center has been all over South Florida and will take part in the national championship game, too.

He was the grand marshal of Fort Lauderdale's Winterfest boat parade and will be the grand marshal of Miami's Three Kings Parade. Tuesday, he will handle the pregame coin flip at Pro Player Stadium.

COULD BE WORSE: Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables could not stop talking about all the USC offensive players there are to defend. There is Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart and explosive Reggie Bush and powerful LenDale White in the backfield.

Then there's speedy receiver Steve Smith and deep threat Dwayne Jarrett.

Imagine, he was asked, what it would be like if the Trojans had Mike Williams. The receiver from Tampa was not cleared to play by the NCAA this season.

"Wow, that's a scary thought," Venables said. "Actually, it's sickening."