By Abby Bitterman
Bob Stoops was the head coach of Oklahoma’s football team for 18 seasons — starting in 1999 — but, until Aug. 26, 2017, no one had written a definitive profile on him.
Cody Stavenhagen, an OU beat writer for the Tulsa World, found himself not having much to do in May, so he decided to write about the man who no one else had truly been able to capture: “Bob Stoops rides away: A look behind the football facade of OU’s winningest coach.”
Stavenhagen started his reporting with a Google Doc titled “100 people who know Bob Stoops.” He said he maybe got to 31.
His goal was to write it by the end of the summer, and, when Stoops announced his retirement on June 7, he knew it was something he actually needed to do. At the time, Stavenhagen said everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but he tried to step back.
“We’re all going to end up writing the same thing, what can I do to really own this story at the end of day,” Stavenhagen said. “ I try to think about that a lot.”
Despite the story’s increased relevance, Stavenhagen waited until after his vacation to do most of the interviews. He waited for the frenzy to die down, he said, which made it a bit easier.
“It was a good point in his life for his family and his friends to want to talk about him because it was the end of a chapter,” Stavenhagen said. “I think they were a little more comfortable being open about his life and his retirement, so it all worked out really well from that standpoint.”
Stavenhagen said every interview he had was over an hour long, except the one he did with Steve Spurrier, and he was surprised at how candid his sources — his mom, sister and friends — were willing to be with him. There was one source he didn’t get though — Bob Stoops himself. He was actually happy he couldn’t get Stoops though because he thinks other people can talk about a person better than that person might be able to talk about him or herself.
In the story, Stavenhagen writes with a lot of detail — something he generally likes to do — so much so that it feels like he was there in the scenes he’s describing. He said he was able to get this detail by being very upfront with his sources about what he was trying to do. He told them he wanted to use a lot of detail in the story, so that’s what they gave him.
When all the reporting was done, Stavenhagen had more than enough material — so much so he put out a separate story with scenes that didn’t make it in the original feature but that readers might still like. With all that information, he had to figure out how to organize it. It was the most material he’d ever had and transitioned into the longest story he’d ever written.
“It was kind of just me and Microsoft Word and some printed out notes, and I just made it work,” Stavenhagen said.
After doing all of the interviews and reporting, Stavenhagen knew how he wanted to start the story and the order he wanted to tell it in, but he couldn’t figure out how to end the story. He had ideas, but none of them seemed good enough. Then, one day in August as he and other reporters were waiting to go into availability, Stoops drove out of the stadium in a new white car, and as all the beat writers remarked how happy and different he looked as he drove off, Stavenhagen knew he’d found his ending.
“Sometimes if you work hard on a story you get a little lucky,” Stavenhagen said. “And that’s definitely what happened.”