“Bob Stoops rides away: A look behind the football facade of OU’s winningest coach”

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.”

Royce Young’s “The Leader Inside Russell Westbrook”

The Oklahoma City Thunder has become one of the most premier teams in the NBA since relocating from Seattle in 2008. They’ve made four Western Conference Finals, one NBA Finals and have had two MVP players in just nine years of existence.

And Royce Young has been covering them since day one.

A University of Oklahoma graduate, Young started covering the Thunder when the team first arrived, creating his own blog, dailythunfer.com. Young was eventually noticed by CBS who would hire him as an NBA blogger in 2010, before he took a full-time job at ESPN in 2014 as the Thunder’s sole beat writer.

Today, Young is considered as one of the best in the business at his job.

Young has written many stories over the course of his career, but I asked him specifically over a story he wrote in April of last year called “The Leader Inside Russell Westbrook.” This story took a deep dive into how Westbrook grew as a leader in his first year without Kevin Durant.

“Everybody was talking about the stats and triple-doubles, and I was like there’s more to his MVP campaign, and more about the leadership element,” Young said.

Young took a different angle than most, and knew what he wanted to write months ahead of time.

“It was probably a story we were kicking around March or February,” Young said. “I’m really blessed to have editors at ESPN that are not like traditional editors that are like ‘I want that 700-word story right now’ because I kept telling them I didn’t have enough for it. I wanted it to be a little bit more of a feature type-deal, and they were like alright let’s push it back.”

What made Young’s story unique was the amount of small anecdotes that he had compiled for years about Westbrook. He took the reader inside the locker room, and places most don’t see to create a piece

“A lot of time stories are rattling around in your head, and then a lot of times for me it’s just anecdotes from three years ago that I may just have on my mind and it’s about deploying them at the right moment,” Young said. “In my mind, I’m somewhere the reader’s not. They can watch the game, they can watch the interview, but I’m seeing stuff they don’t get to.”

Over his time covering the Thunder, Young has gotten to know multiple prominent people in the organization such as Nick Collison and assistant general manager Troy Weaver. By having these sources, Young has been able to gain valuable information that most don’t have, giving him the opportunity to write stories like this one.

“The information you have is what’s going to make a great story,” Young said. “A lot of it is just me knowing Russell (Westbrook) for 10 years, and being around him… That’s something I make a point to do, is to observe and really take in scene.”

Young said a lot of the best information comes when you’re not recording or interviewing, but just having a conversation. He also believes to be great a journalist, sometimes you have to be a little over the top.

“To be really good at reporting, you have to be super annoying,” Young said.

This season, the Thunder is one of the most interesting teams in the league, which will make for one of the most important years in Young’s career. Before the season started, he bought a big white board and started writing all of his ideas down

“I want to write the definitive Russell Westbrook fashion story,” Young said with a laugh. “ESPN wants stories that are going to be on the front of the homepage that’s what I hope to do this year.”

Read Young’s full story here: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/19142368/nba-leader-oklahoma-city-thunder-russell-westbrook

Story behind the story — Supriya Sridhar

I talked to Kelli Stacy about a piece she wrote on an OU football player named Jordan Thomas. I’ve known Kelli for a while and knew the high quality of her work. However, she writes about sports, something I have never been very interested in.

The thing that struck me about this piece is that when I read this, I actually cared about football.

The way that the piece is written, the football doesn’t really matter. Yes it is about football, but more importantly, it is about a young man who strives for perfection. That’s a theme that everyone can relate to.

One of the main aspects of the story that I found compelling was the thought process and detail behind each of Jordan’s moves. When I spoke with Kelli about her process of reporting it was evident that she had a presence of mind throughout the reporting process.

Kelli said that the reason she decided to pursue the story was because she knew he was struggling with football. When she asked Jordan he said that the negative feedback didn’t affect him.

She thought that was interesting since it usually affects players mentally. She decided to ask his parents about where he got that confidence from and was able to talk to his dad.

His dad told her about his high school days and about a moment when he was a freshman on varsity and he was about be demoted to the freshman team after not playing well. He was given a make it or break it moment.

Jordan was 14 at that time and Kelli knew that it was something that she needed to look into, connecting it again to the idea of inner confidence. She talked to his high school coach and after spoke with Jordan again, asking him specifics this time.

Throughout this process, She picked up on little things that wouldn’t be evident unless you were thinking of how to paint the picture of a confident perfectionist.

She dived into moments when interviewing where he let his guard down. For example, he began talking about his screen saver. She pushed into that and it became the lede of her story.

With the small details she kept thinking, what is something no one else would have.

She found videos of his plays and made sure to ask about those moments and his feelings about them. She decided to consolidate those feelings by writing them in her own voice helping it make sense to readers.

One of the most impressive things about this story is that Kelli wrote it in 2 ½ days. It shows that intentional reporting is extremely important in feature writing.

Link: http://www.oudaily.com/sports/oklahoma-football-jordan-thomas-used-to-facing-criticism-pressure/article_1ce95002-b51d-11e7-83e5-57dd4a38f180.html

Defining Community One Wardrobe at a Time

Jessi Murray is Oklahoma City’s own Tom Haverford.

On the hit show “Parks and Recreation,” Haverford, a local Pawnee, Indiana, bureaucrat and entrepreneur flipped on the lights to show friends his own rundown, not-even-painted space of his new clothing boutique. Haverford explained his concept of a store where teens can rent high-end clothing for low prices.

Murray lightheartedly watched this scene in her modern, avant-garde apartment in downtown Oklahoma City. In the midst of her laughter, an internal light bulb flipped on: being a fashionista who already sells clothes online, why doesn’t she bring that fictitious concept to life for her friends?

She decided to give the online community of women she helped create through Instagram an in-person space to come together at the soon-to-be-open Library: A Modern Clothing Store.

Murray describes herself as a 23-year-old jack-of-all-trades who is always moving forward, working on new opportunities with an innate drive to achieve her ambitious goals and make friends along the way. She wants other “girl bosses” in Oklahoma City to be connected and support one another through supporting local entrepreneurship.

Library will allow customers to check out items like they would at a traditional library, bringing them back within the month to take out more clothes and customize their wardrobe without breaking a budget. Members will pay $25 a month to get points they can spend on different items. Higher priced items are worth more points, so customers could use their points on a more expensive item, like a BCBG dress, or a few lower-priced items, like off-brand t-shirts.

Selling clothes on Instagram

Murray has 5,400 followers on her personal Instagram account, @xjessimurrayx, where she posts photos of herself carefully posed in almost exclusively black clothing, her fringed hair dyed red and oversized sunglasses, all of which she says defines her personal style.  

Since she was a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma in 2013, Murray has also used Instagram to market clothes she sells from her own wardrobe. She started to hone in on her own personal style and wanted to edit her closet and make money doing it. In the past three years Murray realized that she could help others find their own personal style, so she began offering styling services as well as lifestyle photography sessions.

Hilarie Salamone became a customer and friend of Murray’s when she bought a pair of shoes from her on Instagram. Salamone now finds that Murray pushes her to try pieces she has never tried before and she knows that Murray is honest just wants women to look and feel their best in clothing.

She and her husband, Kris Murray, will open a storefront for Library by the end of November in the lower-level space of Spark Creative, the Murrays’ marketing company in Oklahoma City’s Midtown district. Murray hopes she can bridge the gap between those who shop online and those who like to shop in store. If customers see an item they want on Library OKC’s Instagram, they can come into the store, try on the item and take it home. Or, they can buy from Murray through direct messaging on Instagram and have it shipped to their address.

The space will feel inclusive

From selling her clothes on Instagram to a diverse group of women, Murray wants her store to feel inclusive as a space for everyone.

“I want to run a business, but I also want to create a community of women that all become friends because, to me, one of the highest compliments is when somebody goes ‘I love what you’re wearing, can I borrow that?’ So, I wanted all sizes [of women] to feel included, but it’s hard to shop for people who aren’t your size,” Murray said.

She takes friends with her to shop at various local thrift stores for clothes that will fit different body types. Then, she photographs them in the clothes and posts weekly to the Library OKC Instagram account, @libraryokc. Murray has over 4,000 followers on the account who she hopes will help the storefront become successful in the next few months.

Kris Murray sees many of her followers as quality friends she was able to make through online connections that she may not have met in real life.

“She’s found it kind of fun through Instagram [to be] able to connect people together and she feels like it would be a fun thing to make a space where people can hang out,” he said.

Salamone is very excited for Library’s opening. She thinks it is important to have the option to go into a store and try on items while having Murray help with styling. Salamone has already experienced the community and friendship Murray has brought to her, so she is hopeful that others will get to meet her through the store as well.

“She’s so good at bringing people together. She is always pouring into someone else and encouraging someone else to go and chase their dreams or dominate whatever they’re doing. It’s never about ‘how far can I get,’ but ‘how can I do something for you,’ which I love about her,” said Salamone.

Hard work pays off

Murray keeps up with her photography, while also working as the director of digital marketing at Spark Creative, which leaves less time to prepare for the store’s opening. She tries to split her time as evenly as she can, which Kris Murray said includes her waking up early and working late into the night editing photos, spending as much time as she can with their tiny Chihuahua Zara, named after her favorite clothing store and who can be seen posing in many of her Instagram photos.

I feel like I work a lot. I am stressed out a lot, but starting something new is always stressful so it’s worth it,” said Jessi Murray.

Kris Murray thinks that while many young people have big dreams, few have the drive to figure out how to make them happen and become reality. He said she always follows through when she puts her mind to something. Murray works hard not only for herself, but also for the community she is working to create.

“I think just [my customers] are looking for unique clothes and aren’t trying to just look like everybody else and aren’t trying to spend a ridiculous amount of money to look nice because I don’t think anybody should have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to look nice,” said Murray

The future for Library OKC

Due to the November opening date being near the holiday season, Murray expects the store to do well initially. In the next few years, she hopes to move the store out of the Spark Creative offices and to its own location.

“Eventually, it would be fantastic if I could also expand into menswear as well because I think there’s a need for that. And then multiple locations would be awesome, but that’s dreaming real big,” she said.

So far, big dreams have not stopped Murray from pursuing new ventures, and being surrounded by eager and helpful friends and family make those dreams possible. “Asking for help isn’t hard when you’re surrounded by such helpful and loving people,” she said.

Bob Stoops living his best life

Nov. 11, 2017 marks 154 days since Bob Stoops announced his decision to walk away from coaching football. Since then, he’s been living a life he’s not used to, a life he’s always imagined.

He doesn’t have to worry about beating Texas, or capturing an 11th Big 12 title, or making the College Football Playoff. Today, those who know him say, all Stoops is worried about is his golf swing and perfecting his homemade pizza recipe.

“I’m just trying to get through this day,” Stoops said at his retirement press conference in June. He declined to comment for this story. “I do not have a plan… It’s little bit frightening definitely, but I’m really a spiritual person and believe until you open yourself up to something you don’t know what the opportunities are. We’ll see what might flow my way.”

A husband to one, a father to three and a friend to many, Stoops has enjoyed his 154 days of retirement, spending it the only way he knows how — with family and friends.

“This is a guy that has built his life around his family, not around football,” University of Oklahoma Dean of Students and one of Stoops’ closest friends Clarke Stroud said. “That’s something Bob’s always tried to do, is to make sure he’s got that balance. Family is his number one.”

What follows is a recounting of some highlights of Stoops’ first few months of retirement and the stressful and busy life he left behind:

DAY 1: Reflection

Twenty-four hours after addressing his shocking retirement, Stoops found himself on a beach in Florida with his wife, Carol, his good friend and Assistant A.D. of Football Operations Matt McMillen and Matt’s wife, Gina. This wasn’t something new, the Stoops and McMillen families go on vacation every summer, taking a pause from their usually busy schedules to spend time together.

“We’ve done it forever,” McMillen said. “Everything fails in comparison to his family, it’s the most important.”

However, this time it was just the parents, reflecting on a friendship that started in 1989 when McMillen and Stoops met at Kansas State. They shared memories and favorite stories throughout their relationship that week in Florida, not wondering what was next for the two best friends that started their careers in Manhattan, Kansas.

Although McMillen no longer works under Stoops, their strong relationship continues.

“We’re great friends, we were always great friends out of the office,” McMillen said. “I talk to him everyday, and see him most everyday. Nothing’s really changed.”

DAY 18: Sense of humor

Stoops always had a causal relationship when it came to the media. He was professional when he had to be, and friendly when he stepped away from the OU backdrop. He was straightforward, never giving too much information, but just enough to satisfy the reporters.

Eighteen days after his retirement, Stoops found himself in the back of a 30-year old van, talking to two of the most polarizing sports media personalities in the country — Barstool Sports’ Big Cat and PFT Commenter. Known for their hilarious, yet insightful interviews on their No. 1 ranking sports podcast “Pardon My Take” Stoops showed his lighter side during the 30-minute interview.

“I run around with the dean of students, how about that? That’s my guy,” Stoops said jokingly on the podcast as he referred to Stroud, who was with him on the trip. “We may be throwing together a podcast to compete with you guys.”

Stoops talked about anything from Bruce Arians’ Kangol hat to how much sunscreen Steve Spurrier uses. He even threw down the hook’em horns sign with the guys.

“I think he enjoyed it,” McMillen said. “He was a bit more relaxed than he normally would’ve been.”

He was candid with Big Cat and PFT, explaining he had no idea how he was going to spend his retirement.

“I really don’t know,” Stoops told them. “I may come find you guys, I don’t know. I need to ride around in this van… This is sweet.”

https://twitter.com/BarstoolBigCat/status/879320759331676160

DAY 30: Presence missed

As all 10 head coaches gathered at the “Star” in Frisco, Texas for Big 12 Media Days, there was an obvious void felt throughout the Dallas Cowboys facility. For the first time in 18 years, the face of the conference wasn’t present.

“(Stoops) was a tremendous influence on his staff, on his players, on his university over a very long period of time, and he had a tremendous football teams and tremendous football players.” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in his opening remarks at media days. “The Big 12 is poorer for not having Bob Stoops any longer as a head coach in our league.”

Dominating conference play with 10 Big 12 Championships and 121 wins, Stoops was the premier coach of the league.

“He’s been highly successful, and he’s done things the right way,” Kansas State head coach and Stoops’ former boss Bill Snyder said at media days. “I appreciated the way he worked at things, I appreciated his approach to the game. He was a hard-nosed, aggressive player and coached the exact same way.”

While coaches and players reminisced over his legendary career, Stoops was off traveling while his prodige, Lincoln Riley, made his first debut in the spotlight.

“I learned a lot from (Stoops),” Riley said at media days. “He always had a great sense for the pulse of the team. He was very, very good to me in the last several years. Helped me to feel as prepared as I think you could in this position.”

DAY 56: Still around

Almost nothing was different about Oklahoma’s first practice of the 2017-18 season. Same schedule, same drills, same field, same quarterback–even the man in charge was wearing a visor. The only difference was that man in the visor wasn’t Stoops.

It was the first time since 1998 Stoops wasn’t on the practice field as head coach. But Stoops couldn’t stay away, returning to his stomping grounds on only the third day of Sooners’ practice.

“We all get excited,” left tackle Orlando Brown said back in August. “It’s nothing new. He’s not totally in there sitting at films and looking at the defense calling plays. He’s looking at it more from a spectator’s perspective. It’s pretty cool having him there.”

This isn’t the only time he’s made an appearance at practice. In fact, today, Stoops enjoys making regular visits with the team, occasionally sitting in on team meetings or roaming around during drills. He especially enjoys attending the quarterback meetings, something he rarely did as head coach.

“(Stoops) had never done that before,” McMillen said. “He thought that was really interesting to listen to Lincoln (Riley) work with those guys.”

Stoops isn’t around the team near as much, but still comes into the office four or five days a week, working out of a suite on the second floor of the east side of the stadium. He makes subtle appearances, trying to attract as little attention as possible.  

“He tries to be around without being invasive,” McMillen said. “(He’ll) pop in the office, say ‘hi’ to guys here and there. He still has a presence.”

DAY 85: Clarity

Two nights before Oklahoma’s season opener versus UTEP,  Stoops sat in his suite in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, gazing down at Owen Field. He watched as his twin sons, Drake and Isaac, led Norman North to a gripping 49-43 victory over crosstown rival Norman High.

“Can watch it with a clear head,” Stoops said about watching his sons play.

Seniors in high school, Drake and Isaac have grown up as apprentices to a football mastermind. Both plan to play in college, combining for offers from Army, UCO, Ohio and Memphis among others. Despite his hectic schedule, Stoops tried his best to make the majority of their games, missing about half of them due to being on the road worrying about his own team. Now, in their final season, Stoops hasn’t missed a game.

“He doesn’t miss a game, and he can stay for the whole game,” Stroud said.

Today, Stoops has attended all of his sons’ games, sitting in the stands alongside all the other parents. Despite his hectic schedule, Stoops has always been this way, putting his role as a parent above his role as a coach, even if that was driving them to school everyday.

“He took his kids to school, he still managed to get to their games and make sure he was a part of their lives,” Stroud said. “He wanted to be dad. He’s not a celebrity to them, he’s dad.”

DAY 87: New perspective

In a small box with only about six chairs on the west side of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, opposite of his new office, Stoops sat with Carol, watching his successor, Lincoln Riley, lead his former team to a 56-14 win over UTEP.

“We wanted to make it as comfortable to watch the game the way he wanted to watch it,” Castiglione said who arranged for Stoops to have his own space on game day. “If we wanted to cheer, he could yell, he could express himself and there’s no worries because there isn’t anybody there. We’ve made it possible where he could use that box all year long.”

It was an emotional day for Stoops, who had experienced 101 wins on that field. After being in control for 18 years, he found himself in unfamiliar territory, having no impact on the outcome of the game he had been a part of for so long.

“It was hard,” Stroud said, who sat with Stoops and his family for part of the game. “He was watching kids he recruited, he can see everything up there and he knows what’s happening. It was the first time he had been on the other side of it.”

Stoops would break down plays, analyzing every second of the game. He talked to himself Stroud recalled, pointing out moments when players made or missed assignments, but never criticizing how the game itself was called.    

“He’s still emotionally invested in this program and will be for quite sometime,” Castiglione said.

DAY 94: Confirmation

With 11:19 remaining in the game, and Oklahoma leading then-No. 2 Ohio State 17-13 in Columbus, quarterback Baker Mayfield scrambled around the 10-yard line before hitting running back Trey Sermon who bulldozed into the end zone.

Cut to the press box.

Stoops sat to the right of his daughter Mackie and Carol, watching his former team on the verge of completing one of the biggest upsets in program history, confirming he was right that Riley could keep them on the trajectory he created. As Sermon tumbled into the end zone, Stoops stood up, gave two Tiger Woods-esque fist pumps and began clapping furiously as if he had just finished watching Blake Bell hit Jalen Saunders in the back of the end zone to win Bedlam.

https://twitter.com/ESPNCFB/status/906707021138993152

After the 31-16 win, Stoops embraced his former players and coaches, congratulating them on a victory only a few believed would happen. During the game Stoops was calm, enjoying it without the pressure of coaching his team to a win.

“He genuinely took as much joy in seeing the team have that success as anyone did,” Castiglione said who also sat with him during the game.

As Riley walked up the tunnel in Ohio Stadium, Stoops bear-hugged his former offensive coordinator, slapping him on the back as if to say “I knew I made the right choice.”

DAY 122: Distance

As Mayfield’s pass intended for Mark Andrews fell incomplete on 4th and 4, sealing Iowa State’s 38-31 upset victory over Oklahoma in Norman, 1,013 miles northeast, Stoops sat with his son Drake watching Ohio play Central Michigan. Stoops decided to skip the Sooners’ home game that Saturday, traveling to Athens, Ohio, instead for his son’s official visit. He would later find out OU had lost at home, something he had only done nine times in his career, but also something he knows that comes with the job.

“By the time I had spoke to him, he had watched the whole game,” Castiglione said. “He’s still emotionally invested, so he was disappointed like everybody else was.”

It was the first time in 242 games that he wasn’t in attendance when Oklahoma played.

“He understands that those things happen,” McMillen said. “The expectations that we’re going to win every game every year, it’s just not reasonable.”

Typically, a loss like that would leave Stoops stressed for weeks, but not now. A tremendous weight has been lifted off his shoulders, a weight he carried his entire professional life.

“He’s not stressed at all,” Stroud said about Stoops’ retirement so far. “You could tell when things were weighing on him, but now he’s really enjoying life. He doesn’t have the worries or the concern of ‘Oh God, I should be doing this, instead of doing this.’”

DAY 143: There’s a first for everything

The past 18 years, Stoops spent most of his weekends patrolling Oklahoma’s sideline. This weekend, he experienced a whole new perspective.

As the halftime festivities began during OU’s match up with Texas Tech, The Pride formed the name “STOOPS” across Owen Field. Stoops and his wife rode around the stadium in the back of a golf cart, waving to a standing ovation. Earlier that day, Stoops served as a grand marshal in the homecoming parade, riding in the back of a horse-drawn carriage down Boyd Street. Twenty-four hours before that, Stoops was an honorary participant in Oklahoma’s Class of 2018 ring ceremony.

“I’ve never been to a ring ceremony, I’ve never been to a parade,” Stoops said with a laugh. “It’s just all so different.”

For the first time in awhile, Stoops was in the spotlight. He never enjoyed being the center of attention while coaching, in fact he hated it according to Stroud. He gave all the glory to his players in victory, and took all the blame in defeat.

“He was very moved, very humbled, very grateful, and I say this for both he and Carol, for being chosen as grand marshals for homecoming,” Castiglione said. “But at the same time he didn’t look for that attention… He’s perfectly happy letting everybody else have the spotlight.”

Current: Home

Today, Stoops can be found doing many things. Occasionally you can find him in his kitchen cooking his famous homemade pizza, some days you can find him at Pepe Delgado’s on Campus Corner eating lunch with two of his closest friends, Stroud and McMillen, and other days you’ll find him on the 18th green at Jimmie Austin practicing his short game.

He’s spending his time relaxing, but also keeping busy.

“It’s too different, too strange,” Stoops said at the ring ceremony. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’m perfectly content with my decision. It’s too early to enjoy it.”

With coaching searches starting to ramp up, many have began to link Stoops to a host of jobs including Nebraska, Tennessee and Florida. He’s iterated over and over he has no intentions of coaching again, but still his name comes up.

“I don’t see him going anywhere,” Stroud said. “He’s got his house here. This is where he’s made his home for almost two decades.”

Stoops still claims he has no idea what he will do in the future. Maybe he’ll become a gourmet chef or coach middle school basketball like he’s always said he would. For now, he’ll continue to work for the university that he’s spent half his career with.

“He might tell you that he’s played a lot more golf than he’s ever been able to play,” Castiglione said. “There are so many ways that we are grateful for Bob, so many ways that he’s been an enormous influence on so many good things here… To try and predict what’s next, it would be pure guess-work.”

No matter what Stoops does for the rest of his retirement, his legacy in Norman will always be remembered.

“That south end zone,” Stroud said. “That’s the house that Bob built.”

Hoping to Win the Bigger Battle

Jake Johns was a freshman when he received a call that would change his and his family’s lives forever. He was at OU’s Relay for Life event in April of 2016 when he was told by his immediate family his dad was diagnosed with cancer.

“Hearing the word cancer is something you hope you never hear. I was honestly shocked”, Johns said of his reaction to learning of his dad’s sickness. The path Johns had with his family’s upcoming battle ran side by side with his relationship with Relay for Life.

Jake had a bond with his father Ray Johns that was unbreakable. Their relationship had formed through spending hours together fishing in upstate New York and countless whiffle ball swings in the backyard. The Johns’ family moved to the affluent Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park from Connecticut when he was in middle school. It was his father who helped him get through some difficult times during this process.

“He was there when I had trouble with school, sports, grades or girls and was behind me when I was succeeding in every aspect of my life”. The elder Johns like using negative moments as teaching points for Jake and his younger brother, Sam.

“He constantly would get on me about being a gentleman and doing the right thing. He made sure I was growing up to be the best person that I could be”. So as Jake Johns was less than a year removed from seeing his dad in the stands at sporting events, he was left in shock that his role model had been diagnosed with a disease that has taken so many before him.

It was at the beginning of Jake’s sophomore year, that his dad’s health began to really decline, due to his blood cancer. Before this, he’d been confident that everything would work out, as his father and the rest of his family remained in high spirits.

After returning home every weekend in August and part of September of his sophomore year, the already dreary outlook took an even worse turn. When the previously positive doctors started to worry, the older Johns son realized that things weren’t well.

“He had fallen into a coma and was on a ventilator the last couple weeks of his life. When the doctors told my family to prepare for the worst, that’s when it really hit me”, Jake said. “We were all around his bed and got to watch him take his final breath, which was an experience I would never trade away”. Ray Johns passed away on September 18, 2016.

Preceding the death, Jake had dealt with the horrible situation remarkably well, according to friends. He didn’t cry once during his dad’s battle with the deathly disease.

“Jake was really tough about the situation. He handled the situation about as well as you could imagine”, said Justin Reinking, a friend and pledge brother of Johns. But following Ray Johns’ passing, his son was left questioning everything.

“I didn’t understand why it had to happen to our family”. Jake was angry that he would never be able to create more memories with his hero. They wouldn’t be able to fly fish together in New York anymore, or play catch in the front yard.

Knowing how losing someone close to him impacted him, the Texan wanted a way of sharing his story and helping others cope with losing loved ones. This is where things came full circle between Jake and Relay for Life.

Relay for Life is a nation wide event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Participants walk around a track for hours at a time, to signify that “cancer never sleeps”. Often times, those involve walk in honor of someone who is fighting or who fought cancer. Jake became a member of the Relay executive committee and wanted to use the organization as a way to help others who are experiencing similar pains and emotions to what he dealt with.

“I want to continue to be a source of comfort for those who are struggling and coping with a loss of a loved one. I understand what it is like and want to be there and give back to those directly affected”, said the current OU junior. The relationships that he’s made through the organization, alone, have helped with the closure process.

Ending cancer is his ultimate goal, however. He understands how difficult and far off this may be. But he has confidence in the organization which he’d shared his emotions.

“My goal in Relay is to ideally cure cancer for good. Although that is a far shot, I want to do everything in my power to raise as much money as possible”. In 2016, Jake helped OU’s Relay for Life raise over 200 thousand dollars for the American Cancer Society.

“Jake has really turned what was a bad situation, into a positive. He really wants to fight cancer and he uses Relay for Life as his platform to do that. He doesn’t want others to go through what he did. This is something he is really passionate about. He really wants to help others out and I respect the hell out of that”, said Reinking.

Through both financial and emotional support, those same people who surrounded Jake Johns when his phone rang with the devastating news about his dad in April 2016 are now the ones helping him with his fight to end the disease that killed his father.

“I’m still mad about that I had to lose my dad so early. But instead of complaining about it and letting it ruin my life, I want to use it as a motivation to cure cancer. Relay for Life has given me that opportunity. I don’t know if I’d be in as good of a state right now if it weren’t for Relay. It’s really helped me recover”, Johns said. This is a battle that seems far from being defeated, but it will take people like Jake Johns to make it a possibility.

Human Interest: Kelly Edwards: The Person behind the Camera

She was exhausted with eyelids tinted a dark purple. She carried lines across her face like experience from years of emotion—laughter, anger, remorse and forgiveness. Her children were seated adjacent to her as she slightly scolded them for misbehaving, but never a moment’s passing without love.

Kelly Dawn Edwards, 49, was an aspiring photographer that tirelessly tried to capture the essence of human emotion. She had raised 10 children—both biological and foster—and faced the horrors of an abusive marriage, while balancing coursework with her career.

Each morning when dawn approached, Edwards would awake the same as the day before: at 5 a.m. ready for the day ahead. She would wake up her children for daycare, so that she could drive an hour out for classes. And finally, she would spend the afternoon in classes and the evening at work.

“Sometimes, I’m just tired. I’m thankful they go to bed at 8 o’clock, so I can do some of my homework, but it’s difficult at times,” said Edwards, Visual Communications student photographer and single mother. “I am so horribly busy right now that I’ll edit for school and then stop. I’ve owed people pictures for months or years, because I only have time to edit for one assignment and then I have move on to my next one, if I want to finish my coursework.”

Midwife and Medicine

Originally a midwife, Edwards specialized in homebirths before she moved toward portraitures and other photography. Her passion stemmed from the moment her neighbor’s water broke, which sparked her career into delivering children.

“When you attend a birth, they may forget whether their mom was there or their mother-in-law; they may forget certain aspects in their delivery, but they don’t forget who helped them the most,” said Edwards. “It was a huge honor. They were absolutely humbling experiences because people never forget you.”

Through the years of delivering children, she said she loved the professional labor support she gave women to smooth the labor process of homebirths. It was not until 25-years later that she divorced her husband and decided medicine was her calling.

She declared pre-med as her major before she was confronted by her father. Her father, at the time sick with Alzheimer’s disease, asked her whether she was happy in medicine.

“At first I shrugged it off, but he stopped me again and asked me if I were truly happy. I had to re-evaluate everything,” said Edwards. “I didn’t want to be called at 3 a.m. to deliver someone’s baby. I’ve done that for too long.”

From the First Shot

She began her studies at Tulsa Community College and discovered her passion for photography on a trip to Ireland for an English course. Her photography started as a means of documenting her trip, but after showing her colleagues the photos she shot, they said she should consider taking up photography as a career.

“When we had that trip back in 2013, we had a discussion because she was on the fence of whether she should go to school for medicine or photography,” said Sloan Davis, an assistant professor in English at Tulsa Community College and now friend of Edwards. “She kept showing me these photos that she took and I thought ‘man, you’re really talented,’ you need to follow your heart—that was the advice I gave her.”

Edward said she promised her friends and colleagues that she would take a photography course. After receiving more affirmation from her colleagues in the course, she said once she won a scholarship for one of the images she featured, she thought she should “just go for it.” She then applied to the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) for a degree in Visual Communications with an emphasis on photography.

“She not only understands how the camera works, but she has an eye for it, and I don’t know if you can teach that. She sees a lot of things that most people don’t see, and then she captures it,” said Davis. “It’s like telling a story in her photos. She’s always catching some kind of narrative that most people might not see, depending on the angle and depending on the post-production of the photo.”

Her Closure via Photography

Edwards spent years meddling in different styles of photography for various organizations, and found that she loved portraiture. She said she loves to capture human emotion in her photography and spent many hours perfecting her techniques on capturing all ranges of emotion.

“I like to take a photo of somebody and make it into something that tells their story—telling someone’s story in a way that is not necessarily wedding photography,” said Edwards. “That’s what I want to do. That’s how I express myself.”

She defined her work on her ability to capture the intimacy of emotion, especially her emotions in a series of photos about her divorce with her abusive husband. Through her tears, she said the series was a pivotal moment in finding closure in ending the 25-year-long marriage.

“It [the series] was very hard to do, just having to relive those emotions. I learned that I haven’t forgiven him yet, when verbally I said that I forgave him,” said Edwards. “Going through all those emotions, and realizing that I hadn’t was eye-opening for me and painful for me. It was like, ‘F**k, I’m not over this yet. It was self-revealing, if anything.”

After she finished the project, she said she had released the weight she had carried from the darkest moments of her life. She said it felt freeing and her personal journey was the most intimate project she had ever traversed.

“I think all of our experiences, whether good or bad, make us who we are. I do the best that I can every day,” said Edwards. “Had I not been able to forgive, I don’t know who I would be.”

Moving Forward as a Single Mother

Edwards continued to balance her career, her social life, her family and her coursework through her daily obstacles as a single mother. She said she had difficulty building new relationships with those around her and sometimes with parenting her children.

“It’s a little difficult at times and sometimes I get a little serious for too long. As a single mom, all of those expectations that your family has for you and everyone else has for you, makes it difficult to ask for help,” said Edwards.

Edwards said her goal was helping others and to live her life through love. She said she believes that if she did not help others, she could not survive. She wanted to forgive others for their mistakes and find inspiration in herself, through her work, and through her family.

“When I die, the thing that I want people to say about me is that I was the most-loving person, that I was always there for people—to be kind and loving and always walking love,” said Edwards. “I strive to walk the line of love, despite being angry or tired sometimes.”

Edwards is continuing her studies and in the process of officially adopting her grandsons. She is working toward piecing together her portfolio as well as working toward featuring more of her photography in art shows and galleries.

“She is one of the most astounding people I have ever worked with. She is like my second mother,” said Mia Riddle, student filmmaker and photographer. “We work together. She helps push me into film and photography. I always think: if she can handle everything life has thrown at her, so can I.”