Norman, Okla. — Bob Stoops has never had any interest in leading Oklahoma against any of his brothers who are also in the coaching profession.
There was one exception, though: It would be worth it if there was a championship at stake.
If Stoops and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini aren’t brothers, they’re the next best thing. Stoops grew up playing football with Pelini’s older brother, Vince, at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. Pelini was the teammate of Stoops’ younger brother, Mark. Stoops’ father, Ron, coached the football team.
Over time, the two large families became intertwined and it was only natural that they all got tangled up on the same coaching staffs, too.
On Saturday night, the longtime friends will be on opposite sidelines as Stoops coaches No. 10 Oklahoma (10-2, 6-2 Big 12) against Pelini and No. 13 Nebraska (10-2, 6-2) in the Big 12 championship. So far, they’ve split two games against one another as head coaches. The Sooners won 62-21 in Norman two years ago, then lost, 10-3, at Nebraska last season.
“I never envisioned or had an idea I would be here at Oklahoma or how ironic that Bo would be at Nebraska,” Stoops said. “No, I didn’t growing up ever think that.”
Even in Ohio, Stoops paid attention as a child to the Big Red rivalry that almost always decided the Big Eight champion. Now, he and Pelini will provide its final chapter, at least for a while.
The Cornhuskers will head to the Big Ten next season, dealing the final blow to a rivalry crippled when the teams were placed into opposite divisions in the Big 12 and played only twice every four years instead of annually. Both teams took turns struggling over the course of a decade, preventing any championship meetings until 2006.
The rivalry that was always friendly under Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne now finishes with two friends in those roles.
Stoops and his wife allowed Pelini’s brother, Carl, to stay with them while he was a graduate assistant at Kansas State — where Stoops was a defensive assistant coach at the time. He now jokes that his wife considers Carl Pelini, the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator, “like a brother, and she might be halfway rooting for him” on Saturday night.
Bo Pelini later became Stoops’ defensive coordinator, taking over for a season after Mike Stoops left Oklahoma to become Arizona’s head coach. Mark Stoops is now Florida State’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s a very unique place where we grew up,” Bo Pelini said. “Regardless of age, you get close to people and our families have been intertwined for a long time.”
Stoops said growing up in Youngstown definitely molded him into becoming a coach. Not only did he learn the importance of physicality and defense from his father, but a proper mind set from the community.
“It’s very much a blue-collar environment: work hard for anything you get,” Stoops said. “You’ve got to earn it — nothing’s given to you — and be willing to fight for it. That’s just kind of everybody’s nature back there. We never had any trouble fighting for it back then.”
Pelini, practically echoing Stoops’ sentiments, added: “You become a product of your environment, and we had a good environment growing up.”
Stoops said he blames his father and the other high school coaches for also passing along the fiery sideline demeanor that he believes he’s finally growing out of after a dozen years as a head coach. It’s landed his brother, Mike, and recently Pelini in trouble.
But they were doing something right, too.
“The good thing, one of us is going to win a Big 12 championship,” Stoops said. “But there’s nothing whatsoever personal about it. It’s teams, it’s programs, there are so many people involved with it that that part of it doesn’t