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September 23, 2012

Bond ties together two great coaches

NORMAN, Okla. -- The last words Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops spoke to his mentor resonated louder than the numbers on the scoreboard. As Stoops and Kansas State's Bill Snyder parted ways to speak with their teams following K-State's 24-19 Big 12-rattling victory Saturday, Stoops simply told Snyder, "I love you."

The heat of the battle. The disappointment of the defeat. The expected frustration with how his team performed. None of that mattered as he parted ways with Snyder. Respect wins over those feelings. Every time.

This is Stoops' 14th season at Oklahoma and no other coach of a ranked team had ever done what Snyder did Saturday night on OU's home field. Snyder won, defeating the coach who has become his own legend after cutting his teeth on Snyder's first staff at K-State.

Yes, Stoops -- most often with younger brother Mike serving as his defensive coordinator as he did Saturday night -- was 14-0 against ranked opponents at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium coming into this game. His former boss got him.

"I shared the same with Bobby and with Mike," Snyder said of Stoops' expression of affection following the game. "We have a strong bond. I appreciate both of them. They meant so much to Kansas State University's program. They helped us get out of the hole and get things started. They played an instrumental role in that."

It was likely someone eventually would end that run. Streaks such as this start to weigh heavy, but while the competitor in Stoops would likely never admit it, Snyder probably deserved to be the man who ended the string.

Snyder's Wildcats moved to 4-0 on the season and will likely soar from their pregame spots in the rankings (15 in the Associated Press and 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll) after knocking off the Sooners (2-1).

Sure, some will dismiss the magnitude of the K-State victory because of that old pitfall of being K-State (OU must not be very good this year because it lost to K-State), but this game only further cemented Snyder's remarkable ability to not just coach, but to craft assistant coaches, young men and their entirety into a team.

Sure, there are some incredibly talented players on K-State's roster: Linebacker Arthur Brown is a potential All-American, John Hubert is turning a dangerous running back, Tyler Lockett is an extraordinary return specialist and quarterback Collin Klein now finds himself in the middle of the Heisman Trophy chatter and will stay there as long as the Wildcats keep winning. Only Brown, however, was a recruit considered to be a major recruit substance. He went to Miami before the Wichita native returned home to K-State.

But this opponent was OU. The OU. The one Stoops lifted from mediocrity after taking over in 1999 and promptly returned it to greatness with a national championship in 2000. The same OU that can be found atop of the recruiting rankings each year because Stoops lands players who don't even bother to take Snyder's call.

Yes, that Oklahoma, with all of its talent and trophies. Yes, the same OU that bedeviled and belittled Kansas State for decades before Snyder arrived.

And, yes, the same OU that had only lost once to Snyder since Stoops took over.

As remarkable as everything Snyder has done in his supreme act of Lazarus at K-State, he was a nightmarish 1-7 against Stoops, who he hired as a secondary coach in 1989 when he began to cobble together a football team at K-State from the unfathomable ruin that was the losingest program in the history of college football.

Stoops said he never doubted the job would get done at K-State, despite the pitiful nature of the program they were tasked to bring to life.

"I was naive and probably (it was) good that I was. I never thought for a minute we wouldn't win. But who am I? I was 10 years at Iowa with Coach Snyder and Coach Fry and they changed the program that had 17 years of losing seasons to where we were in the Rose Bowl and bowl games my last two seasons of playing and then as a coach," Stoops said. "And then when Coach Snyder called I was at Kent State, so I had only had a full-time job for nine months. It never entered my mind we wouldn't win. Maybe all the apathy, I wasn't paying attention to it. Maybe you guys closer to home here were, but I didn't know anything about it."

Snyder recognized the coaching greatness in his future defensive coordinator at a young age.

"I knew that before Bob came. We had him as a player at the University of Iowa, and I loved his competitive nature," Snyder said in the days leading up to Saturday's game. "I knew his father well, and he was heavily invested as a high school football coach, one of the most successful in the state of Ohio. It was just a family venture. All the brothers are heavily involved in football across the country. It was easy. I knew that he would be a great addition to our staff, and he certainly was."

So, here they were on Saturday night, going toe-to-toe as coaching foes. The master and his former pupil turned fellow master. Two brilliant coaches, one in a place where winning is engrained in the culture and the other in a place where winning is a cherished miracle he provided.

The two coaches swapped timeouts throughout the game, sacrificing them like pawns in a complex game of chess. They burned their last timeouts in the game's final minutes, leading up to the biggest plays of the night.

K-State was up 24-19, the clock was moving dangerously close to the point of no return for OU, so Stoops exhausted his final timeout with 1:59 remaining and K-State facing a second-and-5 at its own 41.

After the timeout, the two teams lined back up and Snyder recognized what he had done and what the Stoops brothers had sensed from their experience at Snyder's side.

OU knew exactly what Snyder was about to pull out of his bag of tricks. The Stoops had seen it before while wearing both the K-State purple and OU's crimson and cream. Snyder realized his error and went dashing toward the official to use his final timeout, moving more quickly than any 72-year-old should ever be able to muster.

"We played two championship games (against OU) at Arrowhead (Stadium). The one (2003) we had the fortune to win but the other (2000) we had a chance to go in and score and win. We had a third down and we ran the option and they stopped us," Snyder said. "I was trying to call a timeout because they knew what we were going to run before we knew."

The play was changed, and Snyder opted to be safe and gave the ball to Hubert, who racked up 130 yards on 23 carries, and the junior picked up two yards. Now facing a third-and-3 and a first down away from the Sooners not being able to stop the clock again, Snyder let his senior quarterback finish off the victory.

Klein plowed forward for five yards, a first down and the remarkable road win by a group of Wildcats who continue to defy their detractors was complete.

Not only had K-State beaten Oklahoma, but Snyder proved that the coaching grandmaster still has a few lessons to share with his former pupil.



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