ARLINGTON, Texas — Some wonder why after three years away from coaching, Bob Stoops signed on as head coach and general manager of the XFL’s Dallas Renegades.
But for those who know the former Iowa defensive back well, his rationale for returning to the sidelines isn’t surprising.
“Oh yeah (I’m excited),” Stoops said before a recent practice at Globe Life Park. “Obviously, it’s why I’m doing it. I love football and this is an opportunity to be out here working. Working with these really great football players and mature guys that know their football, it’s been fun.”
Stoops, 59, played at Iowa between 1979 and ’82 under legendary coach Hayden Fry. He then transitioned into coaching under Fry, first as a graduate assistant and later a full-time assistant.
And like many who played at Iowa, he owes everything to the late Fry, who was honored Jan. 25 in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, a celebration of life Stoops attended.
“Yeah, we were fortunate to catch up to so many Iowa people and then of course everyone down here in Texas as well at Coach Fry’s celebration,” Stoops said. “Coach Fry, my life’s totally different if he doesn’t come to Iowa. And not only myself, then he recruited my brother Mike and my brother Mark.
“So, for the Stoops family, coach is always really special. A great man, great leader, great coach. We all loved him.”
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However, he’s not the only ex-Hawkeye now coaching in the XFL. In fact, two former Iowa teammates — Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long — are the head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, for St. Louis. Stoops admits he’s already kindled a friendly rivalry with his ex-teammates and good friends, a rivalry which will get an early start when the Renegades and Battle Hawks open the season against each other on Saturday in Arlington.
“It’s great. We’ve had a couple of practices against each other,” Stoops said. “We were all teammates together and very close friends, actually. Not just teammates, but we did a lot together. Those guys helped me win a national championship at OU as well. We’ve happened to bump into each other quite a bit and those guys do a great job coaching. I’ve kind of picked a rivalry with them, so that’ll be fun as well.”
One of eight teams in the second incarnation of the XFL, the Renegades are playing their home games in Arlington at Globe Life Park, home to Texas Rangers baseball from 1994 through 2019. Beginning in March, the Rangers will play in climate-controlled Globe Life Field next door.
Once baseball season ended last fall, the third-base dugout and visiting bullpen were demolished, setting the stage for the football/soccer field to be installed. A local USL League One soccer team, North Texas SC, also will call the facility home in 2020.
“Yeah, it looks awesome,” Stoops said of his new home stadium. “This is a great park and it has been for a long time. Now, we just got a football field on it instead of a baseball field, but it’s a great place to come watch the game. Hopefully we get a great crowd. I think it’s going to be really family-friendly and fun to watch and very affordable.”
During the XFL’s first run in 2001, the league was known for its crazy rules, including a scrum replacing kickoffs to determine which team gets the ball first. Most of those tweaks are not being employed this time around, but the league is doing several things differently — like using a 25-second play clock, having two timeouts per half and allowing two forward passes on the same play provided neither crosses the line of scrimmage.
Learning these new rules has been an adjustment for Stoops, his staff and his players, but this ex-Hawkeye knows the fans will love these changes.
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“It’s good football. We’ll have extra points that’ll be exciting from the 2 (one point), the 5 (two points) or the 10-yard line (three points),” he said. “We can have two passes behind the line of scrimmage, which will lend itself to some exciting plays. Overtime will be more fair (as) both teams will have an opportunity to have the ball.”
Between 1999 and 2016, Stoops led Oklahoma to a 190-48 record, winning 10 Big 12 Conference championships, one national championship and 18 bowl games. Given his incredible success three hours up the road in Norman, it’s not surprising to see three of his former OU players now with the Renegades in defensive end Frank Alexander, receiver Jeff Badet and quarterback Landry Jones.
“The guy’s been coaching forever,” Jones said. “My experience with him has always been positive. He’s always been an upstanding guy and a great coach who’s always just excited every day on the job.”
The last time Stoops was a first-year head coach was heading into the 1999 season at Oklahoma, where he took over a program that had lost its once lofty status in college football. It didn’t take him long to restore the Sooners to greatness, however, winning that national title in 2000.
“I’m working with grown men (now),” Stoops said. “There, I was working with a bunch of broken-down players that (had) not a very strong perception of themselves. There’s not a lot of similarities. It’s really quite different. But the (the challenges) are equally as exciting. This is going to be an exciting adventure. I love football and that’s why we’re out here.”