Saturday, January 06, 2001

Stoops says no, but door not closed

        Bob Stoops should stay put. He has won the national championship at Oklahoma, and that's one trophy that doesn't travel. If Stoops were to leave, entranced by the overtures of Ohio State, he would be starting again from scratch.

        He is a deity now where the wind comes sweeping down the plain. In Columbus, he'd be setting up shop one Michigan loss away from being a bum. Stoops was born in Youngstown, but he was not born there yesterday. He knows a good thing when he's got it, and he ought to be able to recognize danger from a distance.

        “I'm at one of the best college football jobs in the country,” Stoops said Thursday, “and they just won a national championship, so it doesn't get any better than this where I'm at. I'm as happy as I can be right here.”

        Taken at face value, Stoops' statements were both clear and concise. Asked if he had been contacted concerning the Ohio State job, or would consider it, Stoops said, “No and no.”

        Does that mean the door is definitively shut? Not necessarily.

Open to alternatives
        Standard practice among college coaches — perfected by the prevaricating Rick Pitino — is to deny interest in other jobs until you actually accept one of them. The reason: Too much candor can be counterproductive. The coach who acknowledges the possibility of moving on cripples his own recruiting and sets himself up for the potential embarrassment of being passed over.

        Given the choice, coaches invariably pick practicality and pride over telling the whole truth. This does not mean Stoops is being insincere, only that it's prudent to allow for other possibilities.

        Cleveland attorney Neil Cornrich, who represents the Oklahoma coach (as well as Minnesota's Glen Mason), does not seem content to shut his eyes to available alternatives. He already is on record objecting to Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione's stated intention of denying other schools permission to approach his coach.

        “How does he prevent it?” Cornrich told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I can't believe that's their position. They know they can't legally do that ...

        “There is no issue here, because I don't believe that is the stance of Oklahoma. It is a very well-respected university that would not take a position that would be untenable in court.”

        Translated: My client is a hot commodity, and no one is going to place any artificial limits on his leverage. (Attempts to reach Cornrich Friday were unsuccessful.)

Buyout is possible
        Having negotiated a new contract in midseason, Stoops already is one of America's best-compensated coaches. His annual pay package is worth $1.4 million, but its ability to bind him to Oklahoma is limited. Should he resign in mid-contract, Stoops would be on the hook for a $200,000 buyout. Should he resign before Dec.1, 2001, he also would be required to repay a $200,000 signing bonus.

        Settling Stoops' Oklahoma obligations would be no barrier to Ohio State, which already is eating the $1.8 million balance of John Cooper's contract. What OSU athletic director Andy Geiger must determine is whether Stoops can be wooed or merely would use Ohio State to sweeten his existing deal.

        Geiger doesn't want to make an offer that gets refused. Ohio State has its pride, too.



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