It was a chaotic and joyous gathering, and we aren't talking about the raucous crowd of Oklahoma players, coaches and fans celebrating after the Sooners' 41-31 upset of No. 2 Kansas State last Saturday at KSU Stadium. We're referring to a get-together that took place in the Oklahoma football offices back in Norman three days earlier. Wednesday night is family night for the coaches, and at around 7 p.m. the offices were overrun by spouses and rug rats.
There was coach Bob Stoops's four-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, gathering courage to reach into a bowl of Halloween candy guarded by a disembodied hand, like the one in The Addams Family. (She finally sneaked up from behind and got some candy.) Wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. dandled Jaxson Hayes, the five-month-old son of tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. (Spurrier needs the practice: He and his wife, Melissa, are expecting triplets next year.) In the hall co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables competed against his nine-month-old son, Jake, in a series of crawling races. The festivities also included a pair of baby showers.
During the partying, one of the wives asked, "What do you think they're doing in Manhattan tonight?" Said another, "Probably not having a family dinner."
The reference was to Manhattan, Kans., a.k.a. the Little Apple, home of Kansas State, where Stoops and three of his assistants put in a combined 28 years of service under the brilliant, driven coach Bill Snyder. Stoops left his post as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator in 1996 to fill the same role at Florida and helped the Gators win the national championship that year. After the '98 season he was hired as coach at down-on-its-luck Oklahoma. In an act of grand larceny that enraged Wildcats fans and injected Tabasco into a hitherto bland rivalry, he raided Snyder's staff, luring away Venables and Bob's brother Mike, now the other Oklahoma defensive coordinator, and Mark Mangino, the Sooners' offensive coordinator. Of the three defections, that of Venables, a former Kansas State linebacker, was most hurtful to Wildcats fans and Snyder, who had offered him the same job title he would share at Oklahoma.
For a hint as to why these men left Kansas State, consider this statement made by Snyder at the Big 12 media day last summer: "Most of you understand, my time is spent with football, and that's an 18-hour day. The rest of the time is spent with family."
Hypothetical dialogue between Snyder and his wife, Sharon.
Bill: Hi, honey. I'm home.
Sharon: Hello, dear. Do you want dinner now, or should we wait a few minutes until Letterman is over?
Who says Snyder, who expects his assistants to put in the same hours he does, is a humorless workaholic? This is a man who consulted a hypnotist in an attempt to get by on fewer than four hours' sleep per night, a man who became upset when the Wildcats were served pats of butter before a game rather than the margarine he'd specified. Before the Wildcats shared a charter flight to Japan with Nebraska in 1992 for a conference championship game, Snyder figured out on which side of the plane the sun would rise and sought to seat his players on the opposite side. Snyder is very funny; he just isn't intentionally funny.
While all the former Kansas State coaches on the Oklahoma staff express deep respect for their old boss, none deny that one of the main reasons they left him was to reclaim some semblance of a normal life, to see more of their families. Their familiarity with their old program served them well on Saturday. After the Wildcats broke their huddle at the Sooners' 14-yard line, trailing by 10 points with a half-minute to play, Venables immediately began screaming, "Watch the tight end screen!" Kansas State ran a tight end screen, which the Oklahoma defense summarily blew up, with freshman cornerback Derrick Strait making the tackle for an 11-yard loss. On the game's final play, a pass by Wildcats senior quarterback Jonathan Beasley was intercepted, wrapping up the victory for the eighth-ranked Sooners and snapping the nation's longest home winning streak at 25.