Twenty-seven minutes later, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said via Twitter that Stoops told him he is “not a candidate” to replace Willie Taggart in Tallahassee.
Regardless of the public statements, the 59-year-old Stoops has been a fixture of the FSU rumor mill since smoke began rising about Taggart’s dismissal after the Oct. 19 Wake Forest debacle. The speculation began spinning out of control Monday evening and didn’t stop Tuesday.
Aside from FSU formally hiring an outside search firm (DHR International) and potential target P.J. Fleck signing a seven-year extension to stay at Minnesota, there were no other definitive developments Tuesday. So let’s take a step back from the rumors and look at why the move would (and would not) make sense for both FSU and Stoops:
Why the move would make sense for FSU
Stoops is successful: Coburn is looking for one thing in his next coach: “We’re looking for somebody that can win national championships.” Stoops did that at Oklahoma (with a 13-2 win over FSU that closed the 2000 season). Aside from Urban Meyer — which isn’t happening — there aren’t many (any?) potential candidates who have proven they can win a national title.
Stoops has Florida ties: He was a Gators assistant under Steve Spurrier and recruited the state some for the Sooners. One of his best players there was Armwood High alumnus Eric Striker.
Stoops would stabilize the program: In 18 years at Oklahoma, Stoops had double-digit wins 14 times, so the floor would be extremely high. At worst, he would steady a program that has gone through a turbulent three seasons and has some changes on the horizon. He could also bring discipline to a program that has been one of the most penalized in the nation.
Stoops won’t want to coach for a decade: Normally this would be a negative, but it works in FSU’s favor here. The Seminoles’ athletic director (Coburn), president (John Thrasher) and booster president (Andy Miller) will all be retiring in the next few years. Hiring a 59-year-old like Stoops would fix the present and serve as a great bridge until the new decision makers take over and, eventually, want to hire their coach.
Stoops isn’t currently coaching: He has a job, but the XFL isn’t in season. That means, in theory, he could start tomorrow at FSU to get a jump on figuring out his staff and salvaging a recruiting class before the early signing period. If you want to parse Coburn’s words carefully yesterday, he said he’d “like to have a coach in place ready to go when the season ends, if not before.” That’s hard to do with a sitting college coach but possible if the target isn’t on campus somewhere. An added, significant bonus for a cash-strapped program: Stoops isn’t under a college contract, so it probably wouldn’t cost seven figures to get him away from the XFL.
Why the move would make sense for Stoops
He can win at FSU: Stoops wouldn’t want to jump into the college grind at a mediocre program. He’d want to go somewhere that can win championships. FSU is in its worst three-year stretch since 1974-76, but it’s only five years removed from a 29-game winning streak. The ACC is weak (other than Clemson), and FSU is still in a talent-rich state. Stoops will know that the right coach can compete for titles in Tallahassee.
He wouldn’t be expected to coach forever: The soon-to-be-outgoing leadership structure could ease the pressure, in some ways. If everyone understands this is a short-term marriage, that might be more enticing for Stoops than, say, coaching at USC with no finish line in sight.
Why the move might not make sense for FSU
It probably won’t be cheap: Stoops was making $5.55 million at Oklahoma before he retired in June 2017. He’s probably not making anywhere close to that at the XFL, but would he accept a college job and its 11-month-a-year grind for less than what he made in Norman? And if not, how much can FSU afford to pay? The athletic department has well-chronicled financial issues and might end up paying Taggart and his assistants $20 million not to coach. Is a $6 million head coach fiscally feasible?
A transition coach might not work: It’s an attractive idea in theory to hire a bridge to, say, 2023, but that comes with practical issues. Will recruits want to sign for a coach who won’t be there when they graduate? How committed would any lame-duck coach be to building a future he won’t see? And what about drumming up the interest and money necessary to keep boosting the facilities and infrastructure?
Why the move might not make sense for Stoops
He has a great job: No, coaching in the XFL does not have the same prestige as coaching FSU. But Stoops had a great situation at Oklahoma and left it on his own terms. The XFL allows Stoops to continue coaching without having to spending his offseason evenings texting recruits or schmoozing with boosters. For someone at his stage of his life and career, it sounds like a wonderful opportunity.
What it all means
Stoops might not be the perfect hire at FSU, but he’d be close to it … if the money works out, and if Stoops wants to do it. Those are two giant ifs.
Can those ifs be resolved? Will they be? I don’t know yet.