- Two years after stepping down at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops is getting ready to take the reins of an XFL team. The question is whether a taste of coaching will change the way he answers the phone if college and NFL teams come calling again. Plus, what two head-turning combine performances by wide receivers confirm about their college careers, the definitive chicken biscuit rankings and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
The first time the XFL called agent Neil Cornrich to inquire about Bob Stoops, Stoops shot down the idea. Ditto for the second time. And the third. But finally, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck got himself on the phone with the former Oklahoma coach, and that’s when Stoops began to warm to the idea of a return to the field.
“I’m nothing if not persistent,” Luck says.
For Stoops, retirement was all he dreamed. It also was all he had worried about when he decided to step down as the Sooners’ coach in June 2017. “I said I just wanted my own time and my own space,” Stoops says. “Like the old adage says, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. After two years, I got a little more than maybe I needed.”
Stoops walked away at age 56, which is still relatively young for a major college football coach. But he wanted to watch his twin boys play their final season of high school football. He wanted to spend time with all three of his children—who all wound up attending Oklahoma; son Drake is on the football team—before they have bachelor’s degrees and busy lives. He had achieved so much in 18 seasons at Oklahoma, winning a national title and winning or sharing 10 Big 12 titles, that he never needed to coach another down to cement his legacy. He could enter a world where he didn’t have to answer every time a 17-year-old recruit called. He wouldn’t have anywhere near the same structure as the life he lived working for Kansas State, Florida and Oklahoma—for better and for worse.
Luck, a former NFL quarterback who served as a coach and as an executive in NFL Europe, understands the transition. He ran a local sports organizing group (in Houston) and an MLS team (in Houston). Later, he served as West Virginia’s athletic director and as a vice president at the NCAA. “You miss the locker room, you miss the camaraderie,” Luck says. “You miss the esprit de corps. You can’t replace that in an office.”
Luck could sense that in Stoops when the two talked about Stoops serving as coach and general manager of the XFL’s Dallas team. The league, which starts play next February, is the WWE’s second foray into professional football. This time, WWE CEO Vince McMahon has promised, will be much less gimmicky than the league’s first iteration. That certainly helped sell Stoops. So did the idea of getting to coach football in the spring with a team he selected but didn’t have to recruit. Many of the details have yet to be worked out, but most of the league’s coaches are expected to be in place later this month. (Former Bears coach Marc Trestman is expected to be introduced as the Tampa team’s coach Tuesday.) Stoops can’t wait to learn more. “I’m unsure,” he said. “I’m excited to find out, though. Some of the attraction is the fact that it is different. It’s exciting and challenging. You’re working with much older guys.”
Stoops had his chances to work with pros while at Oklahoma. NFL teams inquired, but he never elected to leave. The question now is whether this dip back into football will inspire Stoops, now 58, to contemplate another full-time coaching job. If Stoops has a blast coaching Dallas in the XFL’s opening season, will he tell Cornrich to start fielding offers from college or NFL teams as soon as those coaching carousels begin spinning?
It’s an intriguing question, and at the moment, it’s a question without an answer. Stoops is feeling this out as he goes.
If Stoops had been desperate to return to the sideline, he could have done it already. He wouldn’t divulge who had made inquiries, but he admitted he’d turned down some opportunities. “I’ve been contacted multiple times over the last couple of years,” Stoops says. “Mostly college but some professional. Nothing seemed to fit me. I wasn’t ready at that point.” He’s clearly still on the minds of athletic directors. Dave Briggs of the Toledo Blade reported that Ohio State’s Gene Smith ran the pros and cons of Stoops (along with Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Syracuse’s Dino Babers and an unnamed NFL head coach) before ultimately deciding to stay internal and replace retiring Urban Meyer with Ryan Day. But, as Stoops points out, he didn’t make the decision to leave Oklahoma lightly. He really wanted to explore the world beyond football. “When I stepped away, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I didn’t step away from such a great job easily. If I wanted to still coach, I’d have stayed there and just kept coaching.”
This is the disconnect between Stoops, the actual human being who decided two years ago he wanted to step away from football, and the people who have never met him who assume he’s going to consider every Power 5 job that opens. The real Stoops wasn’t interested these past two seasons, but now that he’s dipping his toe back into the game, things might change. Stoops won’t get a chance to coach a game for 11 months, but if that first season goes well, he may have something to think about. That certainly would excite any athletic director who goes into the 2020 season contemplating a coaching change.
But there are other potential outcomes. Stoops may be satisfied scratching a coaching itch with the XFL. He could do whatever he wanted in the summer and still spend the fall going to Drake’s games. Or he could decide he enjoys working with pros and explore one of those NFL options that never seemed quite interesting enough when he was coaching Oklahoma. He’ll be 59, which is still plenty young to try a new challenge.
For now, Stoops will join his fellow new coaches in planning the particulars of the XFL game. He’ll also keep chuckling as the football world keeps trying to define the quarterback transfer Stoops took before what would wind up his final season at Oklahoma. On Thursday, after former Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray weighed in at 207 pounds at the NFL combine, Stoops enjoyed the upshot of weeks of uninformed speculation. “So he wasn’t 180 pounds?” Stoops asked, laughing. “Which I knew all along.” He also took to Twitter last week to shoot down scuttlebutt that Murray’s father, former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray, would be an issue for whatever NFL team drafted Kyler. Stoops scoffed at Kevin Murray’s reputation as a helicopter parent. He said he had one phone conversation with Kevin when Kyler was considering transferring to Oklahoma, and then he didn’t meet Kevin in person until after his retirement—when Kyler had been on the team for more than a year. (This, by the way, tracks with what everyone at Oklahoma has said for the past two years. The Murrays were very easy to deal with, according to those in the Sooners’ organization.)
One of Stoops’s challenges in the XFL will be finding another quarterback gem, only this time that guy will come from a group that didn’t make an NFL roster. Stoops will have to assemble a team and try to win his league again—which sounds a lot like his old job. “The beauty of us,” Luck says, “is you can get back in without jumping into the deep end of the pool.”
We’ll see if the XFL experience convinces Stoops he should take another dip. Quite a few college programs will be hoping it does.
A Random Ranking
In Three and Out, we’ll examine how two receivers performed on various combine drills and discuss what that means in the grand scheme. But first, we’ll rank the events in the Underwear Olympics in terms of entertainment value. (None of them are particularly entertaining, but we take what we can get in February and March.)
1. Bench press (when they have a yeller spotting)
2. 40-yard dash
3. Height, weight and various other measurements*
4. Position-specific field drills
5. Three-cone drill
6. Broad jump
7. Vertical jump
8. Twenty-yard shuttle
9. Sixty-yard shuttle
*This would rank last if hand size measurements didn’t give us so many double entendre comedy opportunities.
Three and Out
1. A few weeks after going viral thanks to a photo that illustrated his extreme level of jacked-ness, former Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf was one of the stories of the NFL combine. The 6'3" Metcalf weighed in at 228 pounds. Then he put up 27 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press and ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash.
No other receiver showed off that combination of size, power and speed, and if Al Davis were still alive, we could guarantee that Metcalf would go no lower than No. 4 to the Raiders. Even without that sure thing, we can be reasonably certain Metcalf—who caught 26 passes for 559 yards and five touchdowns in 2018—made himself some money. But as those stats suggest, he’ll be an interesting case study for how much teams value combine measurables and which measurables they value.
Because Metcalf also ran a 4.5-second 20-yard shuttle and clocked 7.38 seconds in the three-cone drill. Those numbers probably don’t mean anything to you because they aren’t among the sexier drills at the combine. But both test the speed at which a player changes direction, and Metcalf ranked near the bottom among receivers in both.
In other words, Metcalf’s measurements suggest he’d be perfect in an offense that has him run a go route as often as possible. So now he knows what he needs to work on between now and camp.
2. Speaking of receivers and change of direction drills, it was interesting that former Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow—insert your own “he’s old” joke here—finished third among receivers in the three-cone drill at 6.8 seconds. This tracks with what Clemson coaches and defenders told me would happen when I asked them about Renfrow for a story in 2017.
Renfrow is fast enough—he ran a 4.59-second 40—but not blazing. Where he makes up the speed is with his change of direction. According to teammates, Renfrow barely slows down when he cuts. On a slant or a hitch or a double move, that makes him just as fast as a guy who runs a 4.3 40 but has to decelerate to change direction. “He will expose you,” cornerback Ryan Carter told me for that story. This is not a tribute to some try-hard, walk-on quality that Renfrow has in spades. It’s more of an explanation for how a guy who doesn’t look the part had such a productive college career. Just like the premium athletes he has played against, Renfrow has cultivated a God-given ability that most people don’t possess. That combine drill that features that particular God-given ability just doesn’t make for great television.
Now, Renfrow has to prove that his skill set can hold up in the NFL.
3. Class of 2020 quarterback Carson Beck announced Sunday that he’s committing to Georgia after attending a junior day in Athens this weekend. Beck, from Jacksonville, Fla., originally committed to Alabama back when he intended to play football and baseball in college. He now intends to only play football, and his commitment to Georgia means Florida, his other finalist, is now looking for a 2020 quarterback. It’s worth noting that the last quarterback to decommit from Alabama and sign with Georgia wound up leading the Bulldogs to an SEC title and a spot in the national title game as a true freshman. And Beck might wind up being the guy who replaces Jake Fromm.
What’s Eating Andy?
Game-within-the-game stuff is always my favorite, but there’s nothing I love more than scout team game-within-the-game stuff. For the uninitiated, Michigan’s Zavier Simpson is known throughout college basketball for developing a devastating skyhook this season. The guy getting all the attention on Maryland’s bench probably was hooking up a storm at practice. Then everyone saw the real thing.
What’s Andy Eating?
We haven’t done many taste tests in this space, but Monday seemed the perfect time to start. We usually focus on great local spots, and that’s fun for people who get to travel a lot. But it’s not helpful for those who aren’t on the road much. Plus, it’s good to do a head-to-head every once in a while to test whether our fiercely held notions should be so fiercely held. Also, I wanted an excuse to eat a lot of biscuits.
So bring on the Chicken Biscuit Challenge!
I sampled the chicken biscuit at three large chains to determine which one deserves your breakfast dollar. The result surprised me, because it means I’ve probably been spending my breakfast dollar in the wrong place.
Here are the competitors:
Bojangles’: This is the most regional of the group. Bojangles’ was a mainstay in the Carolinas for decades but only recently began expanding out. Bo now stretches as far west as Mobile and as far north as Reading, Pa. Bojangles’ also serves the best iced tea of any restaurant chain in America except McAlister’s Deli.
Chick-fil-A: It started in Atlanta, but it has spread throughout the country. Chick-fil-A now has 2,200 locations, which translates to a lot of chipper employees saying “My pleasure.”
Hardee’s: Forget the Mississippi River or the Rocky Mountains. Forget the Mason-Dixon Line. The nation’s chippiest line of demarcation is the Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. line. It’s the same restaurant, just with a different name depending on where you are. That’s because CKE, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., bought Hardee’s in 1997. Hardee’s customers balked at eating at something named after a younger Carl, so the Hardee’s name remained. It would take until 2011 when Southern California, the beating heart of Carl’s Jr. country, was blessed with Hardee’s Made From Scratch biscuits.
The rules were simple. I’d order a chicken biscuit and a buttered but otherwise plain biscuit. I added the second biscuit for two reasons.
• I wanted to judge the biscuit on its own merits separate from the chicken.
• I wanted to eat more biscuits.
If a place happened to burn the biscuits that morning, oh well. It would have to take the markdown. Quality control matters. We’re not judging your best. We’re judging what you serve at 8:30 a.m. on a random Monday.
My journey began at Bojangles’. Well, it actually began at Popeyes, which makes great chicken and great biscuits and sells chicken biscuits in places like the Atlanta airport. But my local Popeyes didn’t open until 10 a.m., so the chain was disqualified. Bojangles’ was up and running, though. A fresh tray of biscuits had just appeared on the rack. I received my order in less than a minute, and off we went.
The biscuits were a little too brown on top. Either they weren’t as fresh as I’d thought and the warmer had browned them or they’d just been left in the oven too long. I suspect it was the latter. Biscuits ruined by a warming lamp tend to dry out completely. These were moist and fluffy inside. They just weren’t quite as soft as they should have been outside. The chicken, a spicy filet pounded flatter than most, was juicy and had an excellent kick. The butter biscuit suffered from the same malady on top, but it was flaky with just the right balance of salt and butter. Had someone pulled these from the oven a little sooner, Bojangles’ would have stood a great chance of winning.
I moved on to Chick-fil-A, which pulled its biscuits at precisely the right time. In fact, everything was served with Chick-fil-A’s usual dose of hyper-competence. The chicken was the best of the three, which wasn’t a surprise. It’s made just like the filet in the chicken sandwich that allowed the chain to go from regional curiosity to national powerhouse. But after eating one of Chick-fil-A’s biscuits in close proximity to the biscuits from Bojangles’ and Hardee’s, I came to a horrifying conclusion: The chicken is so good that it masks the fact that the biscuit is awful.
As I said, there was nothing wrong with the way my biscuit was cooked. It was light and fluffy and brown in all the correct places. It’s just that Chick-fil-A has chosen to use a recipe that results in a bland biscuit that isn’t worthy of the chicken placed inside it. It’s not too salty. It’s not too sweet. It’s just not anything. It seems that in an effort to create the most inoffensive biscuit, Chick-fil-A has accidentally created the most offensive one. Because it should be good. It just isn’t. I’ve eaten a lot of Chick-fil-A biscuits over the past few years and I’ve always had my reservations about the biscuit itself, but the side-by-side comparison drives home the point. This biscuit is not worth the empty calories I’m going to have to burn off later. The bun on a Chick-fil-A sandwich has more flavor than Chick-fil-A’s biscuits, and those buns are designed to be a blank canvas for the chicken. I’ve eaten everything on Chick-fil-A’s menu, and those biscuits are the only item I wouldn’t recommend. I probably wouldn’t have said that before Monday, but eating a much better biscuit minutes before and minutes after made the Chick-fil-A biscuit’s faults impossible to ignore.
I moved on to Hardee’s, a place I’ve probably been twice in the past 10 years. This is strange, because Hardee’s was my family’s go-to biscuit when I was a child. I ate hundreds of Hardee’s biscuits from 1978 to ’96, and I don’t recall ever having a bad one. But then I just stopped.
Back in the day, I ordered the steak biscuit. Hardee’s still serves that slab of country-fried steak on a biscuit. It also serves a new pork chop and gravy biscuit that looks like something you’d find in a parody of American fast-food excess—so naturally I wanted two of them. But this was the Chicken Biscuit Challenge, so I had to stick to the plan.
The chicken at Hardee’s was thicker and juicier than the chicken at Bojangles’, but it was a little too salty. Still, it was good enough. Hell, a penny loafer would taste great wedged into one of those biscuits. The Hardee’s biscuits were as wonderful as I remembered: flaky, buttery, soft and moist. One bite brought me back to those biscuit runs when we visited my mom’s family in Selma, Ala. We lived outside the Hardee’s belt for about a four-year period during my childhood, and those trips to Selma were our only chance to get a fix. After tasting Hardee’s biscuits so soon after tasting the offerings of two of their biggest competitors, I can’t believe I ever abandoned Hardee’s in the first place.
I’ll be back, but next time, I’m going pork chop and gravy.