|ESPN.com: Big 12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
DALLAS -- Tomorrow amongst the ferris wheels and corn dogs, we'll celebrate the kind of coaching rivalry that used to mark college football.
In the Big Ten, the legendary "Ten-Year War" involved Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler. Barry Switzer vs. Tom Osborne was almost as big as the Big Eight Conference itself. The SEC had Bear Bryant against Shug Jordan. And the Southwest Conference celebrated the annual grudge game between good friends Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles.
But after surveying the landscape of college football today, those matchups look about as quaint as dollar-a-gallon gasoline. We likely won't see many like those again.
That's what makes tomorrow's game at the Cotton Bowl so special and intriguing.
Mack Brown and Bob Stoops are that rare breed today of rock stars with coaching whistles, arguably bigger than their respective programs. Both have won national championships and are headed towards induction one day in the College Football Hall of Fame.
And their yearly battles in the Red River Rivalry will one day be remembered as one of the greatest coaching rivalries in college football history.
Saturday's game will be the 10th time that Stoops and Brown have hooked up. Stoops holds a 6-3 edge, including a five-game winning streak from 2000-04. But Brown has claimed two of the last three games between the two South Division rivals.
When each arrived at their respective schools, both programs were perceived to be downtrodden dinosaurs that had seen better days. Just look back to the coaching tenures of John Blake and John Mackovic and remember how far both schools have risen since their swoons a decade ago.
After their arrivals, Brown and Stoops elevated the stature of both programs, turning them into two of a handful of national powers who are national championship threats almost every season in the new millennium.
Since Stoops arrived in 1999, either Oklahoma or Texas has won the Big 12 South Division championship every year. The Sooners have accounted for five Big 12 titles and the Longhorns one during the nine-year period. During that same period, every Big 12 North team has claimed at least a share of the title.
Brown realizes how the Big 12 has changed the dynamics of their rivalry.
"I remember when we got here, everybody said the luster was gone," Brown said. "This game wasn't important anymore and nobody really cared about it and it wasn't even a national TV game and it was so sad that the Texas-OU game was unimportant.
"It was important to the players, it was important to the coaches, but it's back now to where it has national implications, and that's been fun."
The Stoops-Brown rivalry might not be as bitter as some of those other coaching matchups. But that doesn't mean that either coach doesn't want to beat the pants off his coaching rival tomorrow afternoon.
Stoops said he might run into Brown three or four times a year -- including their 3 ½-hour yearly shindig at the Cotton Bowl.
Brown has always spoken reverently about his respect for Stoops.
"What I've gotten is a great respect for Bob and what he's done over the last 10 years," he said. "He'll be remembered like Barry Switzer and (former Oklahoma coach Bud) Wilkinson. He's done exactly for them what they've asked him to do.
"People think Bob and I sit around and fight all the time, but we really don't."
And Stoops has similar respect for Brown, although he says he's not as close to the Texas coach as others in his coaching circle.
"It's hard to have a relationship with a guy you never see and you've never coached with," Stoops said. "Our relationship is amiable and professional. I think we respect each other's ballclubs and how we run things."
A measure of their mark on the Big 12 can be seen by how many of their former assistants are coaching in the league. Gene Chizik was on Brown's staff before taking the Iowa State job. Mike Leach and Mark Mangino were on Stoops' original staff at Oklahoma and Bo Pelini later coached with Stoops. And Art Briles was a member of Leach's first staff at Tech, making him a second-generation descendent of Stoops' coaching tree.
"Over the last nine years, Oklahoma has had the best record in the Big 12, Texas has been second and Tech has been third," Leach said. "I'm just trying to figure out how to beat those guys."
Here's an idea of how rare such long-time battles between coaches like Stoops and Brown are in today's college football.
It's tied for the longest continuous conference rivalry among FBS programs, matched with the annual battle between Clemson's Tommy Bowden and his father Bobby Bowden of Florida State. And there's no assurance that either of the Bowdens will be still be coaching next season.
At the same time, Texas and Oklahoma are top consistent top-five programs. I don't see either Brown or Stoops leaving anytime soon. Brown, 57, will go down in history as the coach who returned Texas to the zenith of college football. He can stay as long as he wants.
Stoops, 48, still might have some wanderlust to chase the next big coaching job in a few years. But his children are at the age where I doubt he'll be moving anytime soon. I think he'll be at Oklahoma for a few more years - at least as long as Joe Castiglione is his athletic director and David Boren is the school president.
Which means we can all savor the Brown vs. Stoops rivalry for a few more years for what it really is - the best coaching matchup in college football around between the Big 12's two most consistent powers.