- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Contemporary Oklahoma football truly can be traced back to a program Sports Illustrated once dubbed as "Futility U."
In 1987, Kansas State went 0-10-1. In '88, 0-11. When the hapless Wildcats hired Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder to be their fourth coach in five years, they had enjoyed only two winning seasons since the Eisenhower administration. The Kansas City high schools had better facilities. In some cases, better players, too.
"I don't know that anybody can really look back unless you were there at that time and could see how poor and rotten it really was," said OU coach Bob Stoops, part of Snyder's first staff at K-State.
"There's no describing how horrendous it really was. I hope no one there is mad, but they know it was bad. I can't say it any other way."
Ironically, Futility U. is where Stoops learned to coach, and where many of his assistants -- past and present -- did, too. In fact, Futility U. was the impetus for the Stoops-era resurrection of OU football.
"I've said this to Coach before: I believe it helped me," Stoops said. "With attention to detail, fundamentals of the game from being physical, structure of what you do and being disciplined in it, good structured football, fundamentals of tackling and running.
"There's no substitute for playing football the right way. Those are a lot of things we try to do here."
This weekend, Stoops goes back to his old training ground, where the 72-year-old Snyder is conjuring up another resurrection. The Wildcats are No. 8 in the BCS after winning four games in a row as an underdog before hammering rival Kansas 59-21.
"It doesn't surprise me at all," Stoops said. "That's a compliment, because I know how Coach does it and works."
Stoops has known Snyder for more than 30 years but really got to know him as a volunteer assistant at Iowa, running the scout team defense against Snyder's offense. It didn't take long for Snyder's work ethic to make an impression.
"He'd be up all hours of the night watching tape," Stoops said. "I'd bring him food, which he probably never ate, from the training table. He was always up there working it."
But Stoops made an impression on Snyder, too. And when Snyder took the job at Kansas State, he asked Stoops to come with him.
"Coach Snyder called and said he had a secondary job for me -- and I was squealing my tires headed that way," said Stoops, an assistant at Kent State at the time. "I didn't even ask what he was going to pay me."
K-State went 1-10 in Snyder's first season. But by '93, the 'Cats were 9-2-1 and the "Manhattan Miracle" was afoot, setting the foundation for a Norman miracle a decade later.
"I never thought for a minute that we wouldn't win," said Stoops, who confessed he was "young and naïve" when taking the job at K-State. "If you'd been jaded by this profession and in it a little longer, you would've looked at that situation and said, 'Good luck with that.' But I had faith in Coach Snyder after working all those years with him at Iowa. There truly wasn't a day that went by that I didn't believe we'd win and win in a big way. Little by little, it was happening."
Stoops' stint with the Wildcats gave him confidence that he could turn around OU's program, which also was a shambles after five straight non-winning seasons. Wanting to implement a K-State mentality in Norman, he hired brother Mike Stoops, Brent Venables and Mark Mangino from Snyder's staff. Within two seasons, the Sooners stunned college football by winning their first national championship in 16 years.
"I think all the guys I have hired through the years that also have a part of Kansas State, we all believe in the same things," Stoops said. "That physical football, disciplined structures, and the basic fundamentals of the game are usually going to win for you.
"People can get elaborate schemes. But at the end of the day it still gets down to those basic principles. And we all believe in that."
Call it the K-State way. And the OU way, too.
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit questions to his mailbag and look for answers every Friday.