When I was younger, I couldn’t get enough pickup basketball. Playing against guys you knew, your classmates, peers, was exciting.
The rules were simple. First to 15 wins. Make it, take it. Winners kept the court. Fun times.
But things got dead serious when the “old men” showed up. Dudes in their late 20s. Some even more ancient, in their 30s. They didn’t laugh or find as much fun in the game as we did. They were grayer, paunchier, slower.
They were like a bunch of Larry Birds. They couldn’t jump an inch off the ground. Tenacious on defense. Deliberate on offense. They always found the open man.
And dammit to hell, Old Man Ball nearly always won.
I bring this up because the OU football team has been victimized by Old Man Ball. In the first three games, the average age of the opposing coach is 67 years old, beyond typical retirement age.
That’s 15 years on Bob Stoops, who is 52.
By the time the Sooners reach the midpoint of the regular season, the average age of the opposing coaches will be 62.5 with Kansas’ Charlie Weis being the baby at 56.
Next week, the Sooners catch a break by opposing a coach who’s only 58 (Tech’s Tommy Tuberville). In the second half of the season, the coaches get significantly younger with Baylor’s Art Briles being the oldest (56) and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen being the youngest (41). Mike “I’m a man, I’m 40!!” Gundy is 45.
For the season, the average age for OU’s opposing coaches is 55.3. In comparison, the average for No. 1 Alabama’s opposing coaches is 48.8. Nationally, the Decatur (Ill.) Herald-Review determined the median age of Football Bowl Subdivision coaches to be 50.
The average current age of the coaches who’ve handed the Sooners their past six losses is 58.
We know that old coaches can be stubborn and wily. Bill Snyder, who is nearly 73, looked to be a chessmaster in K-State’s 24-19 victory last week. It was typical Old Man Ball. Play it safe. Let the young guys beat themselves.
Is Old Man Ball sustainable? Probably not. Will athletes in their 20s listen to someone three times their age? Probably not.
But Old Man Ball has value. When I reached the age of 23, some high school kids on the basketball court saw me and other old-timers walk up to challenge. One of the kids said aloud, “Oh, man. Old Man Ball! I hate Old Man Ball.”
MORE OLD MAN RESEARCH: If Stoops ever wins another national title, he will be the oldest OU coach to do so. Barry Switzer was 48 years old when he won the title in 1985. Bud Wilkinson was the youngest in 1950 when he was 34. Bob Stoops won his title when he was 40 in 2000. The average age: 39.428.
ABOUT THE GAME: From a fan’s perspective, it won’t seem like the Sooners will have an easy time of it. But the players realize the pressure’s off. They’ll be looser. They’ve heard the chatter on the radio and on social media. They’ve had a week off. Besides, I have a feeling that most of them are in it to get out of Norman after three years. The national championship is nice, but it’s not as meaningful on the bio as it once was. Right now, the K-State loss is a good reference point for the coaches who weren’t reaching the chuckleheads before. Plus, OU has a week to scout Tech.