Before Kevin Sumlin became a successful head coach at Houston and Texas A&M, he learned plenty during five seasons and two national championship game appearances on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma.
Even before that, they were assistant coaches competing for recruits in the same area.
"Both of us had tough jobs trying to get guys to leave Miami and Fort Lauderdale to go to Manhattan, Kan., and Minneapolis, Minn., or West Lafayette (Ind.)," Sumlin said. "Over the course of time, we have kept in touch and then he hired me. ... It was five great years from a learning standpoint."
The two coaches will be on the opposite sidelines Friday night in the Cotton Bowl, a matchup of former Big 12 rivals. Both are 10-2 with five-game winning streaks.
Stoops and the Sooners this season earned a share of their eighth Big 12 title, and would have almost certainly been in a Bowl Championship Series game if not for BCS-busting Northern Illinois. With Heisman Trophy-winning freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Sumlin and the Aggies won 10 games in the coach's first season, and their first year in the SEC.
"You can see it, what he's doing now, he's an incredibly bright coach. I knew that," Stoops said Wednesday as they shared a podium with the Cotton Bowl trophy between them. "Competitive, great worker, and I think what Kevin, the best thing he brings to A&M is the way he relates to his players, and players love playing for him. He has a way, and he's really brought attitude to his team."
Sumlin was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2002 when the Aggies upset the top-ranked and undefeated Sooners in College Station, derailing Oklahoma's shot at a second national title in three years. Sumlin was hired after that season by Stoops, a Kansas State and Florida assistant in the 1990s while Sumlin was at Minnesota and Purdue.
After three years as special teams coordinator/tight ends coach and two years as co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Sumlin got his first head job. He won 35 games in four seasons at Houston, which was 12-0 and on track for a BCS appearance in 2011 before losing in the Conference USA title game.
Texas A&M hired him the next week.
"He really just brought that winning attitude," linebacker Sean Porter said. "Coach Sumlin doesn't care about anything other than winning football games."
Senior defensive tackle Spencer Nealy joked about finally taking a redshirt to be around Sumlin for another year.
"Confidence, coach Sumlin is Mr. Cool, dude. He's comes in with a type of swag, as some of the guys on the team would put it, that makes us feel better. He takes all the pressure off of us," Nealy said. "Right when he walks in, he brings a presence."
The Aggies are going for their first 11-win season since 1998, the year before Stoops got to Oklahoma. The Sooners are trying to win 11 games for the 10th time under Stoops.
Sumlin was on his staff for four of those 11-win seasons and that time certainly influenced how he tries to do things now.
"How you do things day to day, the competitive nature that is in the building, the expectation level," Sumlin said. "The expectation level of everybody, starting with him, everybody in the building, coaches and players, is a big, big, big factor at Oklahoma. And it starts with the head coach. ... Winning games is a big part of that, but the other part of the culture and the relationships that go on there are an even bigger part of really the atmosphere that he created or that he creates now."
Stoops is 149-36 his 14 seasons with the Sooners, nine wins shy of overtaking three-time national champion Barry Switzer for the most wins in school history. Stoops this season surpassed Bud Wilkinson, who won three national titles from 1947-63.
Mark Snyder, who spent one season with Sumlin on the Minnesota staff 15 years ago, is the Texas A&M defensive coordinator. His players have had to practice all season against Manziel and the Aggies' offense, which averages an SEC-high 553 total yards per game.
"They got prepared to play a 12-game season, and that's what we've done," Snyder said. "I think people were shocked we could go into the SEC and stop the run because of the offense that we face every day."
Snyder, the former Marshall head coach, saw something in Sumlin when they first worked together.
"You could tell at a young age he was going to be a rock star. He just had it, he gets it," Snyder said. "You knew he was going to be a good football coach. He can relate to kids, especially today's kids. ... The kids have got to be able to trust you, and I think we exceled this year because of that."