A week ago today, Bob Stoops stunned the Sooner state and the entire sports world when he retired as the head football coach at the University of Oklahoma.
The news was shocking, not because Stoops stepped down after 18 seasons as the face of the Sooner football program, but because of the timing of his departure.
Stoops was preparing to enter his 19th year on the job at OU with a team loaded with talent and the potential to bring home another Big 12 championship and contend for the eighth national title in school history.
Oklahoma was also about to enter their first year in the brand new multi-million dollar facilities that have been under construction over the past two seasons.
Since his announcement seven days ago, many experts both locally and nationally, have debated on the “real” reason for Stoops’ exit.
The fact is, no one knows and for the time being, that’s the way Stoops and his family want it.
Directly following the announcement of Stoops’ retirement, OU administrators didn’t waste any time, as they promoted offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to head coach of the Sooners.
Riley is only 33-years-old, but he is a rising star in the coaching realm. It wasn’t a secret that Riley was well on his way to becoming a head coach but no one thought his first head job would be at the most prestigious college football program in the land.
Usually, a young assistant with head coaching potential will be a top assistant at an elite level university for a couple of years and then take a head job with a high-level mid-major or a low-level power five school before eventually getting their chance at the big time.
Just look at Texas’ new head coach Tom Herman. Herman was a top assistant for Urban Meyer at Ohio State before being hired as Houston’s head coach and now he’s at his pinnacle with the Longhorns.
However, Riley’s career has taken a new direction and a different path from those who are like him, and that’s because Stoops decided to step away in the month of June instead of January.
Would the OU administrators have opened a search if Stoops had announced his retirement directly following the Sugar Bowl win over Auburn in January? No one knows and no one ever will know.
There is no question that there would have been big time interest from big time coaches across the nation with OU’s history and tradition combined with the talent they have on the current roster but the OU administrators knew they had a rising phenom in Riley.
As Riley begins his new journey with the keys to Oklahoma football in hand, he has the chance to be successful where Stoops failed.
Yes, I know that is sac-religious to say in this state, but Stoops’ time at OU wasn’t all butterflies and roses, he had many failures and most of them were his fault because of one decision he made about halfway through his time in Norman.
When Stoops came to Oklahoma, he was the right man for the job. OU football had become irrelevant in the 1990’s with Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake running the Sooners straight into the ground.
There was no discipline in the program and the fan base was all but lost.
Stoops came in and immediately changed all of that. He instilled toughness into his players and incorporated OU’s tradition back into the program. He put Oklahoma football back on the map, not just in this state but across the entire country.
He won seven games in his first season and took the Sooners to a bowl game but in his second season Stoops truly arrived, as he forever etched himself in OU football history when he won the 2000 national championship.
From that point forward, no matter what he did for the rest of his career, Stoops would be loved by the mob that is the Oklahoma football fan base.
For the next six or seven years, Stoops continued that success, as Oklahoma stayed at the top of the college football elite. No, they didn’t win another national championship but OU was dominating the Big 12 Conference and having success against national powers from other conferences throughout the country.
Stoops led the 2008 version of the Sooners to the national title game to play Tim Tebow’s Florida Gators and should have won the game but didn’t execute down the stretch.
Following that game, Stoops and his teams were never the same. I don’t know if it was Tebow trucking over All-American safety Nic Harris or if it was Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford coming up short when he needed him most, but Stoops’ toughness and grit were taken from him that night in south Florida.
The defensive-side of the football is where OU shined for the first half of Stoops’ career in Norman. Opposing teams didn’t dare to run through the teeth of the Sooners’ defense and OU had too much speed to get beat on the edges.
Stoops had players like Tommie Harris, Gerald McCoy, Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman and Roy Williams to protect the middle of the defense with Rufus Alexander, Brandon Everage and Derrick Strait to guard the perimeter.
Oklahoma’s defense was stout and it was feared in the early 2000’s.
However, following the 2008 BCS National Title Game loss to Florida, Oklahoma was never the same on defense under Stoops.
The Sooners began to recruit smaller, quicker defenders in hopes of having a better chance of stopping the spread offenses in the Big 12. In the meantime, the SEC powers Alabama and LSU were recruiting future NFL stars on the defensive-side of the ball.
OU’s linebackers went from 240-250-pounds to 215-220-pounds. Yes, it worked for the most part in the Big 12 but it took the Sooners out of the talk when it came to elite programs across the country. Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and Clemson became more and more dominant as they built their teams around the physicality of their defenses.
In recent years, Stoops has tried to get back to that but he failed to accomplish that goal. It’s not a switch he could just turn back on. Once he made the decision following the 2008 loss to the Gators, it was all over for Stoops and his once-feared defenses.
Oklahoma was still successful under Stoops in the past nine seasons but it wasn’t because of their defenses, it was because of the firepower on the offensive-side of the ball.
Most OU supporters who read this will respond and give me all the stats on Stoops in his tenure with the Sooners. He had a record of 190-48 with Oklahoma, won a national championship, won 10 conference championships, had two Heisman Trophy winners, coached 37 first-team All-Americans, had 83 players picked in NFL drafts, had 14 seasons with 10 or more wins, was the National Coach of the Year twice, was the Big 12 Coach of the Year six times, won 92 percent of his home games, had 18 straight bowl appearances and he is the only coach in the history of college football to win the Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
Those are all great statistics and I never said Stoops wasn’t a great coach, because he was.
But let me enlighten you with some stats of my own. Stoops was only 9-9 in those 18 bowl games, he was 1-3 in national title games, he was 4-5 in BCS bowl games and he was 0-1 in College Football Playoff games.
Bottom line, Stoops was great in the Big 12 Conference, he was average against power-five schools outside of the Big 12 but he was below average when it came to bowl games or national championship games against elite-level teams.
Riley has a chance to be great, but he must learn from Stoops if he wants to take the Sooners to new heights. He must never change who he is as a coach.
Stoops thought by changing the identity of his program, he would win more games and bring home more conference titles, which he did, but he did so at the cost of giving up any chance at winning another national championship and at Oklahoma, that’s what matters. Conference championships are nice, but national championships are what counts.
Oklahoma football sets the standard, they don’t conform. I sure hope Mr. Riley understands that.