For as long as I’ve been a fan of college football, Bob Stoops has been the head coach at the University of Oklahoma. The numbers over the years, 18 total, are pretty staggering. He won 10 Big 12 championships and had nine home losses over that stretch. I’m not sure any number better encapsulates the dominance of his reign from his seat in Norman than that figure.
He also went to 4 national championships and guided OU into the playoffs, winning only one of those five occasions. His nickname has long been “Big Game Bob” but in reality his teams are marked more by their consistent quality then sudden or consistent appearance in the big games.
My introduction to Stoops was in the annual beatings he gave to Mack Brown in years in which Colt McCoy wasn’t on the football roster (Stoops was 8-2 in such contests). Mack’s final scoreboard claim over Bob in 2013 (thanks, ironically, to Case McCoy) was one of the more shocking things to happen in the Bob Stoops era.
His teams were long known for aggressive defensive play but also for his willingness to embrace aggressive and explosive offensive schemes that allowed the Sooners to blow away Big 12 opponents even in years when the defense didn’t have it.
First he hired Mike Leach to install the Air Raid in 1999 and then replaced him with Mark Mangino in 2000, leading to a national title. After an unimpressive spurt from Chuck Long Stoops made Kevin Wilson the man and was an early adopter amongst blue blood programs of the up-tempo offense. Wilson’s replacement Josh Heupel floundered and Stoops made another change, bringing Air Raider Lincoln Riley aboard based on a recommendations he got about the up and comer’s potential.
The Lincoln Riley era?
The word on the street is that Bob Stoops has been ruminating on this retirement for a while now and decided to do it now in order to get Riley in his place. There are conflicting reports on his health condition, his own personal statement makes me think that it is something weighing in the back of his mind but wasn’t something that necessitated a change right now.
Lincoln Riley is a very well regarded assistant who its rumored could have had the Houston job if he wanted it and he oversaw one of the most devastating Oklahoma offenses in history last year. Probably the second best of the Stoops era behind the 2008 juggernaut, Oklahoma fans are probably pretty optimistic overall about the direction of their program under Riley’s leadership.
Now here’s where things get tricky, because Riley’s appearance on the scene was marked by two other features that were not true for him at East Carolina. The first is that Oklahoma was able to plug in walk-on/transfer Baker Mayfield, which was another big factor in the revitalization of their offense. Riley did a great job developing QBs at East Carolina but we just haven’t seen it yet at Oklahoma. I’m guessing it won’t be an issue and this will be a strength of the Riley era.
The other is that Lincoln Riley then got to work with Bill Bedenbaugh and in Bob Stoops’ culture, which was designed to land big, freakish athletes along the OL and turn them into one of the nation’s most fearsome units on an annual basis. Did Riley learn from Stoops how to oversee a physical culture that produces tough football teams?
Finally there are the questions on defense now that the architect of their long-standing reputation on that side of the ball is gone. I really doubt Mike Stoops stays longer than this next season. They’ve basically been hiding him for the last few years, moving him up to the booth and then this year putting him in charge of “outside linebackers.” I think he’s in Norman right now because Bob Stoops has been his meal ticket, now that’s gone.
The main factor that made Bob Stoops such a brilliantly effective head coach for Oklahoma was his ability to build a consistent identity for the program that showed up in recruiting and in all three phases of the game. The Stoops Sooners were aggressive, they came after your weaknesses hard and that played into his hires and tactics on defense, offense, and special teams. Stoops wasn’t the defensive minded coach that tries to win games with his defense and orchestrates the offense to stay out of the way, he was happy to embrace offensive strategies that put the game in the hands of his offensive coordinator.
Will Lincoln Riley show a similar balance? Can he manage an overall program strategy and brand at that level? It’s tough to follow a legend. I’m betting things are business as usual in 2017 with the staff largely intact and then Riley will unveil his vision for a new era of Oklahoma football.