Column: Bob Stoops to conquer? Oklahoma and its coach look to rebound
The Times’ annual college football countdown continues its march forward toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 18.
A lot of coaches coming off an 8-5 year at a top-tier program might be sneaking into the football complex through a back entrance.
Refreshingly, Oklahoma does not run that kind of gym joint.
It is hard to imagine a more assured, rock-steady coach than bulletproof Bob Stoops, who enters his 17th season in Norman. It seems like only yesterday, though, that he won his first national title in 2000 on his way to — we thought — several more.
Oklahoma’s hierarchy has shown uncommon patience since Stoops arrived, in 1999, to rescue a broken program.
Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, to his credit, plays the long game and does not knee-jerk react after mediocre campaigns. The school is holding firm to its desire that Stoops retire, to a rocking chair, at Oklahoma.
Last year, though, that was a tough one. It wasn’t just that Oklahoma flopped after starting the season ranked in the top.
“Big Game Bob” was outclassed in a 40-6 blowout loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. It was the least prepared anyone can remember a Stoops team looking after November.
Stoops did not build a record of 168-44 by accident, though, so we’re going to assume he won’t tolerate another mediocre season. Stoops’ competitive spirit probably will not allow Oklahoma to cede permanent Big 12 power to the likes of Baylor and Texas Christian.
Stoops demonstrated the lengths to which he was willing to go to get better by firing offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the quarterback who led Oklahoma to the 2000 national title.
Stoops hired Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to run the spread-option attack Oklahoma helped make famous early in his tenure. Riley is a Texas Tech grad with “Air Raid” lineage to Mike Leach, who ran Oklahoma’s offense in 1999.
“We kind of made it popular when I hired Mike from Kentucky, from Hal Mumme,” Stoops said at Big 12 media day this summer. “And then it spread.”
Stoops thought it was time for a philosophical reunion.
“I made it popular 17 years ago,” Stoops said, “and then here 17 years later I’m the only one not doing it.”
Riley’s hiring doesn’t immediately solve Oklahoma’s problems. The Sooners must find a quarterback to run it. The options include returning starter Trevor Knight and Baker Mayfield, a transfer from Texas Tech.
“Air Raid” offenses have the reputation of ignoring the running back position, which would not be advisable with an Oklahoma backfield that includes Samaje Perine. Last year, he rushed for 1,713 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. He also set the single-game FBS rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas. Riley has wisely promised to incorporate Perine’s talents into the offensive scheme.
Oklahoma’s schedule is not easy, with a second-week trip to emerging Tennessee and Big 12 games against Baylor and TCU.
The Sooners look to avenge 2014 losses to the Bears and Horned Frogs, particularly the 48-14 defeat against Baylor in Norman.
“It’s not up to our standards,” Stoops said of last season.
It would be a shock if Oklahoma, this year, did not raise the bar.
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