Stoops abruptly retires; Riley takes over at OU
Published on Wednesday, 6/7/17, at 4:55 p.m. Eastern.
Just two days after the stunning dismissal of Ohio St. head basketball coach Thad Matta, we have another marquee coach, albeit in a different sport, stepping away at an awkward time of year.
In this case, however, with Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops retiring, at least the school has a replacement ready in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. And it’s a good thing Riley has stuck around in Norman rather than taking a lower-tier head-coaching gig, because he just scored one of the nation’s premier jobs at the age of 33.
After 18 seasons at OU, Stoops decided to leave on his own terms. The 56-year-old coach came to Norman when the football program was at rock bottom. He arrived on Dec. 1, 1998, after the Sooners had endured five consecutive non-winning seasons.
Stoops had cut his teeth at Florida for three seasons serving as Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator. He helped the Gators win the national title in 1996.
After going 7-5 in his first year at OU, Stoops improbably led the Sooners to the 2000 national championship. They won the BCS Championship Game by a 13-2 count over Florida St. and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke down in Miami.
Although that would be his only national title as head coach at Oklahoma, he always had the Sooners in contention. In fact, OU returned to three different BCS Championship Games, only to lose to Southern Cal and Florida (in Miami) and to LSU (in New Orleans).
Stoops posted a 190-48 overall record, winning nine outright Big 12 titles and earning a share of a 10th.
In the process of building OU back into a perennial national contender, Stoops remained loyal. He turned down coaching offers galore, including multiple attempts by former Florida AD Jeremy Foley to bring Stoops back to Florida. He also drew interest from NFL teams, only to deal them Heisman treatment upon each inquiry.
Stoops released a lengthy statement for the school’s fans. The first part of it is pasted below:
“After 18 years at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve decided to step down as the head football coach. I understand there has been some speculation about my health. My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching. I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins. The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship. We have new state-of-the-art facilities and a great start on next year’s recruiting class. The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players. Now is simply the ideal time for me and our program to make this transition.”
For those with the slightest inclination that Riley could be out of his league here, wake up! The only blemish on his resume is that he has zero head-coaching experience.
Before being hired by Stoops in 2015, he spent five years as the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. His Air-Raid Offense allowed Justin Hardy, currently a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, to become the school’s all-time leader in all receiving categories before the end of his junior season.
Riley turned Shane Carden into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Carden shredded the ECU record books by bypassing all the numbers previously set by David Garrard, who enjoyed a helluva an NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since arriving at OU, rising senior QB Baker Mayfield has produced a 76/15 touchdown-to-interception ratio in Riley’s uptempo offense. The Sooners averaged 43.5 points per game in ’15 before scoring at a 43.9 PPG clip last year when they finished second in the nation in total offense and third in scoring.
When Spurrier resigned at Florida in January of 2002, he said that “12 years is long enough at an SEC school.” When you compare that to Stoops, there’s no doubt that he hasn’t been appreciated as much in recent years. The sky seemed to be falling in Norman last season when OU lost by double digits at Houston in the opener two weeks before getting blasted 45-24 at home by Ohio St.
Stoops’s final team would respond with 11 straight wins, an impressive streak for Stoops to take into retirement.
Were there some down times? Sure, but only because Stoops had reset the bar that Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer had established decades beforehand. If not for the hiring of Stoops, who knows how long OU would’ve been stuck in mediocrity?
The haters will point to the Fiesta Bowl overtime loss to Boise St. and the Fiesta Bowl defeat in beatdown fashion to a West Virginia team led by Pat White and interim head coach Bill Stewart. Yes, there’s also those three title-game losses, not to mention a College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson and a blowout defeat to Texas A&M and Johnny Football at the Cotton Bowl in 2012.
But Stoops is a Hall of Fame coach, no doubt about it. He brought one of the nation’s most storied programs from the abyss to the top of the mountain, and he made it happen in just two short years. Since then, Oklahoma has always been in the mix in both the Big 12 and the national picture.
Stoops leaves the program in fine shape. He shouldn’t have any regrets whatsoever. If anything, the school and fans of Oklahoma football owe him a debt of gratitude for 18 years of a job well done.