More on Mike Stoops, his end at OU, his former defense moving forward and his legacy
By Guerin Emig Tulsa World
I’ve spent a lot of time on Mike Stoops since his Waterloo at the Cotton Bowl. I’ve thought a lot about it, communicated with people I trust connected to Stoops, his former program and his former university. I’ve written some.
I think I’d like to write more...
On the timing
I was still in the Cotton Bowl press box when a colleague first suggested that Stoops might not make it to the TCU game. I waved that notion off out of respect to, for lack of a better term, the Sooner Way.
Bob Stoops wouldn’t have done it, so Lincoln Riley won’t do it. You don’t do it at Oklahoma, and certainly not when you’re 5-1.
But that was to overlook two things – Mike Stoops’ despair in the face of such a publicly embarrassing performance, something I first felt toward the end of his postgame media session, and the timing of OU’s schedule.
The Sooners had an off week. That made it a heck of a lot easier for Riley to at least process the possibility of a change.
Imagine OU playing TCU this Saturday instead of next. If Riley fires Stoops with just one week to transition, he flirts with some chaos. It might be in all parties' best interest anyhow, but now you’re asking everyone in the program to absorb the move, regroup and get their minds right for a tough game in Fort Worth.
On the process
Riley was adamant that the decision was 100 percent his. He gave a pretty good explanation, that OU has too much self-respect to be banana republican about such decisions.
I believe this to be true. I communicated with some who warned not to discount Gallogly’s influence over the university at large, but nobody went so far as to believe he hovered over Riley’s decision about Stoops.
If David Boren was still president, this would be so much easier to read. We knew how Boren operated, how he worked with Bob Stoops and Joe Castiglione.
I haven’t even met Gallogly, let alone gotten inside his head.
I do know he is reputed to be a very smart man. As such, I can’t believe he would ever figure meddling in the personnel decisions of his head football coach would be a good idea. Especially if that head football coach was about three months from being wooed by several NFL teams.
That risks setting your football program ablaze worse than firing a coordinator six days between games.
Riley consulted with Gallogly out of respect for the chain of command. He got that from his predecessor. Speaking of which, Riley consulted with Bob Stoops.
He consulted with his president, but I haven’t heard that he adhered to him.
On the incident
The OU locker room was heated at halftime against Texas. Coaches and players couldn’t believe what was happening and tension ran high. That went for Mike Stoops and linebacker Curtis Bolton.
I do not, however, believe anyone came to blows, Stoops and Bolton included.
Both are volatile, prideful men. Bolton reached enough of a boiling point to storm out of the locker room. Team members did have to retrieve him.
But the decision to fire Stoops was based a lot more on things that happened before and after that halftime.
Look, halftime locker rooms at OU the past 20 years have not been for the faint hearted. I don’t need sources to assure you that.
You get men as combative as the Stoops brothers or Bo Pelini or any of the offensive line assistants that have been there, combine that with first halves that don’t exactly go as planned, and occasionally you get nitrogylcerin handed out instead of Capri Sun.
That doesn’t mean it looks like a steel caged match.
For what it’s worth, Stoops went on The Sports Animal Wednesday and said: "Didn’t say one word to Curtis at halftime. Didn’t even know he left.”
I’d love to hear Bolton’s account of it – he is one of the most thoughtful, honest player interviews on the team – but I sort of doubt Riley will make him available anytime soon.
On the aftermath
The change of demeanor from Stoops to Ruffin McNeill will help, I believe. I wrote as much this week.
I just don’t know McNeill will have the same effect on scheme or personnel. I don’t know that he can.
I will say that previous mid-season changes at defensive coordinator seemed to work, at least to some degree.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fired DC Brian VanGorder after a 1-3 start in 2016. Defensive analyst Greg Hudson took over, and the Irish went from 103rd in total defense in FBS to 43rd.
Mack Brown replaced DC Manny Diaz with quality control coach Greg Robison after two games in 2013. The Longhorns, according to the Austin American-Statesman, registered 35 sacks and held opponents to 3.5 yards per rush under Robinson the rest of that season.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson replaced DC Al Groh with secondary coach Charles Kelly halfway through the 2012 season. The Yellow Jackets improved from 89th to 43rd in total defense under Kelly.
If McNeill can make a similar impact, with Kyler Murray and the offense OU fires out there, the Sooners can still do big things between now and the College Football Playoff selection show.
On the legacy
Call me a bleeding heart, but I feel lousy for Mike Stoops. I felt bad for him after the Texas game, felt bad as Riley detailed the dismissal last Monday, and felt bad listening to him on The Animal with Dusty Dvoracek Wednesday.
I know it’s a business. I know Stoops is going to be fine. (Heck, he might even be relieved.) I figure he’s going to coach again. He should go teach in the Big Ten and rebuild his reputation.
I also realize the past 6½ years did real damage to his first five with the Sooners.
Remember his first five? Remember what his defense did to Florida State to clinch a national championship? How his defense carried the weight after Josh Heupel faltered late that season?
I know his brother had a big hand in it. So did cohort Brent Venables. But if you were around the team as I was back then, you were fully aware Mike Stoops set an unflinching tone.
Rocky Calmus and Torrance Marshall responded to that first. Then Roy Williams and Teddy Lehman. Derrick Strait. Brandon Everage. Tommie Harris.
You say, ‘Geez, look at that talent. Anybody could have coached that up.’
Really? Williams wasn’t exactly a standard-bearer before Stoops got there. Nobody was banging down doors to sign Strait and Everage.
History is funny. Folks look back on the impact Bob Stoops made by hiring Mike Leach as his first offensive coordinator. Changed the face of OU and Big 12 offense, that sort of thing.
But Leach was gone when the Sooners broke through in 2000. Mike Stoops, Bob’s first defensive hire, wasn’t. He stayed another three seasons. Those defenses terrorized another three seasons.
History is funny, and it can be cruel. I worry that Stoops’ second run in charge of OU’s defense will tarnish his first forever. And that would be wrong.