Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is out of his job, per a bunch of reports Sunday evening and official confirmation on Monday morning. Head coach Lincoln Riley termed it a “dismissal.”
Reportedly, the decision involved the highest levels of OU:
Turns out my guess was spot on, according to a great source. Presidential level. https://t.co/BHyMg9OuSI— John E. Hoover (@johnehoover) October 8, 2018
On Saturday, the Sooners gave up 48 points to Texas in a Red River Rivalry loss. That was far from the first evidence in recent years that Oklahoma’s defense is not good. But while the Sooners have an all-world offense and a still-breathing shot at the Playoff during their likely last year with Major League Baseball signee and five-star QB Kyler Murray, it might have created some extra urgency for the Sooners to get things fixed quickly. The Sooners are 69th in FBS in Defensive S&P+. (They’re first in Offensive S&P+.)
OU has a couple of former FBS head coaches with defensive experience on its staff. Ex-ECU coach Ruffin McNeill and ex-UConn coach Bob Diaco will both help fill the role Stoops leaves, with McNeill officially the interim and Diaco taking on the outside linebackers gig.
Stoops, the 56-year-old brother of former OU head coach Bob and current Kentucky coach Mark, has been Oklahoma’s coordinator since Bob hired him to that job for the 2012 season. Before that, he spent 1999-2003 as a Sooners co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He was on staff for the program’s 2000 national title, when the Sooners got a historic season out of QB Josh Heupel. Some (including me), though, have given short shrift to a Sooners defense that made big contributions that year. He spent 2004-11 as Arizona’s head coach.
Stoops’ defenses have been iffy at best for most of his tenure.
In his return to Oklahoma, Stoops has been frequently maligned as the leader of by far the Sooners’ worst side of the ball. Oklahoma has regularly fielded elite offenses; in the last half-decade, nobody’s been consistently better at moving the ball and scoring points than OU.
But the defense has often been mediocre or worse under Stoops’ leadership. His Sooners were a top-15 defense by yards per play in 2015, but since then, they’ve twice finished in the 80s and were in the 50s through six weeks of 2018.
Because Stoops is family to a beloved former head coach (who’s still close to the program), he’s long seemed like a tricky person to fire.
Bob Stoops suddenly decided to step away from coaching before the 2017 season. Lincoln Riley was his handpicked successor, and, by every account, the two have a close relationship. The head coach had brought on Riley as offensive coordinator a few years earlier and thought enough of him to step away so Riley could be the next guy.
While Oklahoma’s performance issues on defense have been obvious to anyone’s eye, it’s been a legitimate question: Could Riley really get rid of that guy’s brother?
The exact circumstances of Mike Stoops’ departure are unclear.
Reasonable people can disagree about how much of OU’s defensive struggles over the years have been Stoops’ fault.
The Big 12 is not particularly known for defense anywhere. The league’s traditional recruiting footprint has produced more good offensive players than defensive players, and it’s also been home to a lot of the country’s most innovative offensive schemers. It’s a hard conference to stop people in, and Oklahoma’s been as much a driving factor as anyone.
The Sooners have recruited a lot better on offense than defense. Stoops hasn’t had a ton of blue-chip talent to work with, though he’s certainly had more than most other teams.
But still, as one of the program’s busiest recruiters, he’s largely responsible for the players who have taken the field for OU in the first place. Those players haven’t succeeded often under his leadership. OU has been terrible, not just mediocre, at defense, and OU shouldn’t ever be terrible at anything.
Midseason coordinator firings are often panic moves by head coaches on the hot seat, but this doesn’t seem like that at all.
Riley’s widely regarded as one of the brightest coaches in football. Oklahoma was a Playoff team in 2017 and might be one again soon, though its chances got a body blow from Texas. The Sooner offense is so good that merely having an average Power 5 defense would make this team good enough to seriously challenge someone like Alabama.
The start of Week 7 is early for a coordinator firing, but not wildly so, and again, Oklahoma’s issues with Stoops go back to well before 2018. The first Power 5 team to fire a coordinator this year was Wake Forest, which canned its DC two weeks before Stoops’ exit.
Oklahoma fans are elated that Stoops is gone.
For years, a huge camp of Sooner fans has felt that Stoops got his job because of nepotism and was a drag on his brother’s (and then Riley’s) program.
There are “Fire Mike Stoops” Facebook groups, “Fire Mike Stoops” Twitter accounts, and more “Fire Mike Stoops” message board threads than anyone could count.
For most OU fans, this move’s a long time overdue.