In the locales of our nation where college football is religion, sacred to the fans, the alumni, the boosters, there are certain things that simply can’t be tolerated or forgiven.
Here’s a perfect example: On Saturday, Oklahoma scored 45 points and still lost by three to archrival – archenemy, really – Texas.
Never in the history of the Red River rivalry, first played in 1900, had Oklahoma allowed as many points in any game against Texas
Kaboom(er) Sooner, indeed.
On Sunday, the Schooner ran over defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. He was fired, publicly humiliated, shown the door.
From the headquarters in Norman, a missive arrived from the desk of Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley.
“I have great respect for Mike,” Riley said. “He’s a quality football coach, great man and a close friend. It became time for a change in our program and that happens sometimes in football, but we cannot lose sight of the accomplishments Mike had at Oklahoma. He was responsible for a lot of success and deserves the gratitude of everyone associated with Sooner football, not only for his role in the winning, but for coaching with integrity.”
Yeah, but the defense gave up 48 points, 501 yards and 27 first downs, in other words, stuck in rear by a pair of Long Horns. Whoa, Nellie!
Ruffin McNeill, Oklahoma’s assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach, received the battlefield promotion. At least the Sooners had the good sense not to give the job to Bob Diaco, their defensive analyst.
After dismantling UConn’s football program during a disastrous three-year run (11-26), Diaco was hired as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator in 2017. Nebraska allowed 36.4 points per game, 37.6 points in conference play. Diaco’s fate was sealed when the Cornhuskers fired Mike Riley after a 4-8 season.
For those not acquainted with the story of the Stoops family tree, you probably don’t realize how deep a wound cutting Mike Stoops is for sentimentalists around the Sooners program.
Stoops is the younger brother of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who coached the Sooners from 1999 to 2017, winning 190 games. His 2000 team was undefeated and won the national championship, outscoring 13 opponents 481-194. Oklahoma also appeared in BCS title games in 2004, 2005 and 2009.
Bob Stoops wasn’t as luminous as Bud Wilkinson or as dadgum nutty as Barry Switzer. But he certainly was The Man.
Anyway, Mike Stoops served two terms as OU’s defensive coordinator. He left the first time in 2003 to coach Arizona. Eight years later, he returned to the same position.
What makes his dismissal even more unusual, maybe a bit knee-jerk, is his defense hadn’t given up more than 27 in any of its first four tests before Baylor lit it up for 33 two weeks ago.
After the Texas loss, Mike Stoops accepted the blame.
“I’m extremely disappointed in my ability to get this team to play at a higher level. It takes everybody pulling the same way,” he said. “Certainly, I take a lot of that responsibility. That’s for sure.”
Apparently, enough people in high places decided Stoops should be held responsible for Oklahoma’s disappearing shot at another College Football Playoff game. Hey, they no longer have Baker Mayfield around to sooth the pain. It was time for action.
The postmortem view is that the firing of Mike Stoops should be regarded as Riley’s first effort to put his own stamp on his coaching staff. In its analysis on Monday, The Athletic pointed to the program’s growing impatience with the defense, pointing to two two instances where it was exposed.
In a 2012 win at West Virginia, Mountaineers tailback Tavon Austin rushed for 344 of their 778 total yards of offense. And in 2016, Texas Tech, with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, gained 854 yards and still lost 66-59.