Bob Stoops Looking to the Past as Road Map for a Better Future


Things have been very unsettled around the Oklahoma football program. Those close to the program cite a number of factors for the disappointing 2014 campaign, but head coach Bob Stoops knows both the problem(s) and the solution fall squarely on his shoulders.

While many college programs would be overjoyed with an 8-5 season record, at Oklahoma, five losses in a season is akin to near disaster and sends off alarms all over the Sooner Nation, with Norman being the epicenter.

At no time in Bob Stoops’ highly successful 16 seasons as head coach of the Sooners has the team lost as many as four conference games in a single season. As if that wasn’t cause enough for alarm, OU’s performance – or lack there of –  in its postseason bowl appearance against Clemson was even more out of character.

For those who have conveniently suppressed their memory of the 40-6 shellacking the Sooners’ took in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December, it was obvious for all to see that Oklahoma was not prepared to play the game and, perhaps even worse, didn’t seem to care about being there or about the outcome, one way or another.

That may be sound like a very harsh criticism of a team with such great tradition and historically considered to be one of the elite programs in all of college football, but the fact remains that the Sooner football ship was taking on water and listing badly, particularly over the second half of the 2014 season. And the season and the program took a direct hit on that late December evening in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, adding insult to what had already been a bruised and battered four-month, grind-it-out campaign.

Aug 30, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard (3) warms up before the game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

“The struggles we had last year were confounding, but the outcome of the bowl game was something we’ve never experienced before, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said in an interview with FOX Sports writer Stewart Mandel in an article published on

“I’m not talking about the score,” he added, “I’m talking about the way the game evolved, just the feel of the game…It just didn’t look like Oklahoma.”

The attitude and feel around spring practice this year was much different than the feeling last spring, after Oklahoma had stunned the college football world by upsetting two-time defending champion Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

The Sugar Bowl win clearly set off a false sense of promise and optimism. All of that was noticeably absent this time around. The 2015 spring practice period clearly reflected a more serious work tone and the pervasive approach, from the coaches all the way through the depth chart, that if you aren’t working to get better, you are all but condemning yourself to only get worse.

Stoops wasted little time after the 2014 season ended to make major changes in the coaching staff and with the individual responsibilities within the staff.

The most notable among those staff changes was the dismissal of co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the quarterback of the Sooners’ last national championship team (in 2000) and Stoops’ first, in his second year on the job. Heupel’s firing led to the hiring of Lincoln Riley as the new offensive coordinator.

The hiring of Riley, a disciple of the Mike Leach school of  quick-strike aerial assaults, set off strong signals that the OU offense was going to incorporate more of the look of what made Stoops so successful in the early years of his coaching reign in Norman.

Riley spent seven seasons under Leach at his alma mater, Texas Tech, and for the past five years has served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at East Carolina. The Air Raid attack that Riley brought with him from Tech also worked very well at East Carolina. In the 2014 season, East Carolina ranked third in the nation in passing offense, ahead of both Baylor and TCU. No. 1 in that category, incidentally, was Washington State, where Leach is now head coach.

Stoops was one of the first college coaches to employ a pass-heavy, quick-strike aerial attack when he brought in Leach from Kentucky in his first year at OU to be the offensive coordinator. Leach actually fell in love with the high-powered aerial game under the Kentucky head coach at the time, Hal Mumme.

“Little by little, we’ve gravitated away from it (the Air Raid-style attack that have become so popular among high-scoring offenses),” Stoops said in the same interview with FOX Sports’ Mandel. “Right or wrong, I feel strongly about moving back to it.”

It’s one thing to go back to what made you successful once before, but you must have the skill and talent to be able to execute the offensive design, and quarterback and wide receiver, the two key position elements in the style of offense that the Sooners want to reprise, were huge problem areas in the dismal – by Oklahoma standards – 2014 season.

The way things are looking right now – contrary to what Stoops and others are admitting to publicly – junior Baker Mayfield will be the new starting quarterback for the Sooners next fall. And it isn’t by coincidence that Mayfield will be the center of the new attack brought in by OC Lincoln Riley.

“Little by little we’ve gravitated away from it (quick-strike, aerial attack). Right or wrong, I feel strongly about moving back to it,” —Bob Stoops

Mayfield was a starting quarterback his freshman year at Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury, who was the quarterback of the Red Raiders when both Leach and Riley were there. I’ll let you do the math.

“The Offense is all about a mentality that every time we touch the ball we should be scoring – and not just field goals,” Mayfield said during the spring practice period.

As far as wide-receiver upgrades for the 2015 season, the Sooner coaches are high on a couple of new names to complement All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard in the passing game. Jeffrey Mead, offers a big target at 6-6, and junior-college transfer D.D. Westbrook possesses  soft hands and sprinter speed. Both turned in outstanding performances in the annual spring game.

Oklahoma also has pass-catching ability in its backfield, with last season’s freshman sensation Samaje Perine and Alex Ross. Top 2014 recruit Joe Mixon, who sat out last season under suspension, could be another weapon catching passes out of the backfield in 2015.

The tight-end position could become more prominent next season than it has the last couple of years. Watch for freshman Mark Andrews to make a strong contribution in this area in 2015 and beyond.

Any way you look at it, the Oklahoma offense should take on a new, yet highly familiar look when the curtain on the 2015 college season goes up again in the fall.

In this case, the OU coaching staff and the denizens of the Sooner Nation are all banking that doing the same thing over again will, indeed, produce the same outcome: the revival of a national championship contender and more Big 12 championships for the Crimson and Cream.

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