Oklahoma football extremely fortunate to have Bob Stoops at the ready

Nov 29, 2021; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners interim head football coach Bob Stoops answer questions from the media during a press conference at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2021; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners interim head football coach Bob Stoops answer questions from the media during a press conference at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

To say it’s been a difficult and unsettling week for the Oklahoma football program would be a huge understatement.

Just six days ago, the Sooners were within a shoestring tackle of potentially beating Oklahoma State and a seventh consecutive appearance in the Big 12 Championship and a rematch with that same Cowboys’ squad.

Instead, the following day, OU head coach Lincoln Riley took a phone call from USC officials, and by the end of the call had accepted an offer to become the next head coach at USC. By the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, the whole world had been made aware of the stunning news, and the athletic department in Norman, Oklahoma, was in full-scale damage control.

When Riley contacted Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione to inform him of the news, it caught the Sooner AD by surprise. Castiglione later related that he had no reason to believe that Riley and USC had been having ongoing conversations before Sunday, or that Riley was unhappy with things at Oklahoma. He also said that he and OU President Joe Harroz learned of Riley’s decision the same afternoon everybody else did.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the OU football program with the early signing period for 2022 recruits set to begin on Dec. 15. Since Sunday, the Sooners have lost four commitments from highly rated prospects, including the No. 1 running back in the class, Raleek Brown, who two days ago flipped his commitment to USC.

Castiglione’s second call, after learning the news from Riley and contacting president Harroz, was to former OU head coach Bob Stoops, who still lives in Norman. Before Castiglione ever got the words out of his mouth, Stoops said, “What can I do to help.” That is the kind of loyalty and passion he has for the University of Oklahoma and particularly the football program that he led for 18 seasons.

Stoops agreed to step in immediately as interim head coach and literally hit the ground running, addressing the current Oklahoma players and taking off at the beginning of this week on in-home recruiting visits to reassure OU’s 2022 commitments that Oklahoma isn’t going to be any less of a championship program just because the head coach who recruited them isn’t there anymore.

OU was a championship program and one of the best in college football long before Lincoln Riley arrived, Stoops is telling recruits and their families, as well as the team, and that tradition and history of success and winning championships will continue in the future.

OU is very fortunate to have someone like coach Stoops to step in and fill the void, even if for just a short time until the new head coach is hired. Some of the players he recruited are still on the team, and they will get the thrill of reuniting with their former head coach as they prepare for and play in their still to be determined bowl game later this month.

Five current players, including quarterback Spencer Rattler, who Stoops may have had a hand in recruiting when he was still head coach, have announced they are entering the transfer portal, but that is the extent of the fallout so far. Some may be considering transferring but waiting to see who the new head coach will be. Regardless, you can be assured that Stoops has had a major impact in helping hold things together in the wake of Riley’s sudden and shocking departure.

It terrifies me to think what this week would have been like had OU’s winningest football coach and the last one to bring Oklahoma a national championship not been available to immediately step in and help out..

Yes, the Sooners have lost some prized 2022 and 2023 recruits as a direct result of Riley leaving, but thanks to the dedicated efforts of Stoops and the remaining assistants, at least five other have publicly confirmed their commitment to Oklahoma even after the announcement that Riley was leaving.

Losing a head coach to another college program is something that just doesn’t happen at Oklahoma. At least not in the last 50 years. The last time a Sooner head coach with a winning record walked away from the program for another head-coaching job was in 1973, when Chuck Fairbanks left to coach the New England Patriots in the NFL. His replacement wasn’t far away, though. OU offensive coordinator Barry Switzer was elevated into the lead role.

Riley leaves Oklahoma after compiling a 55-10 record and a program-high .846. winning percentage in five seasons as head coach. The Sooners were 77-14 in the seven seasons Riley was in Norman (the first two as offensive coordinator).

Stoops will be taking a short two-day hiatus from his interim coach duties as he fulfills his existing contractual obligation to FOX as part of the “Big Noon Kickoff” preview show crew that will be at the Big Ten Championship game between Michigan and Iowa, the latter of which just so happens to be Stoops’ alma mater.

During his You Tube channel program on Friday, Stoops addressed the possible timetable for the hiring of the next Oklahoma football coach:

"“I would anticipate this weekend some time. The latest, maybe Monday,” he said.“Things in disarray here this week with current players as well as recruiting. There’s a little bit of uncertainty for everybody and understandably. But we’ll find a great head coach, and I’m sure it won’t take long. And things will settle in, and people will realize we’re fine.”"

Meanwhile, the wait continues, with the man who preceded and recommended Riley to succeed him as Oklahoma head coach holding down the fort in the interim.