Oklahoma football: OU offensive coordinator a stepping stone to head coaching job

Oct 1, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops and quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley celebrate during the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops and quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley celebrate during the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The offensive coordinator job on the Oklahoma football staff historically has proved to be an excellent pathway to a head coaching position.

Since Bob Stoops became part of the Oklahoma football family in 1999, six Sooner offensive coordinators have gone on to become head coaches as other programs.

When Stoops was hired to replace John Blake ahead of the 1999 season, he brought with him Mike Leach, who had been on the staff at Kentucky, to become the first of his six offensive coordinators over 18 seasons. Leach remained at OU just one season before taking the head coach’s job at Texas Tech, his first head coaching assignment.

Leach remained at Texas Tech for 10 seasons where the Air Raid offense became the most talked about offense in college football. Leach was dismissed by Tech amid allegations of mistreatment with one of his players. He then was hired as head coach at Washington State, where he also experienced success over an eight-year run, before moving on to Mississippi State in 2020.

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Leach, a two-time national coach of the year, suffered a fatal heart attack during the 2022 season. Over a 21-year period, the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator compiled a 158-107 record as a head coach.

Mark Mangino, who Stoops brought with him from the staff at Kansas State when he took the job at OU, replaced the quirky Leach as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator and was in that role for two seasons (2000-01) before being appointed head coach at Kansas. Like Leach, it was Mangino’s first time as a head coach. Mangino was the OU OC in the Sooners 2000 national championship season.

When Mangino was hired at Kansas following the 2001 season, the Jayhawks had not had a winning season in the previous six years. His Kansas teams won 50 games and lost 48 over eight seasons and in 2007 rose as high as No. 2 in the national rankings. His 50 wins still stands as the second most in Kansas history.

Chuck Long, a former All-American quarterback at Iowa, which also happens to be Bob Stoops’ alma mater, followed Mangino as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator. Long was in the role from 2002 to 2005, when he left OU to become head coach at San Diego State.

Kevin Wilson joined Stoops’ staff in 2002 after three season as offensive coordinator at Northwestern. He shared offensive coordinator duties with Long at OU and assumed the full role in 2006. Wilson remained in the OC position at OU for five years before leaving in 2010 to become a first-time head coach at Indiana in the Big Ten.

That brings us to Josh Heupel, perhaps the second most accomplished of the OC’s under Bob Stoops (behind Mike Leach) who went on to become head coaches. Heupel, of course, was the quarterback of the 2000 Oklahoma team that won the national championship. He was also the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy that season.

He was the quarterbacks coach during the time Wilson was offensive coordinator and followed him in the position. Heupel served in the coordinator’s role for OU from 2011 to 2014. After the Sooners went 8-5 in 2014, Heupel’s contract was not renewed. He was assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Utah State for one season after leaving Oklahoma and then moved on to Missouri for two seasons (2016-17) as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Missouri.

In 2018, Heupel was awarded his first head coaching job at the University of Central Florida (UCF). In three seasons at UCF, Heupel’s teams were 28-8, including a 12-1 year in his debut season.

Heupel was hired as head coach at Tennessee in 2021, where he has been the past three seasons. His 2022 Volunteer team went 11-2 and finished No. 6 in the nation.

When Heupel was dismissed, Bob Stoops brought in Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator. The Oklahoma offense was among the best in the nation throughout the time Riley was at OU (No. 1 in total offense in 2017 and 2018 and No. 3 in 2019), including two Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

Riley was named head coach of the Sooners following Bob Stoops retirement after the 2016 season. He was OC for two seasons (2015-16) and retained those responsibilities after assuming the head coach’s job. At the end of the 2021 season, of course, Riley announced his resignation, opting for new opportunities at USC.

There have been other Oklahoma offensive coordinators who went on to become college head coaches, but none more famous or popular than one of the all-time Sooner coaching legends, Barry Switzer. Some OU fans may not recall that Switzer was hired as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 1966 under Chuck Fairbanks. Switzer served as offensive coordinator for six seasons, and when Fairbanks left Oklahoma to become head coach of the NFL New England Patriots, Switzer was elevated head coach. The rest is part of OU’s illustrious football history.

Remarkably, Switzer did not lose his first game as head coach until his 32nd game, going 30-0-1 over a little more than two and a half seasons. As Oklahoma head coach, Switzer may not have been the inventor of the Wishbone offense, but he certainly will forever be known as the coach who perfected it. He won three national championships (1974, 1975, and 1985) and 12 conference championships. In 16 seasons as head coach, Switzer’s Oklahoma teams never finished lower than second place in the conference standings.

On Sunday, Jeff Lebby, himself an Oklahoma alum, joined the list of OU offensive coordinators who have gone on to become college head coaches for the first time. Lebby returns to the state of Mississippi, where he served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2020-21, to become the 36th head coach at Mississippi State and the fifth in the last six years.