When Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement in early June, rumors began to fly as to why. Was it because of his handling of the Joe Mixon incident? What about his health? Could it be that the administration and boosters wanted a new defensive coordinator, which would have meant firing his brother Mike Stoops? I don’t think any of these reasons were the case. I have always believed that Bob Stoops simply decided, as he said, he had had enough and was ready to enjoy some more R&R in his life.
But what happens from here does set up to be a fascinating storyline for the Sooners this fall. What is Mike Stoops’ standing in the OU football program?
Since returning in 2012 as co-defensive coordinator, the defense has had its ups and downs. Last season, Oklahoma ranked 82nd in the nation in total defense, 68th in scoring defense and were tied for 88th in turnovers gained. Let’s also not forget that bringing back Stoops essentially paved the way for Brent Venables to jump ship and take over as defensive coordinator at Clemson, which has become one of the best defensive teams in the country and won last year’s National Championship. Venables has churned over several NFL Draft picks and was the 2016 winner of the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in the country.
Now since Mike Stoops came back to Norman, here are the rankings of a handful of statistical categories (2012-2015, excluding 2016, since they were provided above):
Total Defense: 64th, 20th, 55th, 39th
Scoring Defense: 50th, 22nd, 51st, 28th
Turnovers Gained: 100th, 38th, 65th, 13th
If you want to make the argument that the Big 12 is a high-scoring league, therefore the defensive stats need to be ranked only against the conference, here’s a look into those numbers.
Total Defense (rankings, 2012-16): 4th, 1st, 5th, 1st, 4th
So as you can see, it’s been a back-and-forth and inconsistent tenure since Mike Stoops got back to OU.
His best seasons as defensive coordinator came in 2013 and 2015 (when OU make the College Football Playoff).
Stoops made the decision this offseason to switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. The move makes sense as the Sooners have done a poor job at recruiting some of the best defensive tackles in the country in recent years. Also, against attacks like West Virginia’s spread run game, the Sooners defense looked lost too many times. The 4-3 base, which will change periodically throughout a game based on down, distance and several other factors, will allow the Sooners defensive line to be more disruptive, while giving a talented outside linebacker like Caleb Kelly better pass rushing angles. Also, Oklahoma’s weakest position group on defense is currently the linebackers, specifically at middle linebacker, with redshirt freshman Jon-Michael Terry and true freshman Kenneth Murray appearing to be the best options right now. So the more linemen and defensive backs Stoops can get on the field make the most sense right now.
But if the Sooners don’t see drastic improvement on defense, there could be cause for concern for Mike Stoops. Would Lincoln Riley have the stones to fire the brother of the man who gave him the biggest and best opportunity of his career and who has become a mentor to him? It certainly would not be easy. But with Riley’s other mentor and father figure, Ruffin McNeill, now on the staff as an assistant head coach and defensive line coach, Stoops should be looking over his shoulder. Oh yes, and just like the Stoops brothers, McNeill is a 4-3 specialist as well.
Mike Stoops is 55 years old and his image as a top defensive mind in college football is pushing a decade and a half old. There’s little doubt that West Virginia’s Tony Gibson is the best defensive coordinator in the Big 12. And when you think of those top guys in college football names like Dave Aranda, Bud Foster, Jeremy Pruitt, and oh yea, the Sooners former DC, Brent Venables, come to mind.
I’m not sure if Stoops has lost his touch. But the 4-3 base defense is his bread and butter, so if there’s ever a time for him to have the defense he wants in place and be hitting on all cylinders, now is the time. If not, Ruffin McNeill might have the “defensive coordinator” title next to his name on the roster in 2018.
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