Bob Stoops was officially introduced as the interim head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners Monday afternoon in Norman after Lincoln Riley decided to leave a program he’d built over the last five years and start over at USC.
When Bob Stoops spoke Monday, OU fans heard something that they haven’t heard in a long time. It may have been something they forgot existed. Bob Stoops took OU football and removed its fake wig, fake nails and wiped away all the glitter.
It was as if Lincoln Riley left OU football behind and gave it back to Stoops to detail it and get all the Cheetos out of the backseat so they could put it back on the road.
Riley did a great job recruiting to Norman. As well as anyone has recruited since the days of Barry Switzer. Riley’s spin on the program was as much style as it was substance. And slowly but surely style was winning out.
It took Bob Stoops, who appears to have OU football coursing through his veins to remind us of why we’re all here. To remind the players on this team why they’re all here.
“You guys win or lose,” said Stoops to the players left behind. “You’re OU football. (Riley) isn’t. I’m not. Any other coach who comes here isn’t. OU football has been here a long time, and it isn’t going anywhere else. It’s going to be here and it’s going to be at the top of college football and is going to continue that way.”
It was great for the fans to hear too.
But it’s not enough for some of the players. Several high-profile players have already entered the transfer portal after Stoops’ initial talk with the team.
That’s just going to happen. Stoops wouldn’t have been able to recruit a lot of those players to Norman without Lincoln Riley in the first place. And now he doesn’t have him.
Riley has brought five stars to Norman by the bushel. He’s produced No. 1 draft picks, Heisman Trophy winners, runner-ups, Biletnikoff Award winners, finalists, Joe Moore Award winning offensive lines and countless All-Americans.
But OU football has been a backdrop for Riley. It’s not been a centerpiece. OU football somehow became a lot more distant as players took center stage. What OU football could do for recruits became bigger than what OU football meant to the people who actually played the games every Saturday.
Fans had to start to wonder, are the players playing football for my team? Or are they just here because my school gives them the most exposure to get to the NFL?
That’s a question every program faces. And it’s a balance Oklahoma hasn’t figured out yet. Near the end of Stoops’ tenure he still hadn’t figured out that balance.
Riley and Stoops were both criticized for essentially the same things.
Stoops wasn’t social media savvy enough. Riley revolutionized social media at OU, but also used it to add a certain flash to the program that some feel sent the wrong message.
Stoops had Jerry Schmidt and there was always controversy about whether he was too hard on players and ran off talented players. Riley was criticized for Bennie Wylie not being hard enough on players and not developing players who could last for four quarters.
It’s been two different approaches and neither has produced the national title fans crave over the last decade. The balance between recruiting centric and football centric approaches hasn’t been achieved.
In the end, Lincoln Riley wasn’t the guy for Oklahoma. OU football was too big for him. He chose to leave for a job he felt would fit his coaching style and his personality better. And to be honest, it might be a perfect fit. It’s less of a meat grinder than Oklahoma. It’s a down program. The glitz and glam will be more accepted by a less rabid fanbase in Los Angeles.
But Riley didn’t have OU football coursing through his veins the way Stoops does.
Stoops’ messages Monday reminded us OU football has a soul. It just needs to find the coach that appreciates and respects the process of winning, excels at the process of recruiting can learn to have OU football running through their veins.
OU football has been in the background for long enough. Joe Castiglione’s biggest challenge is finding the right guy to marry the style and the substance together.