Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley doesn’t want the credit. OU assistant defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks isn’t looking for all the kudos.
But truth is they deserve them and then some. Following a disappointing 2014 season, Bob Stoops made numerous coaching changes. It wasn’t just on the field that changed, though, as recruiting and OU have gone through a dramatic alteration.
Stoops has preached the patient approach for years. He doesn’t want to pressure kids to commit. It’s noble, no doubt about that. In today’s landscape, though, it’s not very effective. Momentum can stall after a great visit and you become out of sight and out of mind.
The patient approach has been replaced with “reserve your spot” mentality. In other words, it’s time to be proactive on the trail and not reactive.
“I think you’ve got to be aggressive with it, especially with way recruiting has gone lately,” Riley said. “It’s beginning earlier and earlier so you can’t wait around.
“Then it’s being at a place like this where you’ve got one of the best products in the country to sell. Easy to be aggressive when have something impressive to sell. We’re really happy with what we’re selling.”
That could be the understatement of the year right now as OU has gone from priding itself in closing strong to now setting the tone early.
For the 2015 and 2016 classes, OU was building a nice foundation, between 5-7 commits with a couple of big names in there. As you wait around, however, you started to see a lot of top, realistic OU targets head elsewhere. OU didn’t push on the gas, and the prospect sought other options.
Cooks doesn’t want to use the word pressure. He opts for the more obvious take on things. If you know where you want to go, then what the heck are you waiting for?
“If we offer you and there’s a mutual respect, a mutual understanding and a mutual love and this is a place that you want to be … you have the rest of your life to travel across the country,” Cooks said. “Make that decision now. Otherwise you are going to regret it if this is a place that you want to be because we’re going to move on.
“Somebody may reserve that spot and then you are wishing five, six, seven months down the line when you decide to commit on your birthday or do the hat deal or at one of these all-star games and there is no spot left, then you are wishing you hadn’t done it. But that’s always been my mentality. If it’s a fit for you and a fit for me, let’s make it happen.”
And happen it has for the Sooners. It started toward the tail end of the 2016 class and has exploded into the national conscious with the 2017 class, affectionately known as SoonerSquad17.
Since August 2016, OU has signed nine four-star prospects and three in the Scout juco 100 for the 2016 class. And so far OU has 12 recruits ranked in the Scout 300 with three of them in the Scout 100.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. With fresh perspectives being brought in from Riley, Cooks, Dennis Simmons, a real talk had to occur. This was going to be a major change, and everybody had to be OK with it.
“We talked strategy a little bit,” Riley said. “Recognized it would be a positive thing. Then when you add in the momentum of the season, the facilities and everything as a whole, then it took on a life of its own. Exploded even faster than even some of us thought.”
Cooks said it’s all about setting the tone. He’s not going to coach with this patient approach so why recruit with it? He’s going to be aggressive, be in attack mode from the second the recruit steps on campus so it’s important for him to be genuine about the process.
“How I coach the guys, how I want the guys to play to how we train them in the meeting and how we recruit, it’s an attack mentality,” Cooks said. “Some guys have a different philosophy, but I’ve never been one to sit back and coast along. I’m someone who will always push the envelope. The kids have to be ready for it to happen.”
Not all of them are, and Cooks said that’s a big point you have to understand as a coaching staff. Not everybody wants to be pressured. When you go that direction, you’re going to win some people over and you’re lose with some.
It’s the nature of the beast. It’s the same way with the patient approach. Some kids and families appreciate being able to take all visits and then make the call. But some might have wondered why OU didn’t push for them more. Each recruit is its own entity.
For now, the attack mode has been on-point. OU coaches up and down realize none of SoonerSquad17 will factor in a major way if OU’s 2016 season isn’t a rounding success. Bring it on the field, and you’re able to bring it on the trail.
Bring it on the trail, and then you’re allowed to, in a way, let the recruits do the work for you.
“We want guys that are fully committed here and fully committed to helping you get other guys. They all know each other from all these camps so it’s important. Our guys have done a great job of that.
“Great players want to play with other great players. They’re serious about winning. And care about the program. Those guys are going to help, and they seem to attract each other. The more you get, the better your program is going to be. It has been a good formula so far.”
A good formula and something that never goes out of style.
“It never gets old,” Cooks said. “You guys know that great players make great coaches. I’m not the best coach in America. Every phone call that I get from a great player saying he wants to come and play under Coach Stoops and for Oklahoma and it’s going to make us better. I love it.”