MY TAKE: On changes at OU ... and Texas

On the night of the first championship game of the College Football Playoff, a playoff that didn't include the Big 12, it's clear the league that seemed to live in national title games the first decade of the 2000s needs Texas and Oklahoma to get back to being Texas and Oklahoma.

The fan bases at each school wouldn't mind that, either.

Bob Stoops plans to get there with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.

"Lincoln brings a fresh perspective to our program that I believe will help us maximize our potential offensively," Stoops said in announcing the hire Monday. 

Stoops had never fired an offensive coordinator in 16 years as a head coach before letting go of Josh Heupel, the quarterback on Stoops' national title team in 2000.

In the past, Stoops had to replace offensive coordinators because they were moving on to head-coaching jobs.

So, Stoops' hiring of the 31-year-old Riley from East Carolina feels similar to when Mack Brown fished around Paul Chryst before offering Bryan Harsin as offensive play caller in 2011 (after Brown fired longtime assistant Greg Davis). A bit of a forced marriage.

According to reports, Stoops' search included a look at TCU's Sonny Cumbie and A&M's Jake Spavital. So it wasn't like Stoops knew exactly where he wanted to go once letting go of Heupel.

Riley walks into a situation with a bit of tension. Some Sooners' fans felt Stoops went after the wrong coordinator, considering it was the defense, under Stoops' brother, Mike, that gave up more points per game - 25.9 ppg - than any defense in Bob Stoops' 16 years as coach at OU.

Tulsa World columnist John Hoover called for Stoops to step down after OU  was wiped out 40-6 by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That followed the Sooners coughing up two, 14-point leads (28-14 and 35-21) in a last-second, 38-35 loss to Oklahoma State in Norman - OU's third home loss of the season.

Stoops went more than a decade before losing three games in Norman at the start of his coaching career.

In Riley, OU gets an Air Raid disciple from Texas Tech who should mesh well with likely 2015 starter at QB - Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Lubbock.

Riley continues Bob Stoops' penchant for hiring OCs with spread-based principles starting with Mike Leach, Stoops' first OC at OU back in 1999, followed by:

Mark Mangino (2000-01)

Chuck Long/Kevin Wilson (2002-05)

Kevin Wilson (2006-10)

Josh Heupel/Jay Norvell (2011-14)

Lincoln Riley (2015)

Even though Stoops hires OCs with spread-based principles, Stoops has always looked to run the ball. He's recruited excellent backs (Adrian Peterson, Demarco Murrray, Samaje Perine, etc) tight ends (Jermaine Gresham, James Hannah, etc) and fullbacks (Trey Millard, etc) and maintained the ability to go two backs and two TEs and play power football. 

I've long felt Stoops was the model among defensive-minded coaches when it came to running a versatile offense that can go spread and up-tempo yet pound you with power principles as well.

Clearly, there was friction on the staff this season over the direction of the offense.

I'm told it was Mike Stoops, who conflicted with Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, because the offense wasn't running the ball enough - especially in games against Baylor and Texas Tech.

Perine, who ran for 1,713 yards and 21 TDs as a freshman, had only 5 carries for 21 yards in a 48-14 loss to Baylor. The next week, at Tech, OU had to turn to backup QB Cody Thomas, because Trevor Knight was out (injured).

At halftime in Lubbock, OU was losing 14-7 and had run the ball 19 times for 69 yards (Perine had 9 carries for 31 yards), while Thomas had attempted 17 passes, three of which were intercepted.

During halftime, I'm told Mike Stoops made it clear to his brother (perhaps within earshot of Heupel) that OU had better start running the damn ball or OU was going to lose the game.

In the second half, Texas Tech went up 21-7 on its first possession of the third quarter. But the Sooners ran the ball on 32 of 35 second-half plays, rolling up 315 yards on the ground as OU erased a 21-7 deficit in a 42-30 victory.

Perine carried the ball 16 times in the second half for 182 yards (11.4 ypc), finishing with 25 carries for 213 yards and 3 TDs.

The following week against Kansas, Perine set the FBS, single-game rushing record with 34 carries for 427 yards and 5 TDs in a 44-7 victory.

The conflict within the staff helped lead to the offensive coordinator change, I'm told.

The change seemed awkward, especially considering Heupel was a part of Stoops' national title team and because Heupel's sister is married to the son of OU president David Boren. And because the defense struggled more than an offense that averaged 36.4 ppg and 6.1 yards per carry in an 8-5 season. (Riley's offense at East Carolina averaged 35.8 ppg, by the way.) 

The turnover on the staff has left some Sooners' fans questioning the direction of the program under Stoops, who has 8 Big 12 titles in 16 years as a head coach, 1 national title and 3 other runner-up finishes in the national title game (2003, 2004, 2008).

When Stoops announced the change at offensive coordinator, he answered his critics by saying he's never been more committed to restoring OU as a pre-eminent power.

Stoops got caught with fool's gold at quarterback in 2014.

Trevor Knight, a great kid, revealed he was more inclined to throw pick-6s than repeat his record performance in a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama (32 of 44 passing for 348 yards and 4 TDs with 1 INT). Knight threw pick-6s vs TCU, K-State and Clemson as well as a pick Baylor's Bryce Hager returned to the 1 to start BU's 48-14 rout of OU in Stoops worst-ever loss in Norman.

OU will likely upgrade at QB next season with Mayfield or redshirt freshman Justice Hansen, a 4-star recruit in 2014.

At RB, Samaje Perine and Keith Ford are back. And 5-star RB Joe Mixon is expected to return from a one-year suspension for an altercation with a female.

On the O-line, the Sooners need to replace three starters. Redshirt freshmen Kenyon Frison and Alex Dalton, both 4-star recruits, are likely candidates.

At receiver, OU needs to find play-makers after losing Sterling Shepard (redshirt freshmen Mark Andrews and Dallis Todd, both 6-foot-4, 4-star recruits, are expected to step up).

The defense gets 2013 leading tackler Frank Shannon back from a one-year suspension (sexual misconduct). But Stoops has holes to fill on defense after losing DE Chuka Ndulue and OLB Geneo Grissom as well as senior DBs Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes.

Coaches will likely turn to some true freshmen for answers, including 4-star LB Ricky DeBerry, 4-star DTs Marquise Overton and Neville Gallimore and 4-star DBs P.J. Mbanasor and Will Sunderland.

Stoops will hope for the same type of turnaround Gary Patterson got with a change in offensive coordinator at TCU last year (although that was a change in offensive philosophy). And Horned Frogs QB Trevone Boykin is back in 2015, making TCU a favorite to repeat as Big 12 champs, along with Baylor.

Like OU, Texas, too, will likely be starting over at quarterback in 2015 coming off a 6-7 season. Strong, too, is in search of offense after amassing only 59 yards in a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. Strong is replacing offensive assistants (WR and TE/special teams coaches) after just one season.

The Longhorns also need upgrades on the offensive line and will be looking to some true freshmen to help fill holes on defense, including at linebacker and in the secondary.

In the meantime, their fan bases and the Big 12 wait on Texas and Oklahoma to again take up residence in the Top 10.

The sooner the better.

If it happens, no one would question the Big 12 being a 10-team league without a conference title game. They'd be too busy talking about the strength at the top of the conference - the way people talked about the Big 12 when Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas played in seven of the 10 national title games from 2000-09.

But when? That's the question being asked in Austin and Norman.

And, of course, like any heated rivalry, does one get there before the other?





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