Back in 2001, Bob Stoops was the hot name on football’s coaching carousel. Oklahoma’s head coach was a year removed from winning a national championship in just his second season in Norman and clearly had the Sooners on an upward trajectory after a decade-plus of wandering the desert.
When the news broke that winter that Steve Spurrier was leaving Florida for an ill-fated stint with the Washington Redskins, Stoops felt like a natural fit. Legend has it that he had even reached an agreement to come back to Gainesville to replace his mentor before a last-second change of heart.
Rebuffing the Gators once apparently hasn’t stopped Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley from calling on OU’s 16-year head coach multiple times when the gig came open. Once again, Foley is looking for a new head honcho. Once again, Stoops’ name is circulating as a candidate.
Would Florida’s ex-defensive coordinator be a good hire? If a mere “absolutely” from yours truly isn’t good enough for you, Gator fan, allow me to answer all your questions about a theoretical Stoops-Florida union.
* Has Stoops gone stale?
A very fair question after the last five years of watching Oklahoma not quite get over the hump.
Stoops-in-Norman might be a little past the expiration date. He has held his current position for 16 years, which works out to roughly 83 in coach years. It is possible that he’s in a rut at OU from which there is no escape.
Yet, just because the situation with the Sooners looks a little flat, that doesn’t really speak to Stoops’ ability to turn things around in Gainesville. He’s still relatively young (53) and hasn’t shown any signs of tiring of the coaching grind. He’s also cocky and stubborn, two qualities that make him far less likely to phone it in.
A change of scenery and new challenge is far more likely to bring out the best in Stoops than reveal he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
* OK, but why would the Gators want a coach who can’t win the big one?
I would say you’re better than this, but I don’t really know you that well.
The arguments against Stoops as a candidate probably start with the talk radio fodder about his predilection to blow “big games.” The record that stands out: 4-5 in BCS games, including 1-3 in the national championship game.
So, yes, there were those three times he didn’t win a national championship.
However, you don’t get to those really big games without winning a bunch of other big games along the way. For example, among the highlights of Stoops’ resume is a sterling 7-1 mark in Big 12 conference championship games. He also owns a 10-6 record against OU’s chief rival, Texas.
What constitutes a big game according to this line of thinking tends to shift around to suit the needs of the person trying to build a case. In reality, for every flop in Stoops’ history, there are probably two or three statement wins, but if you don’t want to hire Stoops because of that time OU lost to Boise State or something, you do you.
* Has Stoops lost his touch in recruiting?
OU’s recruiting class rankings have gradually drifted downward in the course of his tenure. Whereas the Sooners were once locks to land a top 10 national class, they’re now hovering more in the 15-20 range on an annual basis. That rightfully concerns Sooner Nation now.
So, it’s a fair question. On the other hand, does the Florida gig require that much selling out on the trail? We’re talking about the only school in the SEC which is located in arguably the most talented state in the union. According to Rivals recruiting rankings, the Gators landed top-10 classes in nine of the last 13 years. Recruiting would be fine.
* Is Stoops too loyal to his assistants?
If you were trying to pinpoint the reasons behind OU’s slow slide out of the ranks of the national elite, this might carry the most weight. Stoops has rarely pushed for turnover in his coaching staff and has demonstrated a preference for maintaining continuity over shaking the pail.
It’s an if-it-ain’t-broke-why-fix-it philosophy that promotes stability. It also tends to lead to situations where he’s reacting to problems that emerge, rather than proactively identifying and addressing them.
* So does that mean we’d be stuck with Mike Stoops?
Most likely, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mike’s reputation as a defensive genius has taken some hits since he came back to OU three years ago. It turns out that he didn’t have all the answers to stopping the spread offenses that proliferated in the Big 12. In fact, he has seen his defenses roasted on plenty of occasions, such as the Sooners’ recent loss to Baylor.
Frankly, though, it’s tough to say where pre-existing problems in defensive recruiting end, and flaws in Mike’s schemes start. Consider, for instance, that he and Bob moved to a 3-4 base look prior to the 2013 season specifically because they didn’t have enough bodies to fill out a four-man front. The cupboard was all but bare at linebacker when Mike took over in 2012, too, which has forced him to move players more suited to safety inside.
Historically, the Stoops brothers have worked over the pro-style offenses that are so popular in SEC country. Although the overall level of talent they face on a weekly basis would be higher than what they’re facing now, the up-and-down quarterback play and, ahem, lack of offensive sophistication across the conference wouldn’t exactly scare them.
* What about Josh Heupel?
Hmmm… tougher call. While I think it’s very likely that Bob would want to keep his brother in the fold, it’s less clear how devoted he is to his current offensive coordinator.
In other words, there’s less reason to think Heupel’s status would bear a significant amount of weight in Bob’s decision.
* Fine, so when does Stoops start?
Most likely the day after no time soon.
The possibility that Stoops sees the situation at OU as stale doesn’t necessarily mean he hops to Florida. If he does view the state of his tenure in Norman that way, Stoops’ pride might not let him leave without trying to fix it. Oklahoma’s administration would certainly give him ample time to do that.
Coaching at Florida also would require that Stoops square off with his brother Mark at Kentucky on an annual basis. That’s something Bob has said he opposed in the past.
More than likely, Stoops’ next move will be to the NFL, not another college gig. Foley should definitely make another call to OU’s coach, but he shouldn’t expect a different answer.