Coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff and with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback on top of the Big 12’s top roster, nobody would argue against the idea that Oklahoma would be a playoff contender in the 2017 season. All of the ingredients are there for another Big 12 title run with a shot to make a case for the College Football Playoff. But Bob Stoops threw quite a curveball today with his surprising retirement.
Bob Stoops retired as head coach of Oklahoma on Wednesday afternoon after a successful 18-year run that included multiple national title shots and one national championship trophy to highlight a plethora of Bigg 12 titles and an impressive overall record. Other than Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, you would not have found too many more coaches that have been more successful in college football. He was to be one of the four active head coaches who would enter the 2017 season with a national championship ring (Saban, Meyer, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney). And at the age of 56, there still seemed to be some good years left to be had on the sideline for Stoops, even if he was growing tired of some of the pressure and criticism he dealt with through the media over the years (especially recently).
Stoops confirmed this has nothing to do with any health concerns, which is always a relief. It also has nothing to do with trying to get out of Norman before any NCAA sanctions hit (see: Chip Kelly, Oregon; Pete Carroll, USC), which is also good to hear. It just seems as though Stoops is ready to move on and enjoy not being in charge of a high-profile college football program the caliber of Oklahoma. The timing is still odd though.
“After 18 years, when is the right time,” Stoops said when asked about the timing at a press conference. That’s probably a safe answer, but consider the fact Stoops has already run the program through spring football practices, has been going through recruiting efforts as recently as this week and just signed another recruiting class in February. There may be no ideal time to resign, but this is nothing short of strange as far as the timing goes.
I would not be shocked to see Stoops back on the sideline in the future, although it is likely he takes a year off to do some TV work somewhere. FOX would be my first guess as he would be a true asset to their name recognition, and ESPN is probably out considering recent cuts and they just hired Chip Kelly.
But the show must go on for the Sooners as Stoops steps aside.
In steps Lincoln Riley. The 33-year old is now the youngest head coach in all of FBS and he takes over one of the top programs in the nation. Oklahoma could have named him the interim head coach and wait to see how he does in the 2017 season, but the Sooners went the extra mile and just flat-out promoted him to being the full-time head coach. This is now Riley’s program and he can move forward knowing he is not in a lame duck situation with the possibility of Oklahoma hiring a coach like Chip Kelly looming over him. We do not know how well Riley will be as a head coach, because this will be his first head coaching job. This is as close to throwing a coach into the fire as you can get.
In 2017, Oklahoma plays on the road in Week 2 against Ohio State. Riley also takes over as the head coach of Oklahoma the same year that Tom Herman is on a mission to rejuvenate the rival Texas Longhorns. This could have the makings for some great rivalry storylines for years to come.
Fortunately, although this news seemed to happen quickly, this was part of a long-term vision for Oklahoma nurtured by Stoops and athletics director Joe Castiglione for over a year, according to Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. Riley has the background from his time at Texas Tech and Oklahoma to keep Oklahoma chugging along as a top Big 12 contender on a regular basis, but what we don’t know is how those skills will be put to the test in pressure situations on game day. As just mentioned above, we’ll get a good sense of how well Riley runs the show this season. Should he happen to stumble, he will have to prove he can learn from his mistakes. At Oklahoma, despite the wave of optimism with the changing of the guard, he will have to prove he can handle the job faster than he would have to at another program as he works his way up to this spot. He simply won’t be afforded that luxury in this day and age.
This is by no means a suggestion Oklahoma is doomed. Far from that. All we can say for sure is that we’re about to learn something about Riley as a head coach and whether or not he is ready to get Oklahoma back to the playoff or not in 2017.