I know I have a lot to learn, but it hasn’t felt overwhelming and hasn’t felt that different, really.
According to Tyler Palmateer of the Tahlequah Daily Press, those words were among Lincoln Riley’s first as he took over the reins of the Oklahoma Sooners football program this past June.
Riley has never been the head coach of a football team, at any level, but suddenly he’s getting a cool three million dollars to lead one of the most storied programs in history.
Riley walked on as a quarterback at Texas Tech in 2002, never accumulating any stats. He was a student assistant, graduate assistant, and wide receivers coach in Lubbock from 2003-09, all under Mike Leach. He spent from 2010-14 at East Carolina as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before landing at Oklahoma as the OC in 2015.
Now, after two seasons in Norman, he’s got a huge pair of shoes to fill.
Is it safe to assume that Oklahoma’s powerhouse football program won’t miss a beat with the change at the helm? Is Riley, who turns 34 in September, capable of ensuring that the Sooners don’t slip off the national radar? It’s something they haven’t done since Stoops took over for John Blake in 1999 after the team posted a 12-22 record from 1996-98.
Here’s what The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel had to say about the transition (in a podcast with SportsDayDFW’s Kevin Sherrington).
So the program’s in great shape. They had a guy they could hand the program to that would keep everything running, the same staff, the same foundation – I think that was important…
The truth is, it would have been more of an upheaval to this 2017 class if Lincoln Riley would have left instead of Bob Stoops.
Admittedly, the last remark references recruiting, but the overall tone of the interview, and of so much of the press surrounding Riley taking over for Stoops is that it isn’t that big of a deal.
Is that accurate?
Bob Stoops’ 18-year run at Oklahoma illustrates how the college football world can begin to take brilliance for granted. Despite achievement after achievement, Stoops seemed to draw fewer accolades than other successful coaches as his tenure drew out.
He also faced criticism from Sooner fans. Here’s what NewsOn6.com had to say after the 2012 season.
When the Oklahoma Sooners wrapped up a solid but unimpressive 10-3 season by getting blasted in the Cotton Bowl by Texas A&M, Sooners fans everywhere howled.
The arguments for change came swiftly and forcefully: Bob Stoops should be fired; OU is getting lapped by too many programs in the recruiting game; certain assistants need to be let go. Some of the arguments were legitimate, others not so much, but the consensus among fans was it would take a lot for Bob Stoops to actually initiate change in a program defined by loyalty and solidarity.
Perhaps it’s natural to lose perspective in long-term relationships. Either way, look at Stoops’ numbers at Oklahoma vs. Alabama’s Nick Saban, Texas’ Mack Brown, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
The statistics for each include only those earned at each coaches’ destination job, therefore they don’t include Saban and Brown’s previous records at other schools.
|vs. Top 10||57%||32%||76%||69%|
|vs. Top 25||67%||50%||76%||51%|
|Top 10 Finish||11||7||9||3|
Out of the 10 categories, Saban is the leader in seven, Stoops wins two and the pair is tied in the final – losing seasons.
Stoops’ only statistical triumphs are in home record (he’s 101-9 vs. Saban’s 63-7) and conference championships (he won a title 56% of his years at Oklahoma vs. Saban’s 50%). Though he leads in the number of Top 10 finishes, technically Saban’s achievements trump Stoops’ because he’s hit the mark more often in fewer years (90% vs. 61%).
Worth nothing is that Saban still has eight seasons remaining to catch Stoops. All-in-all, Saban’s coached 138 games at Alabama vs. Stoops’ 238 at Oklahoma.
So, while Saban’s numbers are better, Stoops sustained the success for longer. To be fair, the numbers will require revisiting once Saban finally steps down.
What Stoops does do is beat Brown (who he coached against in all but two seasons) and Swinney in every category except three; road games, vs. the Top 10, and national titles.
Brown is four percent better in road trips, but he led the Longhorns into 10 fewer away games than Stoops did at Oklahoma. In Top 10 action, Swinney leads the way, but again he’s had less experience facing Top Ten opponents, recording 16 such games vs. Stoops’ 37 and Brown’s 31.
It’s no surprise that Stoops comes up shortest in national titles – one of the major complaints against him at Oklahoma. Though the three are tied at one apiece, Stoops had two more seasons to make a run than Brown and nine more than Swinney.
If you’re thinking, “What about other active guys?” only seven other Power head coaches have been at their current post 10-plus years (Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, TCU’s Gary Patterson, and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham). None of them have numbers that come close to Stoops’, much less Saban’s.
The final comparison worth making is that of programs who have said goodbye, one way or the other, to successful coaches only to suffer subsequent pain and obscurity.
It’s an experience shared by both schools who handed the reins over to someone with head coaching experience (think Charlie Strong at Texas and Rich Rodriguez at Michigan) and those who promoted a young protégé with zero background as a head (think Will Muschamp at Florida).
In the three seasons before Strong took over in Austin, the Longhorns went 25-14 (64%) vs. 16-21 (43%) the three seasons after. At Michigan, the Wolverines were 27-11 (71%) under Lloyd Carr during his last three years vs. the 15-22 (41%) Rodriguez posted during his tenure.
Finally, Florida went 34-7 (83%) in Urban Meyer’s final three years vs. 22-16 (58%) in Muschamp’s first three.
The final tally to mention is 30-9 (78%) – that’s Stoops’ record in his final three seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma.
Though it’s impossible to predict how Lincoln Riley will do, it’s also logical to assume that the transition at Oklahoma won’t be seamless.