The college football world was rocked Sunday afternoon when it was announced that Lincoln Riley would leave Oklahoma for USC.
Riley, 38, has been considered one of the top up-and-coming coaches in college football since taking over the Sooners’ coaching spot in 2017, his first head coaching gig at any level. During his time as Oklahoma’s head coach, the Sooners went 55-10, won the Big 12 four times and reached the College Football Playoff three times.
The Sooners are now tasked with finding Riley’s successor in the first full coaching search since Bob Stoops was hired in 1996. However, filling Riley’s vacant position in Norman for the bowl game will be none other than Stoops, who hired Riley as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2014. Stoops has been retired since 2016, only spending a single season in 2020 briefly coaching the Dallas Renegades from the XFL.
Yet now, he is making his brief return to coach Oklahoma in its final game of the 2021 season.
“Coach Stoops, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame next week, will serve as our interim head coach,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement. “He is looking forward to the opportunity and we certainly appreciate all he has done and continues to do for our athletics department and football program. Our team and players are in great hands under his leadership.”
Why is Bob Stoops coaching Oklahoma?
There is perhaps no name more synonymous with Oklahoma football than Stoops.
As coach of the Sooners, he guided the program to a 190-48 record in his 18 years as the head coach, claiming a national championship and 10 Big 12 titles along the way. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year.
Stoops decided to retire in 2016, saying that it was the ideal time for him to step down and transition the program to Riley. He said that his health was not a factor in his decision to retire.
“I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins. The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship. We have new state-of-the-art facilities and a great start on next year’s recruiting class. The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players,” Stoops said in a statement from the school. “Now is simply the ideal time for me and our program to make this transition.”
Stoops had a brief stint as the head coach of the Renegades, leading the team to a 2-3 record in 2020 before the season was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league eventually filed for bankruptcy, though it plans to return in 2023.
Stoops has maintained a presence around Oklahoma, however. According to USA Today, he joined the coaching staff briefly on Dec. 1, 2020, to help during practice leading up to a matchup with Baylor. This year, he has spent time as an analyst on Fox Sports’ “Big Noon Kickoff.”
He has also been special assistant to the athletic director since he retired from the position, though he stepped down from a full-time role to a part-time role in 2019 to accomodate his move to the XFL, according to The Oklahoman.
So Stoops moving to the coaching vacancy for one game is an easy answer for a program looking to maintain a level of excitement heading into its final game of the season, even after its CFP hopes were dashed in a 37-33 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. And bringing in a legacy name such as Stoops might help to keep up the enthusiasm.
“First and foremost, I’m a program guy and whatever I can do to help OU and to support the players, of course I’m glad to do it. I’ll do everything I can to help them finish the season in a strong and successful way and I look forward to that,” Stoops said in a statement from the school. “Lincoln did a great job in his five years as head coach here and I appreciate all he did for this program. I’ll always appreciate the close friendship we’ve had and will continue to have. I wish the best for him, Caitlin and their family.”
Could this portend a longer stay for Stoops? It seems unlikely, though perhaps not impossible. His brother, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, has been linked to the opening as well, and might be a better fit as a different face — albeit, with the same last name.