Less than three days after being let go as the defensive coordinator of the Oklahoma Sooners, Mike Stoops joined former player Dusty Dvoracek on WWLS The Sports Animal to discuss his firing, what went wrong, the rumors about he and Curtis Bolton, and more.
When asked about the lead-up to his firing, Stoops replied, “Well, I think everything kind of came to a head Saturday. Our inability to play a level of football that Oklahoma should expect. And ultimately that fell on me. That was tremendously hard. I have so much respect for this program, all the players that have played in it, for Lincoln, the administration and just didn’t get it done. That hurt greatly, and I think it just came to a head Saturday in a lot of different ways for a lot of different reasons, Dusty. That’s why we’re here where we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”
The Texas game was the last straw for Stoops, but things had obviously been off the rails for some time. When asked to discuss the difference between his first and second stints in Norman, Stoops cited a lack of consistency.
“There’s so many factors that go into all of that,” said Stoops. “It’s your staff, it’s your players, it’s the league we’re in. There’s just so many different factors that lead to all of that and just for whatever reason we just haven’t been able to find consistency and just too many bad games throughout the course of this second stint. I wish I could put my finger on it. There’s a lot of different elements that go into each particular year. Certainly coaching is a big element. Players is another element to that. Continuity within all that. Youth. There’s a lot of different factors that go into each particular year, but our lack of consistency was concerning to me.”
“It’s been very uncomfortable for me the last few years,” he added. “I think the last time we led the conference was the year we went to the Orange Bowl, and I think that was the last time we had a top-25 defense in this league. And then the last few were just kind of hanging on for a lot of reasons. And I think those came to fruition on Saturday: our inability to tackle, our inability to cover receivers consistently, to pressure the quarterback at all levels of our defense. Just our lack of consistency, playmaking ability across the board leads to all that as you know as a great defensive player.”
Stoops also confirmed that some weight had been lifted off his shoulders when this decision was made. “Oh yeah, some of that,” Stoops stated. “Disappointment in myself probably is probably the No. 1 thing that I couldn’t get our program back to that level consistently is what probably hurts the most. You know you know defense. Getting players to buy in consistently to play at a level that I’m used to players playing at is probably the most disappointing part of it all to me. And certainly Lincoln has been incredible. He gave me the opportunity to correct it. Players aren’t always going to like you, Dusty. You know that. But they’ve gotta respect what it takes to play every time they step on the field when you put on an Oklahoma uniform. We just couldn’t get that consistent effort from different parts of our team consistently enough, and that’s probably the thing disappointed about because I know how many great defensive players that have come through this place. I coached a lot of them. So many of them through that era. It takes a special person to play and get effort like that.”
“I just couldn’t get our players to play consistently at that level and it’s probably the thing that I’m the most disappointed in,” he concluded. “Sure it hurts. Each game, it would be nerve-racking. You ask any defensive coordinator and if they are honest with you about going up against any of these teams, you are kind of sitting on edge, knowing that some of your flaws can be exposed at any time, and certainly a lot of ours were exposed. You saw some of it creep in. I thought we got off to a good start early in the year. You saw some of it creep in against Iowa State. Then people started seeing things and people have you on tape and understand your strengths and your weaknesses. It was just too much to overcome ultimately.”
Of course, Stoops would be asked about Brendan Radley-Hiles’ since-deleted tweet.
“The times have changed greatly in the last 10 years,” he replied. “Social media has changed the game in a lot of ways. I think kids are much different now than they were when you were playing and we were together that first time around. Things have changed a great deal. I noticed a little bit more of it when I came back. I really had a great group of secondary guys. You look at Tony Jefferson, Demontre Hurst, Aaron Colvin, Zack Sanchez, those guys, they were the first group that I started to notice that they were a little bit different. They had their own ideas and thoughts and identities. They still played to a very high level when we pushed them to go out there and perform. That’s disappointing. I can’t answer for every player. There has to be accountability. You have to play for each other at a high level. Everyone is not going to like you and the way you coach and the way you teach. That’s obvious. That was the same way back then. But they have to respect your knowledge, the process of going week-to-week, understanding where they have to be, why they have to be there and how they have to do things.”
“I’m a stickler to detail and being precise in everything you do,” he added. “Maybe that just wears on players. I still believe it’s the right way to approach any game. The schemes don’t change. The players — you try to put them in the best position to go out and play. I haven’t made a tackle or covered a guy in 35 years. I haven’t rushed the quarterback. I haven’t done that for a long time. You have to try to put your players in the best position you can for success. That’s all we’ve every really tried to do. I’m certainly not perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes trusting certain elements of our team. That’s my responsibility. That’s probably the biggest mistake I made. That’s unfortunate. It leads to where we’re at today. You gotta trust people. You gotta trust your coaches to get things to players. I’m one person. But ultimately, I have to demand that everybody plays a certain way, everybody gets their players to buy in, and just didn’t get that.”
That may have come off as deflection to many, but I saw it as him simply acknowledging that he had trouble relating and getting through to players from a new generation, which he seems to believe ultimately led to his downfall. There seemed to be plenty of exceptions to this over the past few years, but it seems like a fairly honest assessment of the situation.
If you’ve been paying much attention to local sports radio this week, you’re probably aware of the the mudslinging that has been going around involving a rumored halftime incident involving Stoops and inside linebacker Curtis Bolton, who was said to have walked out into the State Fair of Texas at one point. Bolton, Riley and others have since denied it (or stated that it was overblown), so Mike Stoops was also asked about the situation.
“Well, that’s ludicrous, No. 1. Whoever would report such an erroneous situation and defame me and him is beyond ridiculousness. That hurts as well. For people to say … there’s just so much fake news out there that me just not getting it done, it was the right time to make a move. It’s unfortunate, but that’s another example of social media, or people in the media who want to sensationalize all these things. I for once know how President Trump feels about fake news.”
That line either made you cringe or nod your head, but let’s move on.
“Didn’t say one word to Curtis at halftime,” Stoops affirmed. “Didn’t even know he left, Dusty. Didn’t know until after the game. That’s how crazy that is. Lincoln was upset, rightfully so, at our performance and he did most of the talking. Again, that’s just 100 percent false. It’s unfortunate that people would run with that without even checking with me or the source, that’s what’s unfortunate. Me and Lincoln have so much respect for one another and I know how tremendously hard this is. After the game, we hugged each other. I told him how sorry I was and we hugged each other, walked out of the locker room, we went and said we would talk on Sunday. We talked Sunday morning for about a half-hour. Talked about some of the issues, what happened, why so-and-so, we left each other, talked about the future, what’s gonna be best for our program. We talked about five, six hours later and came to this conclusion. That’s exactly what happened. Again, we’re all grown men here. We have a lot of respect for each other. I have tremendous respect for this program and what’s best for it, and that’s what we decided. That’s exactly how it happened. If people want to believe that other stuff, that other noise, then that’s their business. I would, again, never lie about something as important as that or the integrity of what we are as people. Going down with integrity is the most important part of all this.”
When asked if he had offered to resign after the game, he he denied it in similar fashion.
“Yeah, can you see me on a computer after the game typing out a letter of resignation?”, he asked. “That sounds just like me, doesn’t it Dusty? You know me as well as anybody. That’s absurd as well. Again, I don’t know where people get their news. I don’t know why they report such ridiculousness or why we can’t handle this like grown men. Me and Lincoln and administration. That’s what we ultimately did and did what’s best for our program at this time. I’m sorry, but that’s how it went down.”
As one might assume, Dvoracek asked Stoops if he would consider going back into coaching, and the former DC (and Arizona HC) certainly didn’t close that door. He also has an idea of going back to the drawing board.
“That’s another great question, Dusty. I just want to rest, get healthy. It’s been a great strain on all of us, my whole family. I think everybody here. Just want to rest, heal, reflect and see where it takes me. I really don’t know. I would say I’m in the same situation Bob is in. I don’t know. I could see myself doing a lot of different things. I could see myself trying to be an understudy to somebody — a Nick Saban, a Kirby Smart, somebody of that magnitude and trying to rethink, relearn, reteach.”
“I don’t know [about] going back into the fire coaching defense right now,” he stated. “I don’t know. I have to see where my gut takes me, whether media, any of that is something I’d enjoy doing. The first thing I’ve got to do is recharge myself, reboot and think this all through. When I left Arizona and got right into this thing it was, I don’t know if I really took enough time to rethink things if that makes sense. I went right into another very high-profile situation that takes a lot out of you. So I don’t know. That’s something I’m going to kind of work through.”
“If I take on another responsibility of this magnitude, I want to make sure I’m right and everything’s right with our staff, it’s the right fit for me, personally, with who I’m coaching with. That’s not to say … Lincoln has been, me and him will always be friends. It was a great three and a half years together. He couldn’t have been kinder to me. His family loved me. So I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Was Mike Stoops a bad fit for the Big 12? His struggles haven’t been limited to Big 12 offenses, but I could see him having some success another P5 conference like the Big Ten. Anyway, he seems glad to be done with Big 12 offenses.
“It’s taken probably five years off my life, that’s for sure,” he quipped. “Tremendously well-coached offenses in this league. I couldn’t give these offensive coordinators enough respect. Not sure if everybody sees it like we see it week in and week out. It’s unfortunate. Again, you’ve got to be so spot-on at different levels of your defense to really handle these things consistently. It is. It’s extremely difficult to coach defense in this league.”
When asked about following his brother into retirement and growing facial hair, he replied, “Yeah, could you see me and Bob with our beards out there golfing?”
Yes, and we’re going to need pictures when it happens.
“My family’s been tremendously supportive. All of Oklahoma, Dusty. It’s unfortunate. I know how hard it was for Lincoln. Got calls from Joe [Castiglione], President Boren. That means the world to me. They understood how hard and what it meant to me. Just let a lot of people down, that’s probably the hardest part.”
In the end, Stoops his motivation for going about things in the way that he did.
“Past and even these present kids. They just don’t know yet. Life’s lessons come in different ways and at different times. A lot of times these kids don’t understand it until they’re out in the real world, understand what you were trying to teach them, the hard lessons of life. That was my greatest reward was players would always come back and say, ‘Now I understand what you were trying to teach me and why you were trying to teach me it that way’. Sometimes love is tough, but it’s still love. The respect I have for everyone, my players, whether it was Oklahoma, Arizona or Kansas State. My work speaks for itself.”
Later, Stoops call in to defend himself against Jim Traber, who was one of the people pumping out the Bolton rumors. Traber had no interest in engaging in any kind of conversation, and the result was a cringeworthy interaction.
I still have plenty of respect for Mike Stoops as a person, and he reaffirmed that respect with the way he handled himself today. It sucks that he was never able to truly get things going in the right direction after returning from his head coaching stint in Tucson, and sometimes the results and decisions were downright atrocious. However, we shouldn’t forget his role in reconstructing this proud program during his first stint, and OU fans should be forever thankful for what he, his brother and all of those other great assistants were able to do back then.