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Oklahoma Football: The final straw for OU and Mike Stoops

It finally happened. Mike Stoops is out, and the fact that it was a long time coming doesn’t change the fact that the timing is surprising. Having said that, there really was no ideal time to do this, so credit to OU for finally making the move — as overdue as it might have been. The news was first reported Sunday evening by James Hale.

Now remember, the Oklahoma Sooners have only reached the mid-point of the regular season with plenty left in front of them. Yes, CFP hopes don’t look great, but they aren’t dead yet.

OU is one of the premier programs of all time and has one of the proudest fan bases in the nation. The defense isn’t the most star-studded group, but the talent — while not necessarily at the ideal level — is present. For the majority of his six and a half seasons as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator, the team was held back by Stoops’ ineffective schemes and below-average results.

For the sake of not lamenting on the stupidly-long history of abysmal performances and outright failures (Texas Tech in 2016 probably should’ve been the last straw), I first just want to focus on what happened this Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.

535 yards and 45 points should always be enough to win football games — always. Texas’ offense recorded season-highs in points (48), total yards (501), passing yards (324) and yards per pass (8.8) against Oklahoma’s defense. Once again, there were egregious missed tackles, players out of position and zero takeaways. Yes, players have to execute their assignments, but these kinds of consistent and repetitive mistakes have fall back on Stoops. The man works in a results-based industry, and he hadn’t been getting results.

In case you were fooled by what you witnessed in Dallas, the 2018 Longhorns are by no means an offensive juggernaut. In fact, coming into the game, their offense was statistically one of the worst in the nation in red zone efficiency, but you wouldn’t know that by watching this one. Oklahoma didn’t force Texas to punt until the third quarter, and it felt like UT was even more dominant than that.

Overall, the Sooners’ defensive issues have been frustrating to watch, but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of their performance has been their sheer inability to generate stops, especially on third and fourth down. Texas was 6-14 on third down, which is already a solid conversion clip, but the Longhorns were also 2-2 on fourth down. Those are two missed opportunities to get the ball back for the offense, and failing to do so is absolutely back-breaking. Additionally, both of those occurred after Texas picked up large chunks of yardage on third-and-extra-long situations, which was especially maddening.

And it gets worse.

Many, including myself, didn’t expect Stoops to retain his position as defensive coordinator following the epic conclusion to the 2017 season. The results of the Rose Bowl against Georgia are well-documented and are likely, nay, absolutely the reason why Oklahoma did not have a chance to play for the national title.

Same story, different year. Even with a Heisman-caliber quarterback, All-American-level receivers, and an elite play caller, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the sieve that was Mike Stoops’ defense. That’s why this change has been made. His welcome back to his old stomping grounds grew stale beyond its expiration date. However, the time for new blood will have to wait.

In the meantime, Ruffin McNeill will serve as the interim DC, while Bob Diaco will slide up from defensive analyst to outside linebackers coach (Stoops’ former responsibility).

McNeill, the former head coach of East Carolina has spent time as a DC at Appalachian State (‘93-’96), UNLV (‘97-’98), Fresno State (‘99) and Texas Tech (‘08-’09), so the man has coordinating experience in bunches. Plus, Lincoln Riley is familiar with what he brings to the table from their shared time at TTU, ECU and the past season and a half here at Oklahoma.

In 2007, McNeill took over a TTU defense that’d ranked No. 69 in S&P+. By 2009, his defense ranked No. 27 in that same category and No. 24 in yards allowed per play. He’s showed it’s possible to marry competent defense with a Big 12 offense, and competence on defense would be a big step up for the Sooners.

Dusty Dvoracek has an interesting take for how he expects this coaching shakeup to play out.

I’d say that no matter how the Sooners’ defense looks the rest of the season, a different coach will likely take over as defensive coordinator come 2019, with Ruffin McNeill keeping his old role on the staff. So who do AD Joe Castiglione, Lincoln Riley and company have their eyes on as far as a long-term DC replacement? That remains to be seen, but ideally it should be someone who has extensive experience and success in defending spread offenses like the majority of the ones employed in the Big 12. Personally, I think if there’s an up-and coming coach from the Gary Patterson coaching tree, he has to at least get a good look. Outside of that, a name to keep an eye on would be Washington co-DC Jimmy Lake. Regardless, the offseason is going to be interesting.

A long-running narrative from the national perspective is that defense doesn’t exist in the Big 12, and Stoops was a big reason for that. With Oklahoma being the class of the conference for so many years only for its defense to be exposed on big stages time and time again, it’s no wonder why such beliefs exist and persist.

Still, it’s been proven that defense has been and can be played at a high (or at least competent) level in the Big 12. The Sooners have recruited defensive talent as well as anybody in the league in recent cycles, so there really is no good excuse for Oklahoma not to have one of the most complete teams in the nation on an annual basis. Letting go of Mike Stoops was the first step in the right direction, but the steps taken in the next few months will be crucial to the overall trajectory of this program.

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