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Oklahoma had no choice but to cut ties with Mike Stoops as playoff hopes remain alive

Bad things sometimes happen to good people. Mike Stoops is one of those good people.

But good hearts don’t always win football games.

Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator paid the price Sunday night for his unit’s lackluster performance this season when he was reportedly fired one day after OU’s devastating loss to Texas in the Red River Showdown.

Stoops, long a whipping boy for vocal Oklahoma fans, led a sometimes-leaky defense that seemed to keep the Sooners from reaching the next level.

If it wasn’t criticism of Stoops from Oklahoma fans, it was criticism of his brother, former head coach Bob Stoops, for keeping his sibling on the staff. It was easy for those critics to assume Mike kept his job for so long because the coaches shared the same last name.

Now 1 ½ seasons removed from Bob Stoops’ shadow, head coach Lincoln Riley had enough cover to make the move while championship hopes remain alive for the Sooners this season.

It’s about time. Oklahoma can do better and should do better.

On Saturday, Texas scored on seven of its first eight possessions on its way to rolling up 501 yards in a 48-45 victory. That was after Army (44 minutes in time of possession) and Baylor (37 minutes) played keep away with the ball in consecutive games. Because of that success, Oklahoma dropped to 123rd this week in time possession. Only seven teams have held the ball for a shorter amount of time on average this season.

“We didn’t tackle well,” Riley said after Saturday’s game. “We missed too many big tackles in the open field. I don’t think we covered great. We had a few too many guys just getting beat to the ball in a couple situations, and the glaring thing was the third-and-longs we gave up.”

Texas was also 5 for 5 in the red zone and 6 for 14 on third downs in its upset win.

Mike Stoops remains one of the most respected figures in the game. He stood outside the interview room Saturday at the Cotton Bowl answering every question posed to him after his defense had just been gouged again.

He made his bones as an assistant at Kansas State under Bill Snyder from 1992-98. In those days, Stoops’ rants from the coaches’ box were easily heard through the thin walls next to the press box. Never mind his players had no chance of hearing him. His talents landed him the top job at Arizona from 2004-11.

In 2012, he joined his brother at Oklahoma. Since then, the Sooners defense has finished in the top 38 nationally only once (20th in 2013). This year’s unit is currently 96th nationally giving up an average of 421 yards per game. Linebacker Kenneth Murray is second in the nation with 75 total tackles.

Oklahoma has won three consecutive Big 12 titles and made two College Football Playoff appearances in the last four years. The Sooners had the best player in the country last year (Baker Mayfield) and may have the same this year (Kyler Murray).

Oklahoma blew a 31-14 first-half lead against Georgia in last year’s Rose Bowl semifinal. In the second half as the Bulldogs made their push, it was obvious even to the untrained eye that the Sooners defense had trouble lining up right at times. The Dawgs won 54-48 in double overtime.

This is the first major personnel move of Riley’s Oklahoma tenure. It has been rumored that defensive line coach Ruffin McNeill would take over should Stoops be let go. McNeill had been Riley’s boss as head coach at East Carolina.  

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