“Thank God it happened!” Heupel said Thursday as he prepared his high-flying, undefeated, 10th-ranked UCF Knights for Saturday’s conference showdown with Memphis. “It’s worked out great for me. If I had stayed there, I wouldn’t be here.”
Then again, if he had stayed at Oklahoma as offensive coordinator, he might be the head coach of the Sooners today. After all, the guy who replaced him — Lincoln Riley — was named the head coach when the great Bob Stoops stepped down before last season.
Earlier this week, Riley finally fired Mike Stoops — Bob’s brother — as the defensive coordinator of the Sooners. If life were fair, Mike Stoops would have been fired three seasons ago instead of Heupel, but blood is thicker than offensive ingenuity.
There was no way Stoops was going to fire his kid brother after a miserable (by Oklahoma standards) 8-5 season ended with an embarrassing 40-6 loss to Clemson right here in Orlando at the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl. Consequently, Heupel and co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell were scapegoated after the miserable offensive performance in the bowl game against Clemson — the No. 1-ranked defense in the country.
Bob Stoops obviously has his reasons for making the staff changes he did, but the fact is Oklahoma’s offense was ranked No. 23 in the country that year and the defense was ranked 51st. And although Heupel says he is over the disappointment of getting let go by his alma mater, it should be noted he hasn’t spoken to Bob Stoops – his college coach – since the day he was fired.
Wrote Jenni Carlson, columnist of the Daily Oklahoman, on the day Heupel was let go at OU: “He is the only quarterback to win a national championship under Stoops. Before Heupel, the Sooners were wandering through the quarterback wilderness. … In two years, he changed the program’s — and Stoops’ — fortunes. Heupel became the fair-haired hero, ushering in the passing era, piloting the Sooners’ spread and winning the national title.
“Then as a coach, he developed an unheralded beanpole of a kid from Putnam City North, Sam Bradford, into a Heisman Trophy winner. In those better days, it was widely assumed Heupel would one day take over for Stoops as head coach. Now he’s been ousted by his alma mater.”
When asked now if the firing motivated him to prove Oklahoma wrong and prove himself as a great coordinator, Heupel says he never doubted his ability as an offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach. However, he says, “it forced me and gave me the ability to reset and decide what do I want to do and what do I want to be about as an offensive coach? What is my philosophy? It allowed me to get back to some of the things I wanted to do.
“In those last two years at Oklahoma, we changed for two reasons. No. 1, because of the philosophy of the head coach and what he wanted to do. And No. 2, because of injuries. We played five quarterbacks in those last two years because of injuries. When you do that, you’re going to change your philosophy to fit what the quarterbacks can do at that point in their development.”
After leaving Oklahoma, Heupel spent one year at Utah State before landing at Missouri under head coach Barry Odom. When he arrived at Mizzou in 2016, he took over a an offense ranked 124th in the country the previous season. In the first year of Heupel’s fast-break, no-huddle offense, the Tigers were ranked 13th in the nation and improved to eighth last season. Not bad for a sub-par SEC program that went 4-8 and 7-6 during Heupel’s two years as coordinator.
By the time Heupel left Missouri, his offense was one of the most explosive in the country. In his final six games as coordinator, the Tigers averaged 51 points per game and did it in the defensive-minded, smash-mouth SEC. Missouri led the SEC in total offense last season by averaging 502 yards per game.
Now, Heupel is in charge of a UCF offense ranked third in the country and averaging slightly more points (48.6) per game than it did during last year’s perfect season.
“I had been under one umbrella my entire coaching career,” Heupel says. “The opportunities I have had to go to other places after Oklahoma either confirmed things or opened my eyes to things I would want to do in my own program. I’m a better coach today because I left Oklahoma.”
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein:
“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain,
Where the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet,
And where your loss was UCF’s gain.”