Lincoln Riley has big shoes to fill as Bob Stoops retires

When I read that Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops had purchased a $2.5 million home in Chicago earlier this year, I wondered if that was a prelude to an early retirement.

I can’t say I predicted that because I didn’t relate those thoughts to anyone. But when OU gave Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley a huge raise, I suspected that was to keep him at OU until Stoops called it quits.

That’s what happened June 7.

Stoops is retired (but still around as a consultant) and Riley, at age 33, is the new coach of the Oklahoma Sooners.

Here are a few thoughts.

Bob Stoops is a wonderful person and a better college football coach than he is given credit for. At OU, he won a national championship and 10 Big 12 titles.

He is the only coach to win the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl.

He has his critics because he lost a few national championship games. He was embarrassed by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl in one of the biggest upsets ever in college football.

But he didn’t have to retire because of his record. Stoops could have gone 6-6 this season and still been on solid ground with OU’s administration and most of the Sooner fans.

I have covered OU home games since 2001 and sat through post-game press conferences following big wins and big losses.

There was an interesting dynamic between Stoops and sportswriters. Generally, he doesn’t care for them. Over the years, Stoops was not discreet in showing his disdain for writers, although he has mellowed a bit over the years.

That’s in contrast to legendary Coach Barry Switzer, the ultimate good old boy who was pals with many of the in-state sportswriters (especially the late Bill Connors).

I rarely spoke to Stoops over the years. I have never interviewed him, although I occasionally have asked a question in the post-game press conference. I doubt if he even knows who I am.

In Oklahoma, most sportswriters are “homers.” They are not going to criticize OU (or OSU or TU for that matter) very much because it would cost them readers or viewers. OU football is king in this state and you won’t get far beating up on the Sooner head coach.

Some writers from the big newspapers developed a disdain for Stoops and that came out in their coverage. Most of those guys are gone but there are a handful of leftovers.

In the early years, if Stoops didn’t like what you wrote, he would ridicule you when you asked a question. He basically would imply that you had no idea what you were talking about and you were foolish to even ask such a question.

It’s easier to understand friction between a coach and the press in major markets. It’s expected. Those sportswriters don’t care who wins but, honestly, most who cover OU secretly pull for them to win. It’s good for business and it leads to bowl trips in Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Bob Stoops really cares about his players. And he almost always does the right thing. The Joe Mixon affair was more about giving a wayward 17-year-old a second chance at life than winning a ball game.

Maybe that was a wrong decision but it points to Stoop’s fierce loyalty to his team. That’s admirable.

I have not spoken with Lincoln Riley but I have heard him speak after Stoops at post-game press conferences. He’s sharp and he knows football, especially offensive football. I think he is an excellent choice to replace Bob Stoops and could have a career similar to Wilkinson, Switzer and Bob Stoops.

Football is a young man’s game and Bill Snyder notwithstanding, coaching can take a toll on you. Bob Stoops had hip surgery a few years ago and sometimes he would allude to his aches and pains from being 56 and having played college football.

Other college recruiters may be telling players that if they sign with Oklahoma, Stoops would soon retire. They can’t use that leverage now. Recruits, who seem to love Riley, can be pretty assured that the new coach will be around for the next five years.

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans for more than seven decades have flocked to see one of the most successful football programs in the nation. Bob Stoops, like former OU coaches Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, delivered on the achievements needed to keep people in those seats.

Bud, Barry and Bob – they are coaching legends.

Now it’s time for Lincoln Riley to take center stage.