Bob Stoops made it official today that two of his assistants from Oklahoma’s 2014 coaching staff, Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, had lost their jobs. Depending on whom you talk to, as many as four more could be looking for work soon.
If that kind of bloodletting sounds reminiscent of recent events down by the Red River, that’s because it should. Mack Brown led Texas on a similar overhaul just four years ago following a disappointing season. Three years later, Mack was settling into an ESPN analyst’s chair and brushing off his finely tuned courtesy laugh.
Both coaches were a year removed from relative high points in their tenures when the time came to rebuild: Texas played Alabama for the national championship in 2009 and went 5-7 the next season; the Sooners won the Sugar Bowl in 2013, then lost five games in 2014. Mack had already entered a death spiral in Austin. Why should this be any different for Stoops?
Frankly, it shouldn’t. (Quick, name all the coaches you can think of who once lost their groove and then got it back.) It’s a familiar story that goes beyond just the coaching profession.
But if you're looking for reasons why Stoops might buck the trend, here are three:
The Sooners have talent at the offensive skill positions.
OU is losing four starters off its o-line. That hurts. On the plus side, the skill spots are stocked with potential playmakers:
- Josh Heupel’s successor can pick a starting quarterback from a group of three four-star recruits and one former Big 12 newcomer of the year. Despite his inconsistency, rising junior Trevor Knight has shown flashes of brilliance.
- OU returns three tailbacks who combined to rush for roughly 2,700 yards last season, including one who owns the NCAA single-game rushing record. Stud recruit Joe Mixon joins the fold next season after his year suspension.
- Sterling Shepard was playing like one of the best wideouts in the country prior to getting hurt in the middle of the year. Two other starters return at receiver, and they should feel some heat from a bevy of highly regard underclassmen.
The defense boasts plenty of experience.
The Sooners will have eight starters back on defense in the fall. Returning starters don't help when they're not good, and OU's D didn't come close to living up to expectations last season.
In terms of personnel, however, a green secondary severely hindered the defense in '14. The upside: Promising youngsters like cornerback Jordan Thomas and safety Steven Parker got a little seasoning. They join key contributors such as Zack Sanchez and Eric Striker in returning for the 2015 campaign.
Importantly, after a couple years of ignoring the defense in recruiting, OU has started bringing in better talent on that side of the ball.
Oklahoma’s down year wasn’t that down.
An 8-5 record at OU will never cut it, especially in a year when expectations were so high. And especially at a time when the program is widely perceived to be atrophying.
Even so, three of the five losses came by four points or fewer. The Sooners took one of the best squads in the country, TCU, down to the wire on the road. Mindless mistakes did them in on multiple occasions.
No one would argue that the Sooners were great in '14. OU was bad relative to its own standards under Stoops, though, not vis-a-vis the majority of teams around the country.
The Sooners struggled in ‘14, but that doesn’t mean they’re that far away from where they want to be. At this point, history says the odds are stacked against Stoops turning things around. But chances are that few programs in this situation have been as well-positioned to do so.