In Bob Stoops’ 16-year career at Oklahoma, his football program has gone through distinct phases. Periodically, Stoops and his staff have outfitted the team with a new identity and changed points of emphasis. In each case, the Sooners’ blueprint for winning changed.
When he first started at OU, Stoops brought in Mike Leach and junior college quarterback Josh Heupel to throw the Big 12 a change-up. The Sooners' Air Raid flummoxed defenses, giving Bob and his brother Mike time to sculpt a defense in the image of the killer units they oversaw in previous stops.
Soon enough, defense became OU's calling card. The D snuffed the life out of opponents as a physical running game bashed them repeatedly. Even as quarterback Jason White was setting passing records and winning a Heisman, OU shifted to a more conventional offensive scheme to complement its filthy defense.
Later, OU was an early-ish adopter of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense that is so commonplace across college football now. The Sooners thrived on overwhelming the other team with tempo and great quarterback play. The defense capitalized on opponents' offensive mistakes as they struggled to keep up, trading some ferocity up front for smaller, versatile players suited to slowing the spread proliferating across the Big 12.
Starting in 2013, Stoops clearly wanted to take the team in a new direction. The book on OU's spread scheme was out. Teams were finding success by laying back on D and forcing OU’s offense to execute time and again.
Ostensibly, OU was going to cultivate a more ground-oriented offense that featured a QB run element. At the very least, incorporating the zone read into the attack would force defenses to play the Sooners a little more honestly.
In theory, Stoops was looking for a multidimensional, Pistol-type offense. In practice, he got… something else.
It frequently looked as though offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has been using a scattershot approach to figure out what his team does well. The QBs have run sporadically. The O has abandoned its talented band of running backs for stretches at a time. OU’s ability to throw the ball with any level of proficiency comes and goes.
You could argue that OU’s periodic transformations have played a huge role in Stoops’ sustained success. Unfortunately, the latest makeover has not gone well. Some of the responsibility for that falls on his staff. Yet, nothing about how this team has performed in the last two years suggests that Stoops himself has been willing to commit a new identity.
Given that he’s staring down a staff overhaul in the coming weeks, Stoops needs to better define what he wants his team to be. If he can’t, the only change that will make any true difference for the program will be at the top.