'A little bump in the road': What did Bob Stoops have to say after being named OU's interim coach?

Ryan Aber
Oklahoman
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NORMAN — Bob Stoops stepped behind a lectern in the club level of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Monday and stepped back in time.

He showed a bit of the relaxed mood that’s made him a hit on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff, quipping, “How come I’m the only one that hasn’t aged?” toward the assembled media.

Then, the relaxation went out the window and the fiery version of Stoops returned as he stared straight into the cameras and delivered a message that at times seemed as directed toward outgoing coach Lincoln Riley as it was to fans and recruits.

“This is a real job, this is a great job, a great university with great leadership,” Stoops said. “All you fans, and again, player parents, everyone, just understand. Give it a little bit of time and you’re going to see, this is just a little bump in the road. 

“There’s not one guy, one person in the history of this program that’s bigger than the program — coach (Barry) Switzer, myself, or Lincoln Riley.”

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Interim OU football coach Bob Stoops (left) talks during a news conference on Nov. 29 in Norman, while OU President Joseph Harroz and athletic director Joe Castiglione listen.

Riley was introduced as USC head coach on Monday, leaving the program where he rose to prominence, first as Stoops’ offensive coordinator in 2015-16, and then as Stoops’ hand-picked successor.

“You know, disappointed? Sure,” Stoops said of Riley’s departure. “The rest of it, that’d be between Lincoln and I personally, as it should be. I’m not much on making that kind of stuff public.”

As OU athletic director Joe Castiglione embarks on his first wide-spreading search for a football coach since he hired Stoops almost 23 years ago, Castiglione once again handed the keys to the program to Stoops.

Stoops was on the golf course Sunday when his phone rang with a call from both Castiglione and OU president Joe Harroz.

“How can I help?” Stoops asked when the pair informed him of Riley’s departure.

“The same thing he always says,” Castiglione said. “He is continuing to build on the great tradition he helped create himself.”

Stoops will serve as the Sooners’ interim coach for the upcoming bowl game and will head up recruiting efforts until a new staff is in place.

Stoops isn’t the longterm solution as Riley’s replacement — ”believe me, we asked,” Harroz said — but can help keep things steady until Castiglione finds his man.

Several former Stoops players — DeMarco Murray, Joe Jon Finley and Brian Odom — remain on the staff.

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“They all cared so much about this university, so there was nothing to think about for me,” Stoops said. “I said, ‘If I can help with what’s best for the program, then I’m in. I’ll do the best I can.’”

A handful of recruits from his final recruiting class — Kennedy Brooks, Marquis Hayes, Jeremiah Hall, Isaiah Thomas, Tyrese Robinson and Justin Broiles among them — remain on the Sooners roster though they never played for Stoops.

“A few of them said the guy I committed to, I get to go win a game with,” Stoops said. “Hopefully it will work out that way. I’m looking forward to it. Very much so.”

Stoops will remain with Fox, taking part in the pregame show for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game, but said if there were duties to be performed at OU, he would’ve canceled that.

Stoops hit the road recruiting Monday night, trying to hold together the pieces of the 2022 recruiting class that have not yet splintered off, and trying to give the incoming coach a solid recruiting foundation to start on with signing day just more than two weeks away. 

“I think it’s great,” Stoops said of his return to recruiting on the road. “My wife’s glad I’m out of the house.”

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He’s also worked to try to persuade the current players to stick around — at least to give the new coach a chance to sell them on remaining.

As of Monday night, two players — quarterback Spencer Rattler and wide receiver Jadon Haselwood — had announced their decisions to enter the transfer portal.

It remains unclear who he’ll have on staff for the bowl game — which is likely to be the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl. 

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons are definitely joining Riley in Los Angeles while others could ultimately leave.

“We will have to wait and see this week how it goes with the assistant coaches,” Stoops said. “But there was a good number of them in our meeting this morning, ready to work and go out tonight and go to work recruiting.”

And Stoops said he was unsure who would call plays in the bowl, either.

“I would assume and believe it would be a group effort,” he said. “That’ll be something that I’ll let the staff decide how they feel the most comfortable. I’ve been gone a long time, so it’s not like I can go in there and all of a sudden — heck, even a lot of the terminology is different than when I was there.

“So it’ll be a group effort, and those guys care about the program and these players. I’m sure they’ll all give it their best to give us a great opportunity to win.”

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