One day before Oklahoma started preseason practice three coaches spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,000 at Journey Church in Norman. The collection of Sooner fans gave a standing ovation to head coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
However, the cheers went up several decibels when defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was introduced.
After eight years away, it is Mike Stoops’ return to his old defensive coordinator role that has OU fans believing the dominant defense that epitomized the program’s run from 2000 to 2003 — when it won two Big 12 championships, played in two national championship games and won the 2000 national title — will return.
“I love that they’re happy I’m back. I don’t look at it as a big deal,” Mike Stoops said. “I’m tired of hearing it. It’s nice to hear and I appreciate it, but I’m ready to move past that. I want it to feel like it was eight years ago. I’m here to do a job and I’m excited about it.”
The nostalgia fans feel is for a dominant brand of football the Sooners played during Stoops’ first run as defensive coordinator. From 2000 to 2003, OU was never worse than 10th, nationally, in total defense, produced nine consensus All-American defenders in a four-year span and routinely won big games with big-time defense.
It was the main reason Mike Stoops landed the head coaching job at Arizona after the 2003 regular season. It was the reason his return is so embraced by the current Sooners.
“We know about the great players he coached here,” cornerback Demontre Hurst said. “We’ve embraced everything he’s brought here.”
The Sooners had a lot of great players during Mike Stoops’ initial run as defensive coordinator and specifically as defensive backs coach. Roy Williams won the Thorpe Award, given to college football’s best defensive back, in 2001. Two years later Derrick Strait picked up the prize. The Sooners have had one All-American defensive back — Quinton Carter in 2010 — since Stoops went to Arizona.
Perhaps, that will change.
But a lot already has changed with the Sooners and the Big 12 Conference since 2003. Winning hasn’t been a problem. OU’s added five Big 12 titles and played in two national championship games while Stoops was at Arizona.
Dominant defensive numbers have been harder to come by. The Sooners have ranked 53rd or worse in total defense three of the last four years. The lone exception was 2009, when it ranked eighth nationally at 272.00 yards per game. Last season, OU finished 55th in the country, allowing 376.15 yards per game. It also allowed 41 or more points in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
That slide happened to coincide with OU’s switch to the up-tempo, no-huddle offense. No one can argue with the point totals the offense has put up, but its premium on running plays quickly has forced the defense to spend more time on the field. More and more Big 12 teams have adopted the Sooners’ style. Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Baylor all try to play at a similar pace.
“Ultimately it’s about winning. Statistics go out the window. We play twice as many plays as everyone else, too,” Mike Stoops said. “The common sense is people are gonna have more yards or more plays. It comes down to making stops on third down and getting your butt off the field; that will stop it in a hurry.”
If the Sooners can do that this season, the standing ovation Mike Stoops picked up from that crowd will be well-earned. Fans want him to succeed. Of all the assistant coaches OU has had over the years, it’s hard to believe any of them have been more popular than Mike Stoops.
OU head coach Bob Stoops knows this. He’s not expecting his younger brother to work miracles. After all, coaches don’t make tackles.
“All that I have said is Mike hasn’t made a play in a long time. He’s way too old to be out there making plays,” Bob Stoops said. “Ultimately the players still have to be the ones that put themselves in position to make plays.
“But I’m encouraged in the way Mike continues to work with our staff, the direction he gives our players on the field. I believe that will make a difference,” the head coach said. “I believe they’ll improve, and they should, being a year older. And having some pride in that we broke down a year ago that they ought to take that to heart and hopefully get back the defensive reputation we’re used to having.
“But again, it’s always tempered by the players; they ultimately have to do it,” Bob Stoops said.