John Hoover

Ask Hoover: It’s all about Mike Stoops and the Sooners defense

Ask Hoover: It’s all about Mike Stoops and the Sooners defense

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, here in 2017, got all the questions this week. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

With Mike Stoops’ firing and the Sooners on an open date this week, it really feels like not much else is going on.

Not true.

Oklahoma State, reeling from another stunning Big 12 Conference loss at home, visits Kansas State tomorrow. Tulsa hosts No. 23-ranked South Florida tonight at Chapman Stadium.

OK, good enough. Let’s get back to the subject at hand: Mike Stoops and the Sooners.

Readers this week really didn’t want to talk about anything else. So let’s get to the questions:

 

Lincoln Riley isn’t committing either way at this point, and that’s smart. He doesn’t need to. But I’m told McNeill didn’t really want the full-time DC job, and he’s only doing it as a favor to Riley to finish this season. McNeill just turned 60 and has had some recent (and completely manageable) health issues. That’s one reason why he has handed his daily position duties to Calvin Thibodeaux and backed away from coaching the defensive tackles on the regular, so he can spend more time and energy devising game plans. McNeill will give everything he has for the next 6-7 weeks, and probably also will finish out the bowl season. But after that, expect Riley to reel in a young defensive whiz.

 

To his credit, Riley was hoping Mike Stoops could coach his way through this thing. Riley held on and put it off as long as possible, but losing to Texas like that proved that the situation could no longer be managed. The OU defense was festering, and bandage had to be ripped off. Sooner fans should applaud Riley’s patience and his loyalty, as well as his determination at the end to make a difficult decision.

 

Tough to say. Chizik is obviously a brilliant defensive mind, but there are a couple of red flags.

One, his brief time in the Big 12 produced mixed results: he was defensive coordinator at Texas when the Longhorns won the 2005 national championship, and he was head coach at Iowa State when the Cyclones went 3-9 and 2-10 and he got fired. Even since then, however, the conference has evolved. He also was head coach at Auburn when the Tigers won the 2010 national title. So clearly, Chizik has benefited from having two of college football’s greatest players ever, Vince Young and Cam Newton. He’s had some great success, but he’s also had some mediocre defenses and teams.

Two, Chizik is 56 years old. Not that a 56-year-old can’t coach the Sooners (Mike Stoops is 56), but it seems Riley is aiming at a much younger set, someone who can work all the hours coaching and even more recruiting. Chizik has been doing TV for two seasons and actually resigned from his last coaching gig, North Carolina, to spend more time with family. Sounds like a no-go.

 

That seems awful tough to quantify. The reality is the Sooners have had problems with being the less physical team for a few years now. Texas has been more the more physical team in that game for at least the last five years. Iowa State and Georgia were more physical last year. So the pattern has been set.

But it also feels a little too early to lay these problems at Bennie Wylie’s feet just yet. He’s only had these players for about 10 months. To see the full fruits of his labors as the Sooners’ new strength coach, give him another full year. These Sooners are still relying on a handful of freshmen at some positions who weren’t even here in the offseason.

 

I would disagree. I think for student-athletes, it all starts with the coaches. These are young adults still trying to find their way in the world, and this OU roster already is on the young side. A young team absolutely needs leadership from its coaches. Poor leadership from the coaching staff — a generational disconnect, poor communication, lack of mutual respect — can erode a team’s morale faster than just about anything. College athletes may be young, but they are also smart enough to know when their coach is full of crap. They know when their coach doesn’t understand them, doesn’t communicate, doesn’t listen and doesn’t respect them, and they discuss amongst themselves, and team morale quickly declines.

 

Do I think there was? Yes. Have I heard that directly? No. To what degree — punching, pushing and shoving, threatening or just shouting? I can’t say. All I’ve heard is that a player who was in the locker room told a family member there was an altercation, and that family member has shared the story. I haven’t been able to substantiate that, so it remains just hearsay. However, Mike Stoops has vehemently denied any kind of physical altercation, and Lincoln Riley has strongly downplayed the whole incident as simply emotions getting heated as they normally do.

 

That’s a great question. Let’s start at the bottom: this Oklahoma defense just isn’t very good. They don’t tackle, they don’t cover, and they don’t dominate the line of scrimmage. There are some tough offenses coming up, so that matters. A lot.

But I also think having a new voice, a different kind of energy, a different vibe from Ruffin McNeill will give the defense an initial boost. Players have already begun to proclaim their devotion to McNeill, and that matters, too. They’ll be more focused on their assignment and the play call and the opponent more than any personal issues they may have with the defensive coordinator.

In the final analysis, the change will be good at first. But as November expires, any lasting success will depend on how much the players themselves improve.

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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