NORMAN — LSU just fired a football coach that won a national championship only nine years ago and played for another national title five years ago.
Maybe that’s life in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn fired Gene Chizik only two years after he won a national title. Bringing home the crystal football in the SEC seems to only incite moderate to severe insanity, the symptoms of which include unrealistic expectations, impossible standards and an insatiable desire to only win more.
But let’s also be honest here: Les Miles wasn’t fired for losing to Auburn 18-13 on Saturday night.
He was fired for an ongoing pattern of epic game mismanagement. Saturday, LSU had a first down at the Auburn 14-yard line with 54 seconds left and couldn’t get off four snaps. Players on the field not having a play queued up ready to run, or the offense twice letting time tick off the clock before the snap is strictly on the coaching staff.
And if this was Miles’ first offense for botching the end of a game, he’d still be employed. But he and his staffs have lived and died by these kinds of bumbles before — did they even practice late-game situations? — far too many times. Bottom line: you cannot coach football like that.
Which brings us to Bob Stoops.
Stoops certainly has the wherewithal to manage late-game scenarios better than Miles (and a lot of other coaches, for that matter).
But it wasn’t one game that got Miles fired. No athletic director thinks in those terms. Rather, it was an ongoing erratic product on the field over the course of a few years an ongoing pattern that produced memorable defeats.
Somewhat like what we’ve seen from Stoops’ Oklahoma teams lately.
There’s no doubting OU and LSU have been successful programs. Miles won 77 percent of his games in 11-plus seasons in Baton Rouge, Stoops is at 79 percent in 17-plus years in Norman. But success, it turns out, is a relative term.
Has LSU been successful enough lately to have produced more NFL players than any other college football program? No, it hasn’t. Not since going 13-0 in 2011 and losing the national title game to Alabama.
Has OU been successful by OU standards? Forget Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer’s three national championships for a minute. Has OU been successful lately even by the standards that Stoops set from 2000-2008? No, it hasn’t. Not since going 12-1 and losing in the national title game to Florida.
“It is difficult to win a national championship,” Stoops said Monday during his weekly news conference. “Just look around, you know? And then, it is tough to stay at a place for a long time.”
In fact, since the start of the 2009 season, when the Sooners were trying to bounce back from that loss to Urban Meyer’s Gators in the Orange Bowl, Miles (72-23) has a better record than Stoops (71-24). In that span, Miles has one SEC crown while Stoops has two outright Big 12 titles and one shared. (Few would dispute that winning the SEC once is harder than winning the Big 12 twice.) In conference play alone since 2009, Miles was 39-17 since 2009, while Stoops is 45-18.
Stoops, 56, said he feels for Miles and that he thinks Miles, 62, will “have opportunities” to coach again if he wants to.
“He’s done it really well for a long time,” Stoops said. “You hate it for him, but I also know this business. I’ve been in it a long time and I get (that) there’s a certain level of winning or whatever that people want, and if you’re not doing it, then — or, there’s a lot of reasons I think that go into it for everybody. That’s our business.”
Meanwhile, despite the door being wide open for an Oklahoma dynasty as Texas has faltered as the league’s other preeminent power, OU football since 2009 has become increasingly irregular.
- An inability to beat average teams on the road (at Missouri and at Texas A&M) despite being ranked No. 1 in the initial BCS standings in 2010;
- A 31-7 deficit and eventual loss to a bad Texas Tech team in Norman (OU was a 30-point favorite), a first-ever loss to Baylor and a 34-point loss to Oklahoma State after a consensus preseason No. 1 ranking in 2011;
- A home loss to Kansas State for just the second time since 1934 outside the John Blake era, a late-game collapse and 17-point home loss to Notre Dame, and a disastrous bowl beat-down at the hands of Texas A&M in 2012;
- An inexplicable, 16-point loss to a bad Texas team (OU was a 12-point favorite) and a four-touchdown obliteration at Baylor in 2013;
- More late-game collapses at TCU and at home against Kansas State, a 34-point home loss to Baylor, a re-punt to Tyreek Hill against Oklahoma State and a 40-6 bowl wipeout by Clemson in 2014;
- Another inexplicable loss to a bad Longhorn side (OU was a 17-point favorite) and a 20-point blowout in the College Football Playoff rematch with Clemson in 2015;
- A 1-2 start to 2016, including another upset as a double-digit favorite (Stoops’ 17th in 17-plus seasons) at Houston and a troubling 21-point loss to the nation’s least experienced team in Ohio State.
These are not just losses piling up for Stoops. They’re embarrassing losses, unexplainable losses, historic losses.
The counterargument, of course, arises from the chorus: But OU won the Big 12 last year and was in the College Football Playoff! Nothing wrong here!
“Sometimes you get some tough breaks and you don’t execute and play as well as you thought you would,” Stoops said on Monday. “That doesn’t mean the culture’s broke. That was the theme two years ago, then last year we go to the playoffs and win the Big 12 championship and it isn’t again.
“It never was. My thing is, the culture’s been the same here for a long time. That doesn’t mean you win the same every year. Doesn’t mean you execute the same every year. So I don’t think it’s much different. It’s just, we haven’t played as well.”
But do athletic directors think in such singular terms?
In 2015, the Big 12 was indisputably down (though it’s worse this year), and the Sooners — favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers to beat Clemson, by the way — wouldn’t have been in the playoff if:
a, Baker Mayfield had not fallen in their lap,
b, OU had played against starting quarterbacks rather than three straight backups to end the season against TCU, Baylor and OSU.
c, Stanford had stumbled only once instead of twice.
Athletic directors look deeper for why things happen. They seek trends, both recent and long-term.
Why does Oklahoma execute better some years than others?
“Sometimes it’s the opponent you’re playing against,” Stoops said. “You know, give them the credit that they worked it better than you did. Sometimes we didn’t coach as well as maybe the other coach did. Sometimes maybe you’re not as talented or as fast, sometimes you’re not as big. There’s a lot of different reasons.”
Joe Castiglione and David Boren won’t do to Bob Stoops what LSU did to Les Miles. Stoops has earned the equity to coach at OU as long as he wants.
Is he too comfortable? Maybe. Maybe not. He has shaken up the staff repeatedly since 2011, so he’s trying. He cares. He wants badly to win. Does it eat him up like it used to when he doesn’t? Who can say other than Stoops himself?
Given the events of recent years, it’s fair to ask an uncomfortable question:
Which was the real anomaly, going 8-5 in 2014, or winning the Big 12 in 2015?
At 1-2 and facing trips to TCU and Texas, Sooner Nation may have that answer soon enough.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.