Bob Stoops casts a long shadow.
After winning 190 games, 10 conference championships and one national title during his long tenure at Oklahoma, his presence still looms large over the Sooners and the entire Big 12 … even in retirement.
Stoops and his legacy remained a major topic of conversation on the first day of Big 12 media days Monday, held at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility.
“The Big 12 is poorer for not having Bob Stoops any longer as a head coach in our league,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “He was a tremendous influence on his staff, on his players, on his university over a very long period of time, and he had tremendous football teams and tremendous football players. His legacy is extraordinary.”
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Oklahoma appears to be in good hands with new coach Lincoln Riley and a returning roster of quality players. Baker Mayfield is the best quarterback in the conference and he starts the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite. There is a lot to like about these Sooners. Still, replacing Stoops won’t be easy.
No Big 12 coach sustained more success. No Big 12 coach was more respected. No Big 12 coach stood up for the conference and delivered more meaningful quotes.
When you think of Big 12 football, you think of Stoops. At least you did until he abruptly retired last month and handed the keys to an up-and-coming offensive coordinator.
“It will be weird without him,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I have gone against him as a player and a coach. I started my first game ever against Coach Stoops. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the way he carries himself. He had unparalleled success there. He will be missed in our league.”
And yet, his absence creates a unique opportunity for the rest of the conference.
All across the Big 12, teams that have historically struggled against Oklahoma are eager to find out if their luck can turn against the new-look Sooners.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has done marvelous work with the Cowboys, but he is 2-10 against OU. He was also 2-10 against Stoops, not Riley. Is the Bedlam dynamic about to change?
Kansas State hasn’t beaten Oklahoma in Manhattan since 2000 and lost 55-0 to OU at home two years ago. But that was against Stoops, not Riley. Can the Wildcats flex their muscles against the Sooners this year?
The Red River Shootout could feel a lot different with new coaches on both sides.
Without Stoops, the window to dethrone the Big 12’s back-to-back champions might be open.
Then again, Riley might keep the train rolling. The 33-year old called offensive plays during each of Oklahoma’s past two seasons. He also takes over at an age not that much younger than Stoops when he first arrived in Norman in 1999.
In many ways, Riley models himself after Stoops. He will also have him nearby should he need advice on any topic.
“I’ll definitely use his counsel,” Riley said. “I think, both with Bob and with Coach (Barry) Switzer, you’ve got two guys there that have done it as high level as anybody has done it, obviously both at Oklahoma, and guys that are ready and willing at any point, which I’m thankful for.”
Riley’s biggest challenge as a new coach may be sorting through those words of wisdom and combining them with his own thoughts and beliefs.
The path he chooses may determine when, or if, he can emerge from Stoops’ shadow.
“That’s something I’m comfortable with,” Riley said. “I’m comfortable with myself and being myself. I don’t have an ego in this, and say, well, I’ve got to change things just because I’m the head coach, and I don’t want to seem like I’m just trying to be Bob Stoops 2.0 or whatever you want to call it.
“I want to use the things I think are right, and if there’s a few things I think fit my personality better or can help us as a team, then I’m certainly not going to hesitate to do those either.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett