Bob Stoops’ legacy at Oklahoma will begin with his 2000 national championship, won just two years into his tenure, and continue with a run of in-conference dominance perhaps unmatched in the history of the sport — he claimed 10 Big 12 titles across his 18 seasons, including the past two.
Along the way, his teams won first with defense and then with offense, adapting to the changing flow of the Big 12. In hindsight, that might have been to the program’s detriment.
What worked for OU in September and October wasn’t always the solution come December and January, lending at times a sarcastic tone to a nickname — Big Game Bob, earned after beating Florida State in early 2001 — once used in praise.
Yet OU’s inability to win more than one national title under his direction has no impact on Stoops’ reputation; he was one of just five active coaches with a title to their names at the time of his retirement, giving a hint as to how difficult it can be, if not near impossible, to claim a championship in an age of decreased parity.
Besides, by leaving at or near the height of his ability, at the relatively young age of 56, Stoops leaves himself room to add to his already impressive legacy — by gifting to his successor, Lincoln Riley, what seems to be one of the best teams in recent program history, as well as a program poised to remain among college football’s annual elite.
“The program is in tremendous shape,” Stoops said in a statement. “We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship.”
From quarterback Baker Mayfield, a Heisman Trophy front-runner, through one of the nation’s best defensive backfields, the Sooners are built to excel in Big 12 play, where they’ve lost just once during the past two seasons, and to succeed in the postseason.
“He wanted to go out at the right time and he feels good about where the program is right now,” said Steve Spurrier, Stoops’ former boss at Florida. “He has left a good team for Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma program.”
The decision to promote Riley is a testament to how capably the 33-year-old — now the youngest active coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision — ran the OU offense during his two seasons as an assistant, and to how the administration views his ability to maintain and build upon the foundation left in place by his successor.
If Riley does succeed, however, he’ll have to handle the perception that he’s simply a caretaker for Stoops’ program. He won’t be the first to battle this assessment. Stanford’s David Shaw, for example, continues to bristle at the belief that his grand achievements with the Cardinal are merely piggybacking off the foundation left in place by Jim Harbaugh.
More so than in any coaching change in recent history, the program passed to Riley fully belongs to Stoops — he saved it from irrelevance, built it into a power and maintained its perch among the elite of the sport for a generation. “I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins,” Stoops said.
So his legacy, honed over 18 seasons, will continue to add to itself in 2017 and beyond, beginning with a team and program built to bring the national title back to Norman. The post-Stoops OU program will look familiar, in other words.