Rumored and discussed in Sooners circles for weeks, the Stoops brothers are again back together. Well, close.
Mike confirmed to The Oklahoman on Thursday morning that he will soon join brother Bob’s coaching staff as the defensive play-caller and secondary coach, even if the official university announcement has not yet been made. (That could come Friday.) The lingering question, hovering in the bitter winter air, is this: At what cost?
Not in financial particulars, mind you, but could Mike Stoops’ return lead to Brent Venables’ departure? It’s dangling there, threatening to break up the defensive brain trust that had dominating success at OU a decade ago.
Sources had said the past month or so that Venables would be fine with sharing the co-defensive coordinator title, just as he did with Mike Stoops from 1999-2003 — in the current regime’s heyday that included the 2000 national championship.
Things changed, though, when Venables started to recognize that this would be perceived by most as a demotion, since Mike Stoops would again be the principal defensive play-caller.
Venables has considered, and been considered for, a number of head coaching jobs the past few years. Bob Stoops has often talked about the need to be selective in choosing a head job. Venables has followed that philosophy, turning away from middling programs in need of a new boss and seeking to strive toward the upper echelon programs — just as Bob Stoops, himself, did when he landed at OU in 1999.
It’s left Venables in a waiting game, which continued long enough for another Stoops to circle back to the Sooners.
With some interest in recent days and weeks from programs such as Auburn and West Virginia, to be their defensive coordinator, Venables has been listening. A new opening, Clemson, could be intriguing, as well. Venables interviewed to be the Tigers’ head coach in 2008.
In the meantime, a school source said Thursday that OU officials — including Bob Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione — are working to keep Venables where he is.
Mike Stoops, for one, wasn’t sure what the outcome with Venables would be.
“There are certainly rumors and I’m sure there are possibilities for everybody,” he said. “Each individual circumstance is different. Good coaches are going to be approached by a lot of different people at different times. That’s just kind of what you go through at the end of a season. “I’m sure Brent is going to do what’s best for him.”
As for Mike Stoops, he had spoken with Urban Meyer about becoming Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. He had talked to former OU offensive coordinator Kevin Sumlin about doing the same at Texas A&M. His name surfaced for other coordinator gigs, such as the openings at Nebraska and South Carolina. He had no shortage of opportunities.
Familiarity won out.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Obviously, Oklahoma is the one I felt the most comfortable with, trusted the most. I feel we can win at the very highest level, which is exciting to me.”
So did family.
“To be able to do it with your brother is even more exciting,” he said. “We’ve certainly had a great relationship. I loved my time working there. I love the guys I’ll be able to work with.
“To be able to work with Brent, Bobby Jack (Wright) and Jackie (Shipp) is even more exciting.”
Mike Stoops was fired Oct. 10 after 7 1/2 seasons as the head coach at Arizona. He had taken the Wildcats to bowl games the past three seasons, but then the program ran into a buzz saw to begin the 2011 season.
They were manhandled in consecutive weeks by Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and Southern Cal — teams that finished in the top eight of the final Associated Press poll. The Wildcats started 1-5, and Mike Stoops was out of a job.
With some idle time, he hung around his old stomping grounds in Norman. He attended the Oct. 22 game against Texas Tech, a stunning loss that halted OU’s 39-game home win streak and battered the Sooners’ national title dreams.
He again appeared on the OU sideline for the team’s Dec. 30 Insight Bowl victory against Iowa in Tempe, Ariz. Bob Stoops downplayed his brother’s visit, saying it was mostly due to the location of the game.
The next day, though, he said he would like to bring Mike back “in the right circumstances.” That included finding a spot for him. Willie Martinez’s name was connected to openings at Auburn, Illinois and Kansas, but he has yet to land one of those jobs. Martinez, the secondary coach the past two seasons, is expected to be the odd man out in the moves.
The Big 12 has changed since Mike Stoops last coached at OU, evolving into a quarterback-heavy and pass-happy league.
He countered that he saw much of the same in the Pac-10, which last season became the Pac-12.
Arizona’s defenses were ranked in the top 35 from 2008-2010, but they were struggling mightily in October when the staff change came about.
It was a sore spot in Oklahoma, too. OU gave up 241.5 passing yards a game in 2011, 79th in the country. Breakdowns in the secondary were chiefly to blame in the losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. The Sooners gave up a whopping 931 passing yards in those games.
“Those offenses are very difficult (to defend),” Mike Stoops said. “They use the entire space on the field. That’s what offenses are doing now. Making you defend the entire field is difficult.
“You have a lot of one-on-one matchups. Obviously, you have to be very strong in the secondary.”