NORMAN — Save for an unexpected twist, Oklahoma will return an entire full-time football coaching staff intact next season for the first time since 2009.
And based on defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' remarks on national signing day, that's a great thing for the Sooners.
“This is the strongest staff we've had in a while,” Stoops said. “These guys have done a great job. Everybody comes together. Everybody just helps one another, and that's been key to our success here in the last month.
“Just in the last year, we've changed the whole vibe of Oklahoma football.”
Over the past two offseasons, Sooners coach Bob Stoops has replaced five assistant coaches. Former defensive coordinator Brent Venables took the same position at Clemson, and Willie Martinez, James Patton, Jackie Shipp and Bruce Kittle were all let go.
Bob Stoops has never publicly called those four changes what they were — firings — an obvious sign of how difficult those decisions were for him.
Still, the coaches Stoops hired to replace them have proved exemplary, both on the field and the recruiting trail.
“Sometimes change is part of it,” Mike Stoops said. “We've changed four coaches in the last two years. We've added … three new quality control coaches, a couple new GAs.”
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery and tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Jay Boulware all were impressive during their first season in Norman, each dealing with their own depth issues about as well as they could have.
“I thought Bill did a really great job this year of simplifying the way our guys play,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said of Bedenbaugh's performance. “I think that will continue in our offensive line play. We definitely have an identity. I am really excited about that whole group. I think we have the physicality.”
Midway through the 2013 season, there were lots of calls for even more changes to the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel's seat appeared red hot after the Sooners' 41-12 loss at Baylor.
Heupel's performance the rest of the season, though, was mostly good, especially in Oklahoma's 45-31 Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.
“What we think about is what's in our locker room, because people were saying stuff outside, and you just can't let that get to your head,” said OU quarterback Trevor Knight. “People can think what they want, but Coach Heup's done a great job just keeping us even keel and keeping us prepared every single day.
“It paid off there in the Sugar Bowl, which I think is a great testament to him. He deserves all the praise because he's a great coach and a great guy.”