NORMAN – James Patton sat next to Mike Stoops as OU fans snaked through lines to get autographs of their heroes and coaches during Meet the Sooners Day on Aug. 4.
And sometimes, heroes and coaches were one and the same.
“It's great to have you back, Mike,” the fans kept telling Stoops. Patton, OU's offensive line coach, said he “must have heard that about 100 times.”
Stoops is that rarest of OU coordinators. He didn't stay around long enough to fall out of favor with the oft-fickle fan base, and those who likewise left Norman at the height of popularity – Larry Lacewell, Mack Brown, Mike Leach – never returned except as a foe.
Yet here returns Stoops, back in his role as defensive coordinator, trying to resuscitate an OU defense embarrassed by three defeats in 2011: 41-38 to Texas Tech, 45-38 to Baylor and 44-10 to OSU. The Sooners hadn't allowed three 40-point games in a season since the John Blake seasons of 1996 and 1997.
“I hope he (Stoops) makes a big difference,” said OU fan William Ward of Tulsa. “He did well for us when he was here before. I think we've been lacking in that department.”
Brent Venables, the Stoops brothers' protégé and Mike Stoops' successor when he took the Arizona head coaching job in December 2004, became a punching bag for fans as the years went on, and last off-season even Bob Stoops threw a roundhouse, hiring back Mike. The Stoops brothers wanted Venables to remain on staff, but he went to Clemson as defensive coordinator.
“We haven't done anything near what we did with him here,” OU fan Jeremy Dick of Midwest City said about Mike Stoops. “It'll be a game-changer for us. Him and his brother worked very well together. I was sad when he left.”
The memories of OU's 2000 national championship and superb 2001 defense remain fresh, despite being more than a decade old.
MIKE STOOPS' CAMPAIGN SLOGANS
Here are our the campaign slogans we tweaked just a bit to fit Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops:
“Are You Better Off Than You Were Nine Years Ago?”
In 1984, Ronald Reagan asked voters that question, only substituting four for the years. The rhetorical answer for Reagan was yes. The rhetorical answer for Mike Stoops is no; OU's defensive reputation has slipped since his departure for Arizona in December 2003.
“It's the defense, stupid”
James Carville, a noted college football fan, coined “the economy, stupid” as a campaign reminder for Bill Clinton's 1992 workers. Now, after a season in which the Sooners gave up 41 points to Texas Tech, 44 points to OSU and 45 to Baylor, a defensive overhaul is Mike Stoops' mandate.
MIKE STOOPS' ENDORSEMENTS
* OU coach Bob Stoops: “People across the country recognize his tremendous knowledge of the game and great energy. He will have a very positive impact on our program.”
* Former OU cornerback Derrick Strait: “You like playing for him. He doesn't put you in bad situations. He never put you in a situation where you didn't feel comfortable with the game plan.”