NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops wouldn’t address any potential changes to his staff during last week’s signing day news conference.
“How do you speculate that?” Stoops said. “It’s not something that I ever talk about publicly. From year to year, things happen on every staff. We’ll see where it goes.”
Where it’s gone is unprecedented for Stoops. The Sooners’ coach has fired assistants Jackie Shipp and Bruce Kittle, sources confirmed Tuesday to The Oklahoman. The two departed assistants follow former offensive line coach James Patton — whose exit was announced Monday — out the door.
An OU spokesman declined to comment, and the athletic department hasn’t released any statements to officially confirm the departures of Shipp and Kittle.
Stoops, who just completed his 14th season as OU’s head coach, had never fired an assistant before last January, when secondary coach Willie Martinez was let go.
He’s now fired four in two years; co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell, running backs coach Cale Gundy and defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright are the only assistants who remain from Stoops’ 2011 staff.
Wright and Gundy, meanwhile, are the only assistant coaches from Stoops’ first staff in 1999 who have continuously stayed in Norman; defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was there for his brother’s first five seasons, left to become Arizona’s head coach and returned last January.
According to one source, Kittle — a close, longtime friend of Stoops who coached tight ends and offensive tackles the past two seasons — could stay with OU in another, off-the-field capacity.
Kittle’s road to college football coaching was a unique one; he worked as an attorney, a law professor and minister before Stoops hired him as on-campus recruiting coordinator in 2010.
Shipp has coached the defensive line at Oklahoma since 1999. He’s also a former Sooners linebacker, playing on coach Barry Switzer’s squads in the early 1980s and racking up 489 total tackles — good for second all-time in school history.
“He recruited Oklahoma; he helped a little bit with my recruiting out of high school,” said former OU fullback J.D. Runnels, who played high school football at Carl Albert.
“He was one of the coaches I got close to. They kind of wrap their arms around the Oklahoma guys. That’s the tough part to me. These kids lose a Sooner. It’s more than just a coach in that instance.”
During his time on Stoops’ staff, Shipp has recruited and developed several top-notch defensive tackles, including Tommie Harris, Dusty Dvoracek and Gerald McCoy.
Harris and McCoy were each first-round NFL Draft selections and All-Americans; Dvoracek was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection and played a few seasons with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
Lately, though, Oklahoma’s defensive line — particularly its interior — has come under intense scrutiny due to a perceived decrease in talent and underwhelming on-field performances.
“My thing with personnel moves is, I trust Bob,” Runnels said. “I trust him to do what’s right for the program. Ultimately, this is his job that’s on the line.
“That’s one of the things he told us when we got there. He said, ‘There’s only three ways I can make this team better: I can recruit better players; I can develop you guys better; or I have to get rid of people.’ ”
For the 2013 recruiting season, Shipp lost out on four-star defensive tackle Justin Manning, the brother of former Sooner DeMarcus Granger, who signed with Texas A&M last week.
But, after Manning committed to the Aggies, Shipp finished strong, getting four-star tackle Kerrick Huggins to flip from A&M to OU, plus signing Matthew Romar and Charles Walker, as well as Trinity Valley Community College transfer Quincy Russell.
“That’s all coach Shipp knows,” Runnels said. “I hate to see him have to make this transition, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a damn good coach.”
Meanwhile, Stoops is apparently close to filling Patton’s position; SoonerScoop.com reported Tuesday that OU is close to hiring West Virginia offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
Bedenbaugh spent six seasons on Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech before a four-year stint under Mike Stoops at Arizona. He’s been on Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia staff for the past two seasons, and has developed a reputation as an outstanding recruiter.