Sometimes, the best coach is the one you’ve already got.
The Sooners wisely stuck with Bob Stoops, even when many in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world questioned whether he was the guy to lead them back to the promised land.
Well, look where the Sooners are now.
Two victories away from a national championship.
It’s a lesson other schools would do well to heed.
Hey, Nebraska, any regrets about firing Frank Solich? Hey, Tennessee, think y’all were a little too eager to dump Phillip Fulmer?
And, in the latest example of expectations run amok, Georgia handed Mark Richt a pink slip after he won nearly 75 percent of his games over a 15-year career.
Oklahoma is having no regrets about sticking with the coach who led them to a national title in 2000 and eight conference titles since then, even when he had the occasional stumble such as last year’s 8-5 season that ended with a blowout loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Though Stoops, for all his success, certainly knew nothing was guaranteed.
In many ways, this was a crucial season for him.
He came through.
“In a coach’s life, you’re pushing from one year to the next,” Stoops said. “You never look too far down the road.”
That’s fine for a coach.
But school administrators should spend most of their time focusing on the long-term direction of a program, not the fanatical whims of those especially noisy boosters who always think there’s someone else who can do a better job.
Expectations are one thing.
Reality is another.
When Tom Osborne retired at Nebraska, the Cornhusker faithful assumed the school would just go on winning national championships every year under Solich, apparently forgetting that it took Osborne 21 years to finish No. 1.
Even though Solich went 58-19 over six years, including one Big 12 title and an admittedly fluky appearance in a national championship game, he was fired after the 2003 season. There were some flaws in his record, to be sure, including a 1-9 road mark against ranked teams and that single title, which fell far short of the standard Osborne set — 13 conference championships in a 25-year career.
But look what’s happened since then.
Nebraska hasn’t come close to matching its success under Solich, much less Osborne. The Cornhuskers have lost at least four games each of the last 12 years, including a 5-7 mark this season under Mike Riley, the third coach given the task of restoring Big Red to its former glory. Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini already washed out.
Tennessee had similar visions of grandeur when it sent Fulmer packing after the 2008 season. Vols’ administrators decided that two losing seasons in four years overshadowed all the good work he had done — a 152-52 record in 17 years, including a national title, two Southeastern Conference championships and six SEC East crowns.
The Volunteers are still trying to recover from that foolhardy decision. They’re on their third coach since Fulmer, having posted a record of 43-44 in the past seven seasons under Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and now, Butch Jones.
Only this season, finishing with an 8-4 record (its best since the Fulmer era) and earning a spot in the Outback Bowl, did Tennessee finally show signs of returning to its former glory.
For the most part, this one-time powerhouse has been a laughingstock.
Which brings us back to Stoops.
There was plenty of grumbling after that mediocre 2014 season, and it only intensified when the Sooners lost to rival Texas early this year.
They haven’t lost since, earning a spot in the College Football Playoff and a rematch against top-ranked Clemson in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
“Sometimes success is your greatest enemy, and the success that he had and has had over a continued period of time there, you know, the expectations are incredibly high at Oklahoma,” said Todd Blackledge, an analyst for ESPN. “I don’t think they’ve fallen off or been that far away over the last few years, but this has to be a sweet season for him.”
Though not without some tough, painful decisions.
This past offseason, he fired offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who was the quarterback on his national championship team. It was the first time Stoops had ever dismissed one of his coordinators, but it was the right move. The Sooners, led by new coordinator Lincoln Riley and first-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, rank third in the nation at 45.8 points per game.
“The world is constantly changing in everybody’s professions,” Stoops said. But, he quickly added, “The principles and the big parts of it, I don’t think have changed. Relationships with young guys and young players still matter and are still the same. Young people are still the same. The game constantly evolves. As much as things change, there’s still a lot that still operates the same way.”
Change is inevitable.
But sometimes, it’s best to stick with the coach you’ve got.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberryap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry. AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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