Oklahoma kicks off firing season by dumping Mike Stoops; who's next on the chopping block?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (tackling skills sold separately at Oklahoma, where defensive change is on the way):

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Mike Stoops (11) lost a big game. Then Mark Stoops (12) lost a big game. Then Mike Stoops lost his job.

That’s the scorecard in one of the America’s most accomplished coaching families. Mike Stoops, the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma until Sunday, oversaw another porous performance by his unit Saturday in an upset loss to Texas. The Longhorns scored 48 on the Sooners, the most points they have ever hung on their hated rival to the north. Texas didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, and after a wild Oklahoma rally from 21 points down tied the game at 45, Stoops’ defense surrendered 52 yards to set up the winning field goal by suddenly famous Cameron Dicker the Kicker, who earned a helmet sticker.

That was enough for Stoops to be fired Sunday. Never let it be said that Oklahoma isn’t deadly serious about its football — Lincoln Riley is now 17-3 as head coach, and he’s canning a coordinator. Riley probably had to make an awkward phone call to his old boss, Bob Stoops — who presented Riley the head-coaching job on a silver platter — to tell him his brother was being terminated.

Fact is, Riley probably should have moved on from Mike Stoops after last season. It would have been difficult coming off a College Football Playoff berth and given the close familial ties, but less messy than this October firing. When Riley brought aboard old mentor Ruffin McNeill as a defensive assistant in the summer of 2017, many thought this move was inevitable. Now it’s done.

A Saturday loss carried less consequence for Mark Stoops at Kentucky. His Wildcats, a surprise 5-0 to start the season, nearly stole a sixth straight victory Saturday night at Texas A&M. Kentucky was outgained by more than 200 yards and never had a snap in A&M territory in regulation, yet still got the game into overtime.

That’s where Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran fatally outsmarted themselves, not giving star running back Benny Snell Jr. a touch — not even on third and a short two from the 17-yard line. After initially lining up Snell at quarterback in a wildcat formation, Kentucky called timeout and changed the play to a drop back by limited passer Terry Wilson. He was sacked, a field goal was missed, A&M scored, and that was that. Now we’ll see whether the Wildcats can pick up the pieces and stay in the SEC East race.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is pictured before an NCAA college football game against UTEP in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP file photo)
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is pictured before an NCAA college football game against UTEP in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP file photo)


Mike Stoops isn’t the only assistant coach catching heat. A quartet of others who are under scrutiny:

Dave Warner (13), Michigan State. He’s in his sixth year calling plays at Michigan State, with declining returns. The Spartans were second in the Big Ten in total offense in 2014, sixth in 2015, sixth again in 2016, eighth last year and now 10th. The current Spartans offense was especially brutal in some key short-yardage situations in the loss to Northwestern on Saturday — failing in three tries to get a yard on one fourth-quarter possession, then failing to get into the end zone after a first-and-goal at the Northwestern 6. Thirteen times in the last 28 games, Michigan State has failed to score 20 points. State’s record over those 28 games is 14-14.

Pep Hamilton (14), Michigan. The anger has subsided since the season-opening offensive sputter-thon against Notre Dame — but it might only be in hiding. If the Wolverines struggle again this week against Wisconsin, Hamilton will hear it. As everyone at Michigan knows, performance in big games is where this team will be judged, and that performance has been lacking since Hamilton came aboard as a four-year, $4.25 million hire in 2017. Since Hamilton arrived, the Wolverines have rolled through bad defenses (averaging 40 points in nine games against teams in the bottom half of the nation in scoring defense) and been stonewalled by good ones (19.7 points in 10 games against teams in the top half of the nation).

Brian VanGorder (15), Louisville. Until last Friday, the Cardinals’ biggest problems were on offense — but if they wanted to fire the guy responsible for that it would mean replacing the head coach, Bobby Petrino. That’s his baby. But then the defense collapsed against Georgia Tech’s option attack, allowing an ungodly 542 rushing yards and 66 points to a hardly vintage Paul Johnson team. That’s the most rushing yards Louisville has surrendered in a game since 1932, and the most Georgia Tech has amassed since putting 604 on Kansas in 2011. VanGorder was nobody’s idea of a home-run hire last offseason, and that is bearing out on the field.

Chip Lindsey (16), Auburn. They loved him last year on The Plains, when Lindsey coordinated an offense that churned 452 yards and 34 points per game as the Tigers won the SEC West. They don’t love him nearly as much this year. Expectations were high with quarterback Jarrett Stidham returning, but production has plummeted. Auburn has gone from third in the SEC in total offense to 12th, and fourth in scoring to 11th. The Tigers didn’t score a touchdown in a 23-9 loss to Mississippi State Saturday, a continuation of season-long red-zone struggles. When a season that began with playoff hopes results in two losses in the first six games, they don’t handle it that well at Auburn. Look out, Chip. And Gus.


Mike Locksley (17), Alabama. He was a bust as a head coach at New Mexico from 2009-11, but Locksley now finds himself coordinating what has a chance to be one of the greatest offenses in history (see Dash First Quarter for some of the details). Brian Daboll had one uncomfortable year coordinating Nick Saban’s offense, and now it is in better hands both in terms of play calling and quarterbacking. Locksley’s pregame script has been sufficiently on-point thus far: Alabama has scored on its opening drive in every game this season.

Mike Elko (18), Texas A&M. In addition to snagging Jimbo Fisher for monster dollars, A&M might also have made the Coordinator Hire of the Year by swiping Elko from Notre Dame. The Aggies’ annually soft run defense has become a brick wall overnight; they lead the SEC and are fourth nationally in rushing yards allowed at 82.5, less than half what they gave up last year. Saturday night they may have extinguished Kentucky star back Benny Snell’s Heisman Trophy campaign by holding him to a season-low 60 yards on 13 carries.

Clark Lea (19), Notre Dame. One door closes and another one opens. Elko’s departure from Notre Dame led to the promotion of Lea into his first coordinator role, and the results to date are solidly in line with what the Fighting Irish did under Elko. Notre Dame is again producing big plays (43 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 11 takeaways) and ranks 15th nationally in pass-efficiency defense.

Marcus Arroyo (20), Oregon. He was co-offensive coordinator last year but has been elevated to play-calling duties with Mario Cristobal’s ascension to head coach. So far, so good. The Ducks offense is averaging 60 yards and 10 points more per game than it did in 2017, and while the key to continuing that production is keeping stud quarterback Justin Herbert healthy, don’t overlook Arroyo’s detail-oriented work as a factor. The Ducks are back where they used to be, leading the Pac-12 in yards per play, yards per game and points per game.

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