FRISCO, Texas — Lincoln Riley’s experience is lean. He’s the youngest coach in the FBS and his position coach background is limited to receivers (Texas Tech) and quarterbacks (East Carolina and Oklahoma).
The Sooners will run Riley’s offense as long as Riley wants to. But the defense remains Mike Stoops’ domain. A lesson Bob Stoops taught Riley the previous two season took hold.
“I’m gonna let them coach,” Riley said Monday at Big 12 Media Days. “I had a great example of how to handle the last few years with how Bob handled me. I know as a coordinator it makes it a helluva whole lot easier when you don’t have someone breathing down your neck. That’s something I want to do for them just like Bob did for me.”
There have been questions about the dynamics of the defensive coaching staff since Riley hired Ruffin McNeill to serve as defensive tackles coach and assistant head coach.
McNeill served as defensive coordinator during previous stops at Appalachian State, UNLV, Fresno State and Texas Tech, where he first encountered Riley.
Was the hire a way to nudge Mike Stoops out?
Riley doused that fire.
“Ruffin has coached it all. Any way that you can put defensive players on the field, he’s done it. That’s one of the beautiful things about it. And he’s also been a special teams coordinator. He just brings so much experience there,” Riley said. “We can plug him in with whatever Mike and his staff want to do and also do some things that will hopefully make us better.”
This is a transition year for Mike Stoops. Except for an eight-season run at Arizona from 2004-11, he’s been the Sooners’ defensive coordinator since 1999.
However, Bob Stoops was a constant presence on the defensive side. He was a constant on that side of the field during practices.
“He would be right there with us. It’s going to be different with it just being Mike,” linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. “I know Coach Riley is going to stick to the offense because that is what he does. Bob was really hands on with the defense. I would imagine that will be the biggest difference.”
In many ways, Mike Stoops will have the most control of his unit that he’s ever had. Okoronkwo believes the Sooners’ defensive coordinator has gone through some subtle changes in the last six weeks.
“If anything, he’s been communicating with us a lot more. It’s been really cool. Coach Riley’s style is more of a players’ coach. It has changed the culture a little bit,” the linebacker said. “But Coach Mike will call me out of the blue and ask me how I’m doing. And it’s genuine.”
Riley will poke his head in some defensive meetings and spend some time getting know some of the defenders. He wasn’t part of their recruitment.
Riley is authentic in how he wants the staff to function. The chemistry between the 10 members the previous years has been as important as the players in winning back-to-back Big 12 titles. Information flowed freely between the assistants, helping all involved. That has to continue.
“We’ve always spent a lot of time talking with each other, talking what teams are trying to do to you and asking questions about this or that. Maybe I see a really good blitz that somebody is doing and I bring it to Mike’s attention or if Mike sees a really good play he does the same. We’ve done that off and on for the last several years,” Riley said. “I think that the difference is meeting with defensive players more on team issues like team-wide issues of mentality and all those things. All that stuff, I’m involved in. The coaching is something I’m gonna leave to Mike.”