For the first time in his tenure as the head coach at the University of Oklahoma, Bob Stoops made a change to his coaching staff that didn't involve the departing coach taking a promotion of some sort. In other words, he fired his first assistant in thirteen plus years on the job it's only natural to speculate whether or not the changes made will pay off.
Of course, bringing his younger brother Mike back on staff isn't exactly your typical coaching change but it's certainly fair to say things have changed since the younger Stoops once patrolled the Owen Field sidelines. In addition, we know very little about new linebackers coach Tim Kish other than his history with Mike at Arizona and his familiarity with what the Stoopses like to do on defense.
So in another edition of the breakout (not really) new (ish) series "Flip Side of the Coin", Matt and I debate both sides of the argument.
Matt: I hated to see Brent Venables leave the Oklahoma coaching staff because I truly was a fan of his. I thought that often he was the easy goat and seldom received the credit he deserved as the defensive coordinator. That said, I couldn't be more thrilled to see Mike Stoops back and even Tim Kish with him.
There's no secret that Oklahoma's best defenses during the Bob Stoops era were when his little brother was the coordinator. Mike Stoops has the passion (dude is seriously fun to watch on the sideline) and most importantly the ability to fix the secondary while coordinating the defense.
Kish brings a fresh approach to the linebackers and while he may not have been the popular choice, his experience and proven worth is exactly what Oklahoma needed after the experiment with Willie Martinez failed.
Jordan: I tend to agree with you on Venables, though I do think he had grown a little comfortable in the position. As a result I'm equally as excited about the shake up amongst the coaching staff and what a fresh(er) approach could mean for this defense. That said, in my mind it's not quite as simple as plug and play with these guys.
I certainly wouldn't disagree with your assertion that Oklahoma's best defenses have been under the direction of both Bob and Mike (and Venables to be fair), but the offenses in the Big 12 have changed considerably since their previous time together. So the idea that Mike can come in, go back to what they had done in the past, and be just as successful is a bit of a fallacy in my opinion. Now, admittedly, I don't believe it's that black and white and fully expect Mike to adapt to the high powered offenses in the Big 12.
However, at the core of what they, meaning both Bob and Mike, do is still the same and that is where there lies at least some concern. How much change are we really going to see? Mike still prefers to play that hybrid LB/S guy who they believe is big enough to support against the run and quick enough to keep up in coverage. Mike isn't any more of a proponent of press man-to-man coverage than Bob or Brent were (which is to say not at all) which was actually one of the things I really appreciated about Willie Martinez. And all that was one of the reasons I was so disappointed with the Tim Kish hire. It reeked of comfort almost just for comfort's sake when I thought it would have been a great opportunity to really shake things up and go with a young up and comer to help reinvigorate this staff.
Now that doesn't mean I've totally written Kish off as a failure before they even play a single game, but I am going to need some convincing. At this point we just know very little about what he likes or even what he's planning to do with the linebackers. In addition, one of the big selling points at the time of his hire was his ability to recruit and while he and Mike's history out west has opened some doors he's yet to really land a recruit (and LB is a big time need in this 2013 class).
By all accounts, Mike is and hopefully will continue to be a guy who isn't afraid to challenge Bob which I think is something we can all agree won't be a bad thing. In my opinion, it's probably fair to say that even Bob had grown a little comfortable so if Mike can come in and push him on some things I see that as a substantial positive.
Matt: Simplify, simplify, simplify...that's the greatest thing Mike Stoops is going to do with this defense. One of the biggest struggles Oklahoma has had, in recent year's, is that the secondary was thinking and not reacting. The spread offense is not going to be a new concept to Mike Stoops and while I don't expect them to immediately rise to the top defense in the nation I do expect them to improve because they will be in more of a reaction mode instead of over thinking assignments.
I think that things were so volatile with the defense that the Stoops' had to go with someone that they trusted and already knew their system. After producing the worst defense in the Bob Stoops era, they couldn't afford to gamble. Kish is still in his first full year as a Sooner recruiter, so I say let's give it time to see what pans out. The entire staff seems to be taking a cautious approach to the 2013 recruiting class.
Jordan: Honestly, I agree with everything you said. I'm a big fan of Stoops' plan to simplify the defense. I'm a big fan of the intensity he's going to bring to this defense, which I get sounds odd because it's not as if Venables lacked intensity. But to your point of simplifying things, I think M.Stoops brings a different kind of intensity to his players because they won't be second guessing themselves which I think we both agree caused problems in the Venables defense.
I also agree with your opinion on Kish and what I was saying before wasn't meant to imply that I'd formed my opinion on him as either a coach or recruiter. Obviously we have to give him more than a couple months, but again I just thought it was an opportunity to inject a little new blood into this staff. If you think about it, if they go that direction with the hire it's not like they wouldn't still have an entire defensive staff full of guys who know Bob's system. Bobby Jack Wright has been here forever, so has Jackie Shipp, and obviously Mike knows what Bob likes to do. So, there is the argument in favor of that kind of move.
On the flip side as it were, I suppose you have to call the Willie Martinez 'experiment' a failure given the end result. So there is the argument against hiring an "outsider." The risk that their style doesn't mesh with what Bob, Mike, and the rest of the staff want to do.
With respect to Kish and recruiting. Recruiting is a results business in my opinion. It means very little if people consider you a good recruiter, which Kish has been described as since the day he was hired, but the proof is in the pudding. Again, far to early to write him off but he's yet to land his first recruit at a position of considerable need.
So we've talked about the defensive changes and for good reason, but while there were no changes on the offensive staff I think there are changes with respect to play calling we'd like to see following last season, right?
Matt: Absolutely! I said after the Bedlam game that Heupel had to balance the offense and that's what we saw in the bowl game. Now we need to see it play throughout this season. I am a big fan of Heupel's but he had a bigger learning curve than I had expected him to. Clearly the running game needs to be revamped and the tight ends need to be found once again.
Perhaps the inexperience the Sooners have at receiver going into this fall will be a good thing for offensive balance.
Jordan: I'm right there with you in hoping we see some more balance in this offense. Not just because of the inexperience at receiver that you mentioned, but also because we should have one of the better offensive lines we've had in the last couple years and a deep stable of running backs. I think a consistent run game helps not just the receivers, but also Landry from feeling the pressure of having to win games on his own. As we all know, it can open things up with the pass game off of play action which we've seen Landry be very adept at when given the opportunity.
My fear though is that Heupel just loves to throw the ball and that he's more in the Mike Leach style of offensive coordinators. You can win games with that philosophy of course, but that's just not really how I see Oklahoma being the most successful. Call me a traditionalist I suppose, but OU has generally always had that running game they could count on and we've seen at times under Stoops that has not been the case. When that is not the case, the offense tends to stall out and have difficulty moving the ball which causes all kinds of problems not just for the offense but the defense as well.
To be fair to Heupel, we only have one year worth of data (which is obviously a small sample size) but what happens if at the end of this coming year he's still at a 60/40 pass vs. run play calling ratio? Can we form our opinion on his play calling style then?
Matt: To use the coin phrase of our colleague OnlyOneOU, "Absolutely!" I think we saw the new era of Josh Heupel in the bowl game. I honestly believe that there was a "come to Jesus" meeting with this coaching staff in between Bedlam and the Insight Bowl and I believe that we saw the results in the win over Iowa.
I'm not going to sit here and say that there won't be games where Heupel calls pass plays 60% of the time or more but I do think that there will be a concentrated effort to balance the offense along with picking on the weaknesses of an opposing defense which we can certainly say wasn't the case in Bedlam.