NORMAN — Lincoln Riley, near the end of his fourth year as Oklahoma’s head coach, isn’t sure who he’d turn to for help if Bob Stoops, the longtime Sooner skipper he succeeded in 2017, wasn’t available.
Riley, who spent 2015 and ‘16 as Stoops’ offensive coordinator, rarely goes a week without checking in with Stoops, and vice versa.
“I just don’t really have anybody else quite like that, that I have that much trust in that I know has my best interest or more importantly has this football program’s best interest,” Riley said. “I probably don’t understand how fortunate I’ve been to have a guy like him in that position.”
This week, Riley is leaning even more on his former boss.
The Sooners, scheduled to host Baylor at 7 p.m. Saturday, are short a few a staff members due to COVID-19. Riley said OU’s recent outbreak, which forced the team to postpone its trip to West Virginia last Saturday, has affected all areas of the program.
“We have one branch of our support staff that’s pretty much been wiped out,” Riley said. “We have to bring in some outside help.”
So, Riley called up Stoops, who retired from OU three-and-a-half years ago and enjoyed a brief coaching stint in the XFL earlier this year, to assist with practices this week.
Assuming OU can play its final home game, Stoops, the current Rock N Roll Tequila pitchman and father of Sooners receiver Drake Stoops, will be an option to fill in as an assistant coach. He’s able to because he’s still on the university staff as a “special assistant” to Joe Castiglione, OU’s athletics director.
Riley will also rely on graduate assistants and quality-control coaches to step up. But how could Riley not turn to Stoops, the last coach to lead the program to a national title and go 190-48 over 18 seasons in Norman?
“It’s kind of been in our hip pocket this whole time,” Riley said. “If we had any staff member who fell off, we have a Hall of Famer sitting on the bench. It’s a pretty good bench when you can call that guy up.
Few on OU’s roster actually played in a game coached by Stoops, who departed the program three months ahead of the 2017 season.
Brayden Willis was a part of OU’s first recruiting class in the post-Stoops era. The Sooner H-Back was thrilled, however, for the chance to the legendary coach, who turned 60 in September, in action.
“It’s great any time you get to have a legend come back and help out with the team,” Willis said. “I wasn’t here when he was coaching, so it’s cool to see him come back and be a part of that.”
While they haven’t had much prior interaction, OU defensive back Delarrin Turner-Yell enjoyed Stoops’ presence as well.
Stoops, who played Turner-Yell’s position at Iowa from 1979-82, didn’t parachute into practice and command the defense, or anything.
He was just himself.
“He’s going to be the guy he is,” Turner-Yell said. “He didn’t jump in and try to take over or anything like that, but he did play his role.”
Riley expected nothing less of Stoops.
The former OU coach still cares plenty for the university that gave him his first opportunity as a head football coach at a major university.
Perhaps, he’ll get a chance to see life as an OU assistant on Saturday.
“I don’t think there’s anything he wouldn’t do,” Riley said. “It was great to have him out there [Tuesday]. It was awesome. Our kids were excited to see him. All of us were excited to see him. I think he had some fun as well.”