If there's a perk to being a member of the head coaching fraternity, it's that you're never far away from another job.
It's been about two-and-a-half years since Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was fired as the head coach of Arizona following a 1-5 start. He's been with his brother, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, ever since.
Mike Stoops' first year back with Oklahoma—he served as OU's co-defensive coordinator from 1999-2003—was rough. The Sooners finished 50th in scoring defense, 94th in rushing defense and 65th in total defense (although 30th against the pass).
The lowlight of that first defensive effort was a 41-13 dismantling by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel set a bowl record with 516 total yards, accounting for four touchdowns in the process.
But it's the improvement Oklahoma showed on defense from Year 1 to Year 2 under Mike Stoops that stands out.
Despite losing linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips to season-ending injuries, the Sooners showed improvement in just about every major statistical category. Oklahoma, though still susceptible against the run, finished 24th in that department. The Sooners also had the second-best scoring defense in the Big 12, and with the help of the offense, ranked third in turnover margin.
There were setbacks, of course. Losses to Texas and Baylor came by a combined 45 points. The Longhorns and Bears each rushed for 255 yards on 4.3 and 4.7 yards per carry, respectively.
But there were also reasons to be happy with Oklahoma's defense. In the wake of Nelson's injury, freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander morphed into the Associated Press' Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Alexander, along with the rest of Oklahoma's defensive front seven, returns in 2014.
Oklahoma should be the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 next season. Not solely because of quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw four touchdowns in a 45-31 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, but because of that defensive front seven.
A good defensive front seven always helps the secondary, which in this case loses cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Gabe Lynn.
If Oklahoma's defense keeps building on what Mike Stoops has done, it's poised to become the best in the conference. A turnaround like that would absolutely put him back on the head coaching map.
Mike Stoops had good moments and bad moments in his seven-plus years with Arizona. He led the Wildcats to a school record three consecutive bowl games from 2008-10. He also blamed that ceiling on the university's administration.
We may have got it as good as it can get. You have to be realistic with what your expectations are and you should have high expectations, I certainly did, Stoops told Bryan Fischer in a 2012 CBSSports interview. But what you're capable of and what the circumstances that are dealt to you, it's hard to achieve those big goals of winning a championship there.
Some of Stoops' comments may come across as bitter, but he has a point: Programs are only as good long term as the institution allows them to be. Arizona is a far better job now than it was during most of Stoops' time in Tucson.
Showing improvement on the field is a surefire way to get noticed. With the path Oklahoma's defense is on, it wouldn't be surprising to see another school give Mike Stoops a second chance at being a head coach.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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