Fol­low­ing a col­lege foot­ball leg­end can be a thank­less task

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Berry Tramel btramel@ok­la­

Lin­coln Ri­ley says the Ok­la­homa foot­ball pro­gram is like the Dove soap com­mer­cial.

Com­fort­able in its own skin.

“We’re con­fi­dent in the way we do things,” Ri­ley said the other day on the prac­tice field. “We’ve had a con­sis­tent his­tory of it go­ing well. We don’t worry too much about the out­side opin­ion. We do what we feel is best for the university, for the ath­letic pro­gram. It’s very sta­ble and con­fi­dent and a lot of be­lief in the way we do things.”

Com­fort­able in his own skin also is a good de­scrip­tion of Ri­ley. Com­fort­able in his own skin is what a coach needs most when suc­ceed­ing a leg­end.

Which Ri­ley most cer­tainly is do­ing. Bob Stoops is re­tired after 18 sea­sons that ce­mented his place along­side Ben­nie Owen, Bud Wilkin­son and Barry Switzer as giants in Ok­la­homa foot­ball. Soon enough, a Stoops statue will go up, and Ri­ley can be re­minded even more of the mon­u­men­tal foot­prints in which he walks.

Stoops won one na­tional ti­tle, played for three more, won nine Big 12 championships and tied for another. Odds are not great that Ri­ley will repli­cate that kind of suc­cess.

“It’s not some­thing I worry about,” Ri­ley said. “I re­ally don’t. I don’t think about it much. We’ve been given a great setup here, and if we do it the right way, we’re go­ing to have a chance to win big.

“I meant it when I said it be­fore. I would rather have it this way than the other way, than tak­ing over a pro­gram that had strug­gled.”

Still, it’s a daunt­ing task. I made a list of 38

coaches who since World War II have re­placed cam­pus leg­ends. I threw out Kirk Fer­entz at

Iowa, since he’s hard to pi­geon-hole, and Luke Fick­ell at Ohio State, since he was in­terim.

That leaves 36 coaches who have done what Ri­ley is try­ing to do. Only five have been ul­tra-suc­cess­ful: Tom Osborne, fol­low­ing Bob De­vaney at Ne­braska; Dan Devine, fol­low­ing Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame; John Robin­son, fol­low­ing John McKay at South­ern Cal; Jimbo Fisher, fol­low­ing Bobby Bow­den at Florida State; and Phil Ful­mer, fol­low­ing Johnny Ma­jors at Ten­nessee.

Oth­ers were suc­cess­ful but even­tu­ally moved on to other pas­tures

– like Lou Holtz, fol­low­ing Frank Broyles at Arkansas; Bret Bielema, fol­low­ing Barry Al­varez at Wis­con­sin; and Rich Ro­driguez, fol­low­ing

Don Nehlen at West Vir­ginia.

Some pro­duced con­sis­tently good teams, just not up to the stan­dard of their pre­de­ces­sors. On that list are Fred Akers, fol­low­ing Dar­rell Royal at Texas; Frank Solich, fol­low­ing Osborne; Earle Bruce, fol­low­ing Woody Hayes at Ohio State.

And many were busts. Ron Zook, fol­low­ing Steve Spurrier at Florida; Ted Toll­ner, fol­low­ing Robin­son at South­ern Cal; Ron Prince, fol­low­ing Bill Sny­der at Kansas State.

It cer­tainly hasn’t been easy fol­low­ing OU leg­ends. Gomer Jones was Wilkin­son’s 17-year as­sis­tant but went 9-11-1 in two years as head coach and gladly stepped aside. Gary Gibbs went 44-23-2 in six years after tak­ing over for Switzer and was pushed out.

But coun­ter­ing that is the OU his­tory of pro­mot­ing young, sharp as­sis­tants, which de­scribes both Wilkin­son and Switzer, along with Chuck Fair­banks.

“The his­tory is there, with Barry, Bud, other guys that have been pro­moted like that,” Stoops said. “I think, too, none of us were head coaches be­fore we got there. So it’s worked in­cred­i­bly well be­fore. I think our peo­ple are knowl­edge­able about all of that. They know what we’ve been do­ing the last 18 years has been pretty darn good. Why would you change it?”

No one has de­bated that el­e­vat­ing Ri­ley wasn’t a good de­ci­sion. Of those 36 cases I stud­ied, 20 were coaches who were pro­moted from the staff of the de­part­ing leg­end.

So that’s ac­cepted pro­ce­dure. It’s just hard to match the suc­cess of some­one who prompted a call to the foundry.

But in Ri­ley’s fa­vor, four of the five who have been up to the task were pro­moted from within. Osborne, Robin­son, Fisher and Ful­mer all were as­sis­tants for the coach­ing leg­end they suc­ceeded.

“Where things do get up­set is when a guy comes in that hasn’t been in the sys­tem,” Stoops said. “And all of a sud­den the thing’s turned up­side down. I guess when it’s put back to­gether, it hasn’t al­ways gone as smooth. You turn over the whole ap­ple­cart, even though it’s a great place.

“If you add their wrin­kles to it, but con­tinue with the same blue­print, got a much bet­ter chance. When you look at our track record over the last 18 years, it’s worked pretty well. With Lin­coln adding his wrin­kles to it, it could be even bet­ter.”

Could be. But the odds are against it.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@ok­la­ He can be heard Mon­day through Fri­day from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports An­i­mal ra­dio net­work, in­clud­ing FM98.1. You can also view his per­son­al­ity page at newsok. com/berry­tramel


Lin­coln Ri­ley, left, and Bob Stoops walk off the field in cel­e­bra­tion after an over­time vic­tory over Ten­nessee in Septem­ber 2015. Twenty-one months later, Ri­ley suc­ceeded Stoops as the OU head coach.

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