By Jim Weber
If I’m Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, I’d place a call to Naples, FL, as soon as this season ends and tell the recipient on the other end, “Mark, we’re getting the band back together.”
Yes, I’m speaking of Mark Mangino, the disgraced former Kansas head coach who was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator from 2000-01. During his stay in Norman, Oklahoma went a combined 24-2 and won the 2000 national title with a junior-college transfer quarterback by the name of Josh Heupel.
If rehiring Mangino sounds like a crazy idea, just look to the defensive side of the ball. Former OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops (1999-2003) returned to the same role this season after being fired as Arizona’s head coach last fall. And keep in mind that Mangino already reportedly talked to the elder Stoops about joining the Sooners’ staff in some capacity.
Let me start with why there needs to be a change.
Since former offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson left for the Indiana head job two years ago, Oklahoma’s once-dominant offense has become very average and QB Landry Jones is now a shell of his former self.
Under Wilson, Oklahoma had the best scoring offense in the nation in 2008, averaging a mind-boggling 51.1 PPG. In Wilson’s last season, the Sooners still finished 14th in scoring offense (37.2 PPG) despite Jones being a sophomore at the time.
The last two seasons under co-offensive coordinators Heupel and Jay Norvell, the Sooners’ scoring offense is only marginally better statistically (39.1 PPG in 2011, 40.1 PPG this fall) despite Jones’ increased experience and dynamic play makers this fall in RB Damien Williams and WR Kenny Stills. More importantly than those numbers, Oklahoma’s offense is consistently AWOL during its biggest games.
There was a 10-point outing against Oklahoma State last fall, a 19-point effort vs. Kansas State on Sept. 22 and last Saturday’s 13-point performance vs. Notre Dame. Sure, some of the blame goes on Jones and a creaky offensive line. But Heupel and his play calling have justifiably come under immense scrutiny for not sticking to the run game, uncreative game plans and a general lack of execution.
I actually feel bad for Heupel. Being named an offensive coordinator at the age of 32 for one of the Top 10 programs in the nation without any experience in the role is asking too much even for a folk hero like him. It actually reminds me a lot of former Texas star QB (and current UT co-offensive coordinator) Major Applewhite, whose stint as Alabama’s offensive coordinator at the age of 27 in 2007 was a flop.
But with the Sooners now just a combined 15-5 over the last season-and-a-half, it’s clear OU is moving much closer to mediocrity than another BCS title.
He’s a mastermind of the “Air Raid” offense. He won the 2008 Orange Bowl at Kansas of all places before disgusting allegations of physical and verbal abuse led to his dismissal a year later. Mangino has been out of the game since then, saying in a recent interview with The Oklahoman that he took the time off to help his wife battle cancer. In truthfulness, Mangino probably wouldn’t have been hired anywhere considering the stigma around his name.
I’ll never excuse Mangino’s alleged actions but the American public is very forgiving. And coaches and fans are especially forgiving when it comes to a coach that wins. After all, Mike Leach (Washington State head coach) and Jim Leavitt (San Francisco 49ers linebackers coach) have recovered from abusive allegations against them at Texas Tech and USF, respectively, to find new jobs.
An athletic director would still be crazy to hire Mangino as a head coach considering all the bad PR that would come with it. But I think he is now employable as an offensive coordinator because enough time has passed, he claims to be a changed man and Stoops can assure the parents of his players that he’s the boss and none of the abuse that allegedly took place at Kansas will be tolerated at Oklahoma.
The reunion of Bob and Mike Stoops has certainly worked so far this season on the defensive side of the ball, as the Sooners have gone from ranking 31st in scoring defense (22.1 PPG) to 16th (17.4 PPG) and would be even higher if Oklahoma’s offense hadn’t put it’s “D” in so many bad positions to give up 30 points last weekend. There’s no reason to think a reunion with Mangino that relegates Heupel back to quarterbacks coach or an offensive coordinator elsewhere wouldn’t be equally successful.
In his first stint at OU, Mangino picked up right where Mike Leach left and watched Heupel throw for nearly 3,400 yards and 20 touchdown en route to a national title in 2000. No, Mangino’s second season wasn’t nearly as good, as Nate Hybl struggled mightily in 2001. But if Mangino could get former QB Todd Reesing to throw for nearly 4,000 yards and 32 TDs at Kansas like he did in 2008, imagine the kind of numbers the Sooners could put up in the Big 12 next fall with talent like QB Blake Bell and WRs Kenny Stills, Jalen Saunders and Trey Metoyer.
Not many coaches get a chance to rehire both coordinators that led to their biggest success. And it certainly appears that Oklahoma’s best chance at winning a second national title under Bob Stoops is regrouping the two coordinators that led Stoops to his first.
ND photo: Matt Cashore/US Presswire