On Wednesday, news of Bob Stoops' abrupt retirement from Oklahoma rocked the college football world. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was promoted to full time head coach.
Riley has been viewed as a hot head coaching candidate since winning the Broyles Award for nation's top assistant coach after his first year at Oklahoma. Instead of jumping to be a head coach at a place like Cincinnati or Houston, he stuck in Norman for what looked like it would be year three as offensive coordinator. Instead, he is now the head coach of one of college football's top programs.
While Stoops has reportedly been grooming Riley for the last year, and the 33-year old looks like a promising young coach, there's no guarantee that he'll replicate what Stoops has done in Norman, and the expectations are going to be high, especially this year. The team should be the Big 12 favorite on paper, and now it is led by the youngest head coach at the FBS level.
So what if Riley doesn't work out? There are plenty of head coaches that would be knocking down athletic director Joe Castiglione's door for a chance to lead the Sooners.
Here are five that could fit in at Oklahoma:
Justin Fuente - Virginia Tech Head Coach
If Riley had not been ready, and Stoops still decided to retire, Fuente might be the person getting the first call to fill the role.
The former Sooners quarterback has emerged as a very good young coach, turning a struggling Memphis program into a winner of the AAC in just two years, making the leap from 3-9 (1-7) in 2013 to 10-3 (7-1) in 2014. After a 9-3 2015 season, Fuente was hired as the successor to Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.
In his first year with the Hokies, Fuente led the team to a 10-4 record, and won the ACC Coastal division, and the Belk Bowl against Arkansas. The team finished at No. 16 in both polls.
Virginia Tech is probably pretty happy that Oklahoma decided to stick with Riley for the full-time job. If the young head coach fails, though, they might not be out of the woods.
Larry Fedora - North Carolina Head Coach
Fedora has turned North Carolina into one of the more consistent teams in the notoriously inconsistent ACC Coastal, finishing tied for first in 2012—his first year in Chapel Hill—and winning it outright in 2015. Before taking over at UNC, he was head coach at Southern Miss. He also has experience as an assistant at Oklahoma State, and like Bob Stoops, spent year on staff at Florida.
North Carolina is squarely in a tier that makes it hard for Fedora to get many definitively better jobs, which are always incredibly competitive openings. Oklahoma is certainly one, and his high-flying offensive system certainly fits with what the Sooners have succeeding doing in recent years.
Brent Venables - Clemson Defensive Coordinator
Clemson has done a great job of hanging on to Venables, who is one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, but at some point it stands to reason that he may want to be a head coach. I'm not sure that Oklahoma would go for a second straight first-time head coach in the event that Riley doesn't work out, but Venables is an interesting candidate.
His constantly retooling defense is a major reason for Clemson's national championship and back-to-back title game trips. He also has a lot of experience at Oklahoma, although it is a mixed bag. Before joining the Tigers in 2012, Venables was co-defensive coordinator for the Sooners under Bob Stoops from 1999-2003, and then the team's sole coordinator from 2004-2011. He put out a pretty touching statement about Stoops after the news yesterday.
Over the last few years in Norman, Venables fielded some middling defenses. Many Sooners fans weren't overly upset to see him go.
That late tenure history might make it a hard sell, but Venables should get his head coaching shot at some point, and there are no super-qualified assistants with this much familiarity with Oklahoma football.
Dan Mullen - Mississippi State Head Coach
Mullen's coaching job at Mississippi State has probably not gotten enough attention. In the SEC West, he may have one of the toughest coaching jobs in college football. Having a quarterback like Dak Prescott helps, but he may not be a one-quarterback wonder for Mullen. His current signal caller Nick Fitzgerald looks very promising.
The ceiling at Mississippi State is not super high, considering everything that the Bulldogs are up against in their division, one has to imagine that he would like the chance to jump to a bigger program. Oklahoma is certainly that, and if the Sooners want a proven head coach, Mullen could fit the bill.
While Mullen has never coached at Oklahoma or the Big 12, he has experience all over, which should aid him well. Before Mississippi State, he was offensive coordinator at Florida, quarterbacks coach at Utah and Bowling Green, and a graduate assistant at Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Mullen isn't the biggest name, but he may be undervalued due to his time in Starkville.
P.J. Fleck - Minnesota Head Coach
Fleck is breaking into the big leagues this year, making the jump from Western Michigan to Minnesota after a 13-1 season and run to the Cotton Bowl. As an offensive-minded 36-year old coach, he is probably the closest thing to Riley on our list, though he is a more proven head coach, and has done some impressive things on the recruiting trail, out-recruiting some Power Five programs at a MAC school.
This is definitely predicated on Fleck succeeding at Minnesota, but everything he has done as head coach so far is impressive. His Broncos went 1-11 in 2013, his first year as head coach. After back-to-back 8-5 seasons, they made the impressive leap to 13-1 in 2017. Minnesota doesn't require the same level of turnaround, and Fleck should bring an interesting, up-tempo attack that could make the Golden Gophers a unique commodity in the Big Ten West.
Fleck doesn't have Oklahoma ties, coaching at Northern Illinois and Rutgers before taking over Western Michigan. However, there is strong precedent for a coach from Big Ten country succeeding in a big way with the Sooners. The program just finished 18 years of it.