Beginning with the Stoops and then the Gundy brothers, the Big 12 has had a fraternal connection over the years.
This offseason, that Big 12 brotherly connection doubled.
To be its offensive coordinator, West Virginia hired Jake Spavital, the younger brother of Texas Tech linebackers assistant Zac Spavital. Kansas promoted Garrett Riley, the younger brother of Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, from offensive analyst to quarterbacks coach.
Along with the Sooners’ Bob and Mike Stoops, and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and his brother Cale Gundy, Bob Stoops’ longest-tenured assistant at Oklahoma, the Big 12 now has four sets of brothers coaching within the league -- creating a potentially unusual dynamic on and off the field.
“This league now. ... We all really know each other well,” Mike Gundy said. “With Cale and I, we hardly ever talk about football, unless it’s something vague.
"Or recruiting. I’m sure he probably trusts me in recruiting," Gundy added with a smile. "I don’t trust him.”
The Stoopses and Gundys have long grown accustomed to balancing family and football. For the Spavitals and Rileys, this season will present a new sibling challenge.
“It will be pretty interesting, because he’s a guy I’m really close with,” Jake Spavital said of his brother, Zac. “I talk to him every day. And over the years, we’ve talked about philosophy, how these are good plays, these are good defenses. We’re so familiar with each other.”
This year, the nature of their conversations might have to change. Jake even joked that he might have to change his signals when Zac’s Red Raiders travel to Morgantown on Oct. 14, for West Virginia’s homecoming game, no less.
“We’re always going to talk,” Jake said. “I FaceTime my niece and nephew all the time. We’ve done a good job not really talking football, and just talking about family.”
Even though their father, Steve, did his best to make sure they considered other professions, Zac and Jake always seemed destined to be coaches. Their grandfather, Jim Spavital, played for Oklahoma A&M, then in the NFL, before joining Oklahoma State’s coaching staff in the 1950s. Jim went on to coach in the Canadian Football League and USFL, as well. Steve followed in his father’s footsteps and was a successful high school coach in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area for years.
Zac and Jake “just loved the game,” Steve said. “They grew up around it and developed tremendous work habits.”
As the older brother, Zac usually got the best of Jake as kids.
“He whupped my ass all the time,” Jake said. “He would never let me score a point in basketball. It had to be a shutout. In street hockey, he’d always check me. But he was the only one allowed to do that. If anyone else did that, he was going to come to the rescue.”
Jake had only one recourse for retribution. He would stock the bathroom with supplies, including food, books and his portable Sega video game. When Zac would fall asleep, Jake would slap him in the face, then make a break for the bathroom, where he’d lock Zac out and hunker down for the night.
“He’d test the waters,” Zac said. “But he really didn’t want to mess with me.”
The Spavital sibling rivalry carried over onto the field in 2008, when Jake was a quality control coach at Tulsa and Zac was in his first season as an assistant coaching the secondary at Houston. The Golden Hurricane were 8-1. But Zac got the best of his brother, as Houston stunned Tulsa by 40 points.
“I learned a long time ago, you don’t need to talk about it,” Zac said. “We both know who won.”
With the Spavitals in more prominent positions, the West Virginia-Texas Tech game has already become a flashpoint for their parents, especially since Jake and Zac will be coaching from opposite sides of the ball.
“We’ll go,” Steve said. “But Momma is going to have a hard time, because those are her babies.”
The Spavitals won't be the only ones facing off for the first time from opposite Big 12 sidelines.
Garrett Riley played under his brother at Texas Tech, and coached alongside him at East Carolina. But never against him.
Unlike the Spavitals, the Rileys, raised in Muleshoe, Texas, didn't necessarily seem predestined to coach.
“Our family was involved in agriculture,” Garrett said. “But all we did growing up was play sports.”
Six years older, Lincoln also got the best of his little brother.
“He likes to think he has this big brother magic dust he can just sprinkle,” Garrett said. “But he was such a mother hen, too. He was my big brother, but he was also kind of my second mom.”
One time when he was 3, Garrett got separated from the family at a store. Only 9, Lincoln “started to freak out” and rushed to the front to tell the cashier to announce his little brother's name over the intercom so they could find him. “Lincoln was more worried than my mom,” Garrett said.
Looking up to his brother, Garrett said he was drawn to coaching as a player watching Lincoln at Texas Tech.
Now, he too is a Big 12 assistant.
“When I see him, we don't talk about football anymore,” Garrett said. “And the week we play, there probably won’t be much conversation.
"But when it’s over, we’ll move on. We’ll still be brothers.”