No Big 12 offseason acquisition had a higher profile than Mike Stoops at Oklahoma.
The former Sooners defensive coordinator returned to Norman after seven-plus seasons as the head coach at Arizona. His entrance precipitated the exit of former coordinator Brent Venables, but all eyes will be on Stoops and his defense this spring.
The new man in charge of Oklahoma's defense took some time out to talk with ESPN.com this week.
David Ubben: What have these first few weeks been like?
Mike Stoops: It's been pretty hectic, trying to get everything organized from recruiting to identifying our players and who they are and what number they are and their personalities and putting the defense together. It just takes time. It's not anything you can rush. You have to be as patient as you can. Trying to find a place you can live, find a place to get your haircut, you know, all those things. It can be a little bit painstaking at first, but it gets a little bit better, and I think in any transition, there's going to be a bit of an unstable period, but my familiarity with being here before will help considerably.
DU: What's changed about this program since you've been gone?
MS: I think it's grown each year. It's gotten bigger and bigger with wins and tradition. At Oklahoma, that's going to happen. How big the program is right now is probably what's changed the most. How national, really, the program is.
DU: This program brought in guys from California and Florida recently. Those were maybe more so on the offensive side, but is this team recruiting more nationally now than when you were there?
MS: I think so. Obviously, Oklahoma and Texas are our home bases, and then from there, we kind of branch off. It's just a national name. Any time you can play for four national championships in four years and have 100-whatever games on, your exposure is just so much different than most schools. Certainly, that enables you to have people identify with Oklahoma more now than ever.
DU: Brent is gone, but for you, what's goal No. 1 this spring once practice gets started?
MS: Just putting together the defense and finding out what the players can do. Find something we can hang our hat on and identify an identity for this defense and what we can do, and trying to make it as simple as possible for our guys.
DU: Who has stuck out to you so far, based on what you've seen from this defense?
MS: There's players that I identified very early on in the process, guys that will have to be impact players and leaders for us, so I think there's a good core group of those seven guys who return from the starting group last year who will have to be strong leaders on and off the field for us to be successful.
DU: You attracted so much attention from a lot of programs when you left Arizona, but was Oklahoma always where you wanted to come back to? Or was it a situation where you weighed your options and Oklahoma made the most sense for you?
MS: The second was probably the one, where you sort of look at your options. The financial part of it is really not -- all these programs were really all strong programs and that part made you feel good, but all the things that Oklahoma brings on and off the field was really what made it the right choice for me.
DU: So, now that you're back, what kind of timeline did you have in mind for the next step in your career? Did you have one in mind?
MS: No, not really. Sometimes as a head coach, you sort of miss the intimacy of coaching a group or a big group of players, so I missed that. I stayed pretty close to my brother Mark and Tim Kish, our defensive coordinator we had at Arizona, so I tried to stay involved as much as I could, but I was still the head coach and not the defensive coordinator or the defensive back coach. I'm looking forward to getting back into that more intimate setting of the day-to-day, working with players and strategizing and putting a game plan together.
DU: What's changed about you since you left Oklahoma?
MS: I think you understand the head coaches' perspective so much better. People don't realize -- I thought I knew a lot when I left or had a lot of suggestions for Bob -- but until you really sit in that chair and have to make those decisions day in and day out, and you can quantify the stress and the difficulty of those decisions on a day to day basis, it's just continuous. You have to represent a big group of people and a huge organization. There's a lot that goes into that thinking day in and day out. You make so many decisions that may seem pretty minute but are pretty important for that situation. I just understand what the head coaches go through and it makes you more mature, spending those eight years at Arizona.
DU: This league is so known for offense, that sometimes people don't expect great numbers for defenses. For you, what's the bar for success defensively in this league?
MS: That era of football -- that train has left the building. You're not going to see that anymore. These are very explosive offenses that really move the football and use all the personnel on the field and utilize every inch of grass that's out there. That's what good teams do; they try to get you in space and let their playmakers make plays. That's why you see so many of those screens, you see those jet sweeps, you see guys spreading the field out just to make you defend sideline to sideline and it takes a lot of pressure off your offensive line, too. So, it's kind of a video-game offense that you see from a lot of these teams week in and week out. We've got to have players who are a little bit different and able to play in space more so than before.