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Will Lincoln Riley sink or swim?

Lincoln Riley became the Sooners’ 22nd head football coach last week.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Most of the assistant coaches for the Oklahoma football team who moved up the ranks to head coach have been successful as the team’s skipper. Lincoln Riley last week became the eighth assistant to slide into the head coaching job after serving the two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops.

Tom Stidham was the first assistant promoted to the top job. He was an assistant line coach for two years (1935-36) and took over as head coach in 1937. Stidham went 27-8-3 in four years including taking Oklahoma to its first bowl game (Orange) in 1938. That year OU won all 10 regular season games before dropping a 17-0 decision to Tennessee in the bowl game. He left OU to take a similar position at Marquette University.

Dewey “Snorter” Luster took over the Sooners in 1941 after serving two stints as an assistant (1931, 1937-40). He went 27-18-3 in five years, and OU won the Big Six Conference championship in 1943-44. Luster resigned after the 1945 season due to failing health.

Bud Wilkinson was an assistant just one season before being promoted to head coach in 1947 when Jim Tatum took a job at Maryland. Wilkinson led the Sooners to three national championships and 14 conference titles in 17 seasons. Oklahoma won an unprecedented 47 straight games in the mid-1950s and went 72-0-2 in the conference from his first year until 1959. The Sooners also had a 31-game winning streak from 1948-50.

Gomer Jones was Wilkinson’s top lieutenant for Wilkinson’s entire OU career. Jones was elevated to head coach in 1964 when Wilkinson resigned to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma. Jones went 9-11-1 in two seasons before being forced to resign in ’65.

“I just got tired of the criticism and of constantly reading and listening to all the untrue rumors concerning my position as head coach here,” he said.

Jones continued to serve as OU’s athletic director until his death in 1971.

Jones’ successor Jim Mackenzie died after one year on the job. Instead of a nationwide search for a new coach for the second straight year in 1967, OU president Dr. George Cross recommended elevating assistant Chuck Fairbanks to succeed Mackenzie thus keeping the coaching philosophy and system intact.

Fairbanks led the Sooners to a 52-15-1 mark in six years, which included three Big Eight Conference championships. In January 1973, Fairbanks resigned to become head coach for the New England Patriots.

Barry Switzer, an assistant at OU for seven years, was promoted to head coach. It was Switzer who convinced Fairbanks to switch to a new offensive scheme, which saved the career of Fairbanks and his staff and made possible Oklahoma’s second football dynasty. Switzer continued to deploy the Wishbone for most of the next 16 years. He led OU to a record of 157-29-4, three national championships and 12 conference titles. Switzer’s winning percentage of .837 is the best in Oklahoma football history and one of the best in college football.

Switzer resigned in June 1989 and recommended the university hire his defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, also a former linebacker for the Sooners in the early 1970s.

Gibbs guided Oklahoma to a 44-23-2 record but no titles in his six seasons at the helm. He resigned in December 1994 after the Sooners dipped to a 6-6 record that year.

The odds appear ideal for Riley, 2015 Broyles Award winner as the nation’s top assistant coach, to succeed as six of seven of his predecessors had a winning record.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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