It’s been seven decades since the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry has enjoyed such a novelty.
But come Saturday, there will be two guys making their debuts as head coaches in the rivalry when the Longhorns take on the Sooners at the Cotton Bowl.
Tom Herman will lead the Longhorns. Lincoln Riley will direct the Sooners.
This time a year ago, Herman was the head coach at Houston, readying for a road trip to Annapolis and what would be his Cougars’ first loss of the season. Last time the Red River Rivalry convened in Dallas, Riley was the offensive coordinator for Bob Stoops and eight months away from his sudden promotion to the Sooners head coach.
Riley said Monday that Stoops hasn’t given him any advice about how to deal with the enormity of the mid-October game. As the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Riley saw the Sooners go 1-1 against Texas.
“I almost think it’s one of those things you have to experience a little yourself,” Riley said. “You can sit there and explain it to people — and I watched it growing up and all this and that — but until you’ve actually truly been a part of it, it’s difficult to explain.
“Bob was pretty good about not making anything much bigger than it was. That was kind of his approach to these games. But you can tell that this one was always a little bit different. I think I learned that. I listened to him before, but after going through a couple of them, you certainly respect it even more.”
Herman also has a two-game history with the series. He was a graduate assistant for Mack Brown at Texas from 1999-2000. He witnessed Stoops losing his debut in the series — 38-28 in 1999 — but Herman also was on the sidelines the next year when Stoops and the Sooners thrashed UT 63-14 on the way to a national title.
“That score has been embedded in my brain,” Herman said Monday.
First-year head coaches in the series are 8-9-1, and here are some coaching debut highlights:
- Darrell Royal, who experienced the rivalry as a Sooners quarterback, lost his first game against Oklahoma as Texas’ head coach. That was in 1957. Royal didn’t suffer another loss to the Sooners until 1966.
- Brown won his first game in 1998. So did Ed Price (1951), Fred Akers (1977) and John Mackovic (1992). David McWilliams, who won every Texas-OU game when he played for Royal, lost his first as a head coach in 1987. Charlie Strong did, too, in 2014.
- Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer rolled the Longhorns 52-13 in his first game in 1973. John Blake won in overtime with the Sooners in 1996, nearly 30 years after Chuck Fairbanks lost in his debut in 1967. Oklahoma’s Gary Gibbs also lost in 1989, and Howard Schnellenberger posted a tie against Texas in 1995.
The only other time this passionate rivalry, at least in modern times, has featured a new face on both sidelines of the Cotton Bowl was in 1947. Blair Cherry, the longtime assistant to eventual College Football Hall of Fame inductee Dana X. Bible, was the new guy at Texas. Bud Wilkinson, a Sooners icon, was in charge at Oklahoma. At 31, he was the Sooners’ youngest-ever head coach.
Cherry was groomed by Bible to be his successor, but Cherry still made some major changes in his initial season in Austin, switching the Longhorns from the single-wing, which looked a lot like today’s wildcat, to the T-formation. Cherry’s quarterback was Bobby Layne, an eventual Hall of Fame honoree for both college football and the NFL, and UT had no problems dispensing with the Sooners 34-14. Texas finished the season 10-1, the champion of the Sugar Bowl and the fifth-ranked team in the country.
Oklahoma did OK the rest of the way, winning a Big Eight title with a record of 7-2-1. Wilkinson’s loss in his series debut didn’t matter much in hindsight. He won nine of his next 10 against the Longhorns.