Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell knows the many branches of Bob Stoops’ coaching tree. Now he's getting ready to call plays for his old school.
SAN ANTONIO — Seth Littrell remembers the last time he worked this closely with Brent Venables.
These were the early days of the Bob Stoops era at Oklahoma. Littrell was the Sooners’ hard-nosed fullback. Venables ran the defense and oversaw the punt team, too, affording him frequent contact with the chief blocker charged with protecting punter Jeff Ferguson.
“(Brent and I) had one-on-one meetings two to three times a week, just the two of us,” Littrell recalled from the Alamodome Tuesday afternoon. “I always had a lot of respect for him.”
Those meetings marked some of Littrell’s earliest and most intimate connections along the many branches of Stoops’ coaching tree. He’d eventually go on to land staff roles under Mark Mangino at Kansas and Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Litrell’s first coordinator role came in 2010 under Mike Stoops at Arizona. His next one came with Kevin Wilson at Indiana in 2012.
Over more than two decades of coaching, Littrell has only worked under one non-Stoops disciple: North Carolina’s Larry Fedora in 2014 and 2015.
As Littrell steps into his newest role — running the Sooners’ offense and working under yet another former Stoops assistant — he speaks with a keen appreciation for the coaching tree that molded his career in coaching, helping forge a reemergence at his alma mater some 23 years in the making.
“Early on they knew I wanted to coach,” Littrell said. “That coaching staff, they built great relationships with their players and took care of me … I’ve just had a lot of great opportunities from this coaching tree. Giving back now — it means a lot to me.”
The first step in Littrell’s run as OU’s offensive play-caller arrives Thursday night when the 12th-ranked Sooners close the 2023 season with an Alamo Bowl matchup against No. 14 Arizona.
The night kick inside the Alamodome (8:20 p.m., ESPN) comes less than 30 days after Littrell was formally promoted to take over play-calling duties alongside co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley. Together, the duo will take their first crack leading the OU offense down three starters on the offensive line and with freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold making his first career start. All this against an Arizona defense that has allowed more than 30 points only once since mid-October.
“Like I told (Jackson), we’re both getting our first start together,” Littrell said. “It’ll be an amazing time. No one better to do it with.”
Speaking for the first time since his promotion, Littrell outlined a “very fast” first month on the job. Initially uncertain of his future beyond the 2023 season, Littrell stepped into the role following Jeff Lebby’s departure for Mississippi State and immediately dove into portal evaluation, the high school recruiting trail and bowl game preparation.
Perhaps most critical over that run has been Littrell’s bowl season assimilation overseeing an offense missing starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel and offensive linemen Tyler Guyton, Andrew Raym and Cayden Green. Operating under the time crunch with Arnold, Littrell emphasized that the offense OU runs Thursday — scheme, terminology, etc. — will be similar to what the Sooners ran all fall under Lebby.
“The offense that we’re running will stay consistent with what we’ve done throughout the year,” he said. “Then we can look up after the season and figure out what we need to do moving forward as adjustments and kind of evolving and how we grow. But this isn’t the time for that.”
With the Alamo Bowl in Littrell’s immediate sightline, the 45-year-old coordinator and the son of a 1974 Sooners national champion didn’t shy away from the greater significance of landing the coordinator job at OU.
Following his promotion, Littrell relayed a memory to his players of growing up in Muskogee and lying in bed envisioning following his father Jim’s footsteps with the Sooners.
“I had two dreams in my life when it came to football,” Littrell said. “One was playing at the University of Oklahoma. And the other one — it wasn’t the NFL. It was to coach at the university one day. So I feel blessed to be living out my dream in that sense.”
Littrell achieved the first part of that dream as a captain on OU’s 2000 national championship team. The second piece — returning to coach with the Sooners — has been a long time coming, rooted in the belief of a series of Stoops-era assistants.
Littrell thought back on Tuesday to the three years he spent under Mangino fresh out of school. He recalled the pass-heavy attacks he saw Leach orchestrate, the run-oriented set-ups Wilson constructed and the faith Mike Stoops had in Littrell’s own play-calling ability
The common throughline within the stream of Stoops assistants in Littrell’s past?
“The way they take care of and think about their players just shows you who they are,” he explained.
The fingerprints of the Stoops coaching tree are all over Littrell’s coaching career. Soon, the Littrell family could have its imprint on yet another defining era in the program’s history.
With Littrell guiding the offense, OU steps into the Alamo Bowl and its SEC future with another Stoops disciple calling the plays.
“This place obviously means everything to me,” Littrell said. “I’ve been trying to get back here for 23 years. This is obviously the place I want to be.”