OU football: Bob Diaco's energy, passion being felt on the sideline

Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco hugs defensive lineman Dylan Owen (76) after the Cornhuskers' spring game in 2017 at Memorial Stadium. Diaco now coaches outside linebackers at Oklahoma in the wake of Mike Stoops' dismissal. (Francis Gardler / Journal Star)

After Billy Devaney heard Oklahoma had fired Mike Stoops, OU’s ensuing staff reorganization soon became more clear.

Those changes meant Bob Diaco would coach on the field again.

“I said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s like a hurricane is being unleashed in Norman,” Devaney said. “[Diaco] is so passionate and he’s going to bring so much of that to that group.”

A former head coach, defensive coordinator and Broyles Award winner, Diaco had been cooped up as OU’s defensive analyst, a relatively simple role he was hired in the offseason to handle.

After the changes, interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill likened Diaco’s excitement level for coaching outside linebackers — on the sideline, not in an office — to letting “a wild tiger loose.”

“He’s not really a rah-rah dude, but when he is rah-rah, he has something to say, and you definitely feel his message,” OU linebacker Kenneth Murray said.

Diaco spent the 2017 season as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, where Devaney, the school’s executive director of player personnel at the time, had been instrumental in hiring him.

But the Cornhuskers went 4-8 and finished with some of the Big Ten’s worst defensive numbers, including 14th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, 13th in rush defense and 11th in pass defense.

Nebraska fired head coach Mike Riley and Diaco was out in the process too, leading him to OU where he’ll make $48,000 this season, according to open records obtained from the school.

It’s not uncommon for coaches to accept analyst positions while in transition. It’s an option Riley seized too. He’s an analyst at Oregon State, but misses interacting with players.

“And I know Bob is probably that 10-fold,” Mike Riley said. “He’s a football coach. He’s good with kids, he’s a good teacher. He brings a lot of good fundamental teaching to the game and he’ll be good help strategically too.”

Diaco became known for eloquent, sometimes zany answers to reporters’ questions after Nebraska’s games — coining the phrase “the strain” after a loss to Northwestern — but he connects with people, Riley said.

“He’s got his own unique way of presenting it, and I like it. I like it a lot,” Riley said. “He’s so enthusiastic about what he does, I think it rubs off. I think all he needed at [Nebraska] was another year with the players. I think it was definitely a situation where they would grow within his teaching.”

While Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in 2012, the Irish allowed 12.8 points per game and surrendered a nation-best 15 offensive touchdowns, helping him earn the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant.

Diaco’s prints have also been on OU’s recent defensive resurgence, with the Sooners posting season-best numbers in wins over TCU and Kansas State ahead of Saturday’s game at Texas Tech (7 p.m., ABC).

“I’ve been pleased with what he’s brought to us. He’s kind of a total package,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “The guy brings energy, he brings experience. The players really enjoy him. They really seem to respond to him. Obviously, didn’t anticipate that it was going to be in this role, but thankful now that we brought him along as an analyst when he did.”

What else does Diaco bring?

Aside from perfect hair, movie-star looks and a resume with head coaching experience (Connecticut), he’s an avid chef. His peers rave about his Italian dishes.

“My man can cook, I hear,” Lincoln Riley said.

During his time as Saint Louis Rams general manager, Devaney was star struck watching former OU quarterback Sam Bradford at his pro day, enough that the Rams selected him No. 1 overall in 2010. Devaney still laughs about how impressed he was that first day.

He felt similar about Diaco while interviewing him at Nebraska.

“When you’re around him, he may come across as a choir boy, but I promise you he will cut someone’s heart out for a football game,” Devaney said. “He’s one of the toughest, most competitive guys I’ve ever seen.”

OU at Texas Tech

Time: 7 p.m., Saturday

Place: AT&T Jones Stadium | Lubbock, Texas

Records: OU (7-1, 4-1 Big 12); Texas Tech (5-3, 3-2)

TV: ABC

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7