He made his Sooner Nation believe.
But despite all the early optimism and promise, the bluster and bravado, Howard Schnellenberger in the end flunked his citizenship test.
Sure, there were screams of anguish from fans and supporters who suffered with the team through the worst season in three decades.
But all the public discontent doesn't begin to explain the downfall of a man who once reached the mountaintop in a different place and, apparently, a different era.
Interviews with dozens of players, officials, acquaintances and others, including a well-placed source at OU, reveal a private undercurrent that began in the months after Schnellenberger arrived. It eventually would shred Schnellenberger's delicate moorings with the university and, finally this past week, set him adrift.
The controversy surfaced last Monday with a resignation that shook the foundations of OU's substantial football tradition. In a year when OU was celebrating its 100th year of football, the school was for the first time in a half century disgorging a head coach after only one season.
The move stunned fans, observers, players, many officials and even coaches.
"I was shocked," Schnellenberger's administrative assistant, Ron Steiner, said. "We were all shocked. " But many OU supporters disgusted with the 5-5-1 record, capped by a loss to struggling in-state rival Oklahoma State, were not unhappy at the news.
"I think it's OK," Geneva Sarratt said of the resignation.
"Everybody I talked to thinks it's OK. " Sarratt is an OU donor whose husband, Charlie, played football at OU in the 1940s.
Most officials were quick to publicly disavow knowledge of details or exertion of pressure, saying it was solely Schnellenberger's decision.
Even OU regents charged with ultimate responsibility for the school's business insisted they were in the dark until the resignation was announced publicly. Regents Chairman G.T. Blankenship said the earliest he heard of a possible job-threatening situation was 72 hours before the resignation.
It appeared only a very small number of people knew what was really happening, and they weren't saying. Official announcements in the early hours existed only on paper, traveling mostly by fax machine.
President David Boren declined to comment on whether the coach quit on his own or was forced out. Other than a brief printed statement and a similar one on video, Schnellenberger has been unavailable for comment.
A reporter who visited the coach's home was told by his wife, Beverlee, that Schnellenberger didn't want to comment on anything.
"Rumors are rumors, who wants to hear about rumors," she said.
However, one well-placed source at OU gave an inside look at the fall of Schnellenberger, the man whose team a dozen years earlier had won a national championship at the University of Miami.
The source said Boren played a part that reflected his style as a longtime legislator who rarely took conflicts to the public - that of consensus-seeker. Boren is said to have assumed this role as discontent grew over Schnellenberger's actions and recurring complaints about him, including allegations that he had been drinking during working hours.
According to the source, Boren consulted with Athletic Director Donnie Duncan, OU regents and university officials looking for the best way to handle the situation.
As it apparently turned out, Schnellenberger unexpectedly became part of the consensus Boren sought, agreeing to step down after initial conversations with Duncan just a few days before the resignation was announced.
Asked whether Schnellenberger jumped or if he was pushed, the source said, "It was really a combination of both. He was nudged, but he made the decision to go.
"Had he made the decision to stay, it's not certain what would have happened. But that bridge was never crossed. " The source said OU officials were glad Schnellenberger reached that decision, partly because they didn't think the coach was right for the program, and because "it made a lot of tougher questions moot. " The fact that Schnellenberger didn't put up a fight - or even hold out for more of a settlement on his multimillion-dollar agreement - led some to believe complaints Duncan purportedly presented to him had merit.
"Why else would you leave for $100,000? " the source said, referring to the public settlement that OU regents granted Schnellenberger.
According to the well-placed source, events unfolded this way: Late in the season and right after the season ended, Boren, OU regents, Duncan and other athletic department insiders began discussing the growing list of complaints against the first-year coach. These discussions were not launched with the intent of finding a way to fire Schnellenberger or push him out, the source said.
"(They) didn't really start with an attitude," the source said.
The officials did not want to push him out because of the team's record or even make it appear that was the reason. OU fans and donors had told them that it wouldn't be fair to fire him after one bad year.
Purportedly the most serious issue for Boren was Schnellenberger's treatment of his players and his relationship with them. Boren is believed to have become seriously concerned and upset about two players being treated for heat exhaustion in the summer.
One, Aaron Findley, quit the team to recover from his health problems. His mother, Saundra Anderson, said her son complained about feeling ill, but a trainer did not send him to a doctor.
"It looked like he was neglected," she said.
After dealing with officials other than coaches, she was confident officials "cared about Aaron. " "It just didn't work out, and OU did do a lot of things to convince us that they did care," she said.
Another player, freshman defensive tackle Brian Ailey, apparently came close to death.
"He could hardly walk up the stairs," the player's mother, Marsha Higginbotham, recalls of the first few weeks after the incident. She said Boren called and talked with her about Brian for 45 minutes.
"I thought that was really nice of him," Higginbotham says. "It was a serious thing with Brian and I appreciate the fact Boren has a heart. " Boren stepped in after getting calls from a hospital emergency room. Concerned about the health of players, Boren purportedly called Schnellenberger and asked him to moderate his practices.
Senior quarterback Garrick McGee recalls the early rough treatment, both physical and verbal, but eventually noticed a change.
"He was like that during the spring, but he calmed down during the season, as far as putting his hands on you," he said.
Another senior player, who didn't want his name used, said before Schnellenberger's era, he had not seen OU coaches act like that, "the verbal abuse and them grabbing you by the face mask and jerking you. I've seen more verbal abuse this past year than I have previous years.
"He said something like we weren't working hard enough because we didn't pass out," one player said. "He said stretching was overrated. " Despite his approach, Schnellenberger, especially early on, had strong supporters. After a dismal year in the last season under predecessor Gary Gibbs, whose last team limped to a 6-6 record including a final bowl embarrassment, many welcomed more discipline they hoped would snap the team into shape and into winning form.
One alumnus who played decades ago said he wasn't alarmed at the reports of players getting ill. It's just part of giving your all, he said.
"Somebody that's never been around it might not understand sometimes that's going to happen," he said.
Schnellenberger's tough approach was accepted at first, quarterback McGee said.
"For (a while) I really was a believer. It could have worked. I just think some decisions that were made separated our team, separated the fans, everybody. " Player Barry Giles said many players, even after the last game, did not express "major displeasure" with the coaching.
"Players were more disappointed in the season," he said. "I can't say I was disappointed in the coaches. " Losing, as OU did under Gibbs, always breeds discontent, some say. But discontent under Gibbs was a better class of discontent, one player said.
"I never thought I'd say this, but I wish we had Gibbs back. If we were going to have a losing season, it would have been better under Gibbs. " Even recruits brought to campus said, despite reports to the contrary, that current players were not bashing Schnellenberger.
Altus fullback Sedric Jones said he talked at length with Anthony Fogle, Cedric Jones and Martin Chase.
"They all liked him," Sedric Jones said of the current players.
"They all said he was going to turn the program around. Fogle said he liked Schnellenberger. Cedric Jones said he wished (Schnellenberger) would have come his freshman year. " Still, throughout the year, Boren and others kept hearing reports about locker room shouting matches and other confrontations. The results on the field - though not directly an issue in regard to Schnellenberger's future - demonstrated to Boren that the players weren't really interested in performing for Schnellenberger.
Beyond the treatment was the attitude, some say. Players who wanted to be part of a team viewed themselves toiling below deck in the hold while the coach was topside running the ship.
"No one felt like we were a part of everything," McGee said. "It was hard to get out there and play. It was like he really didn't care what we thought. That wore on us after a while. " Boren decided the coach "was a guy who didn't care about his players too much," the source said. "When you get careless about their health, that's a difficult thing. The chemistry was really bad. " Chuck Bowman, director of development for Oklahoma Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a former player for Bud Wilkinson, recalls Schnellenberger's awkward welcoming address to 6,000 high school members of the fellowship visiting Norman before the North Texas game Sept. 23.
"He said something like, 'Come up here and raise hell and go home and praise God,' " Bowman said.
Bowman felt Schnellenberger "didn't seem to have a grasp of the magnitude of the University of Oklahoma. " And he seemed more a coach of times past.
"Young kids anymore are different than when we grew up," Bowman said. "They want a young, enthusiastic role model type of guy to lead them. " Then there were the reports of drinking.
Officials are said to have been unsure what to make of reports from players, players' parents and athletic department personnel about smelling alcohol on the coach's breath.
No such reports were heard when Schnellenberger was being recruited from his former coaching position at Louisville, the source said. And "no one ever said they saw him falling down drunk. " Several people who know Schnellenberger say they knew of no such problem with the coach or his wife, who is said to be a health-conscious vegetarian.
Norman home builder Mike Pierce said the couple have no bar in their home, which Pierce helped remodel. He said he's never smelled alcohol on either's breath.
"It really bothers me what people are saying," Pierce said.
Schnellenberger's assistant Steiner dismissed the whole drinking issue.
"That's ridiculous," he said.
Officials in numerous law enforcement agencies in Cleveland County who would know such things, said they have no knowledge or record indicating Schnellenberger has ever been pulled over for any violations.
Asked about the drinking rumors, quarterback McGee said, "I don't really want to get into that. I don't know about that. That's personal. " Besides, he said, Schnellenberger's problems had more to do with what occurred on the field.
"It all boils down to not winning games," McGee said. "If he wins eight games, even if he does have a drinking problem, I think he would still be here. " Drinking was just one of many reports, or rumors, that cannot be proven or which can be traced to humble and insignificant beginnings. For instance, the Legend's legend.
The tale has grown into something of a monumental and high-dollar confrontation between the owner of longtime Norman restaurant Legend's and Schnellenberger and his wife.
Like most rumors, reality turns out less intriguing. In this case, it boiled down to some disagreement over whether cheese should have been added to the coach's omelet and whether his wife's toast was toasted properly.
"The food was not prepared the way they wanted it, and they were disgruntled," Legend's owner Joe Sparks said. "It was our fault. " Other rumors involved other retail establishments and various alleged shopping habits, few of which have been shown to have the credibility even of the omelet incident.
Investigation of one rumor revealed that, according to one restaurant operator, Schnellenberger likes pork chops and is "a nice man" with a sense of humor. Other rumors were checked thoroughly with those who should know, and they don't know a thing.
Still, persistent reports to OU officials of alleged drinking, the well-placed source said, made several officials wonder: If Schnellenberger were drinking, was it because of stress? Was alcohol behind some seemingly "reckless" remarks he had made? Was it contributing to the lack of respect many players obviously had for him?
As to the roles of the people looking into the situation, the source described Boren and Duncan as "equal partners (though) in fact Duncan was more equal" because the OU president wanted him to find out the facts and make a judgment.
Boren did not sit down and question a lot of people himself, feeling like the football coach was in the purview of the athletic director, who would have a lot better feel for what people he could interview and get credible stories.
Once a list of complaints was compiled - "some of them dealt with personal things and some dealt with athletic performance" - it was decided that Duncan would discuss them with the coach.
Many of the complaints were in raw form; they had not been confirmed by Duncan, and Duncan "definitely didn't say (he) had confirmed them. " Duncan "approached him and laid out various concerns and said, 'Coach we want to hear what you have to say about all this,' " the source said.
"Going into the conversation, (Schnellenberger's resignation) wasn't a sure thing," the source said. "(OU officials) didn't know how he would respond and didn't know how they would respond to his response. " The officials "would have listened to what he had to say" and if he had made a strong rebuttal, OU officials "might not have moved. " Boren thought Schnellenberger quitting right away was the least likely scenario and was surprised he made a decision so quickly, the source said. But some decided Schnellenberger had already made up his mind that he wanted to leave.
"You just don't know if he really hoped he would be urged to," the source said. "It's anybody's guess because he never said anything more to (Boren and Duncan). " The source said, "If these things had been totally untrue, I tend to think he would have fought it. " That no doubt would have meant even more battering for OU football tradition, a proud one that has taken a beating in the past few years, on and off the field. But regardless, OU faithful say, the monster that Bud and Barry built would thrive.
"Oklahoma was winning when I was up there 38 years ago," says Jakie Sandefer, starting halfback in the late 1950s. "Thirty-eight years from now, Oklahoma will be winning. " BIOG: NAME: The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = This story was written by David Zizzo from reports by Chris Casteel, Berry Tramel, John Rohde, Diane Plumberg, Robert Medley, Bob Hersom, Bob Colon, Lisa Beckloff and Bobby Ross Jr.Archive ID: 633585