Berry Tramel

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Jeff Capel: Emails in on Bedlam column

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm •  Published: March 8, 2011

I haven’t done an email blog in awhile, but I got plenty of responses to my Bedlam basketball column, in which I again said I didn’t think Jeff Capel should be back as the Sooner basketball coach. The emails run about 3-2 in my favor, though Capel’s supporters don’t really write in his defense, they just bash me. Anyway, here goes:

Robert: “I agree with you 100 percent that a change still needs to be made. I mean, Capel has a juco guy who scores 9 points and 6 rebounds in juco right now coming in to help. He has Nic Thompson and C.J. Washington on his bench who had way better numbers than him in juco. I feel OU is gonna be way behind Tech now with them making that move (firing Pat Knight) and moving forward. OU is gonna be another year but more like two if Capel fails next year while everyone else has moved forward in a new direction and suffered their bad year changing. What are your thoughts on this?”

Interesting points. But I generally think teams can rebuild a lot more quickly in basketball. Change football coaches, and you’re largely starting over. Change basketball coaches, not necessarily. Heck, you don’t have to change. Capel could reload very quickly, with the right mix. Same deal with falling off the cliff very quickly, with the wrong mix.

OU head coach Jeff Capel signals his team during the men's college basketball game between Maryland Eastern Shore and Oklahoma at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Monday, January 3, 2011. OU won, 73-49. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
OU head coach Jeff Capel signals his team during the men's college basketball game between Maryland Eastern Shore and Oklahoma at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Monday, January 3, 2011. OU won, 73-49. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Ross: “I don’t think using revisionist history is appropriate. ‘Taking a page out of Capel’s book and building on questionable characters.’ Did anybody know that Gallon and Mason-Griffin were questionable characters when we signed them? I certainly didn’t hear anything. How is that different than what Stoops has done with the football team? Good grief, SI just came out with their article about crime in college sports and OU was in the top 10 for players with criminal records. You can hammer Capel on results because we’ve certainly not had them the last two years, but don’t be hypocritical in your arguments. Before the 2010 year, we were ranked in just about everybody’s preseason top 10-15 and I bet I wouldn’t see any warning articles about questionable characters written by you. This kind of article seems a bit unjust. Yes, ultimately it is Capel’s responsibility to recruit well and win games but I think context is important. He recruited two McDonald’s all-Americans that could have put the program into top 10 or 20 status easily but it all blew up. Why aren’t you calling for Ford to be fired? He had two bad character players and they went 6-10 in conference?

It’s not my job — nor your job — to gauge the character of OU basketball recruits. It’s JEFF CAPEL’S JOB. Is this some kind of difficult concept to grasp? It’s Capel’s job to know who he’s bringing in. And a football coach, like Stoops, can take a flier or two on a questionable character, because one or two guys won’t soil a football team. One or two guys can soil a basketball team. If it’s your contention that Capel isn’t capable of making that distinction, you’re making my point that he needs to go. As for Ford, quit fooling around. I will call for Ford’s head when he: 1. Brings an NCAA investigation back to a school that just got off NCAA probation… 2. And goes 13-18 in back-to-back seasons at a school that hasn’t suffered consecutive such seasons since the 1960s… 3. And has five players on his roster in April, so that he has to sign a bunch of guys who can’t play Division I basketball. Soon as Ford pulls that stunt, I will lead the charge.

Jim: “Gee, I seem to remember the last time you encouraged/urged/predicted the demise of an OU head coach after only three seasons! HHmmmmmmmmm.”

He’s talking about John Blake, of course. But Capel’s been on the job five years. I know it doesn’t seem like it.

Randy: “So, you want to fire Jeff Capel. I don’t completely disagree. However, there is an old saying be careful what you wish for. Who do you hire? It would most likely be the flavor of the month from a mid-major conference. However, that coach may have more fan support and better players than he would find at OU. Money is probably the only thing OU could offer that could sway the next coach. Let’s face it. OU could drop every sport but football and nobody would care.”

Well, you’re right about that football point. But that old question — who could OU hire? — is silly. They used to ask the same thing when Blake was coaching football. And here’s the answer. All kinds of people. Bob Stoops wasn’t the only coach who could have resurrected Sooner football. Joe C. didn’t catch lightning in a bottle. He made a good search, found a quality coach and let him do his job. Same with basketball. Now, Castiglione did the same when he hired Capel, and you could certainly argue that it proved to be a bad hire. Others would say Castiglione gambled on a young coach and it didn’t pay off. I don’t know if that’s the problem with Capel or not. But the world is full of good basketball coaches. No reason why OU couldn’t hire one of them.

Will: “I am a long time resident of Oklahoma and read the majority of your articles, commentaries, etc. Over the years, and especially the last few years, it seems like your articles are mostly critical and rarely focus on the positive of the sports world. I’m pretty sure the easiest job in sports is to simply be critical of everything when things aren’t going perfect. I think your perspective comes from a worldview with unrealistic standards: where kids are all altar boys or girls who should play the game because of their love for it, or their school pride, or the fact that they are getting the privilege of a college scholarship; where coaches are angels that never do anything borderline improper in order to get a recruit that will help them maintain their million dollar jobs — things that every other coach in the country are doing, but just aren’t getting caught. A recent example is your ill-timed commentary this past weekend about Capel losing his job (which by the way, you have essentially written at least three times this season with roughly the same points each time). In the article about Capel you managed to work in criticism of Travis Ford and his recruiting as well. When did coaches obtain Nostradamus-like abilities to accurately predict the future of team chemistry before such team is actually composed? Get real. There is absolutely no way to know how a KID will react when uprooted from his family and put around teammates from various cultures, foreign environments, etc. All you can do is make your best guess. To blame a coach for the host of variables impacting team chemistry is pretty darn ludicrous. To blame a kid for stupid mistakes that the majority of the world, maybe not you, have made is pretty darn ludicrous. Do you think that, gasp, perhaps OU and OSU basketball attendance may be down not only because they’re bad this year, but also because there is now a wildly successful NBA team in town? No, I’m pretty sure you see that as the coaches’ fault as well. Over the course of your career, college athletics and pro athletics have morphed into a seedier, more entitled, big money environment. I think this necessitates a corresponding shift in your worldview and a serious dose of reality. We’re not going back to the way it used to be in sports just like gas isn’t going to be 75 cents anymore. Time for you to quit fighting it and adapt. It would be refreshing if perhaps in the future you can focus on some of the positive things going on with sports rather than the tired, and often strained, criticism that routinely finds itself in your commentary.”

Now I remember when I stopped blogging about my emails. Can you imagine having to sort through this drivel on a regular basis? Let me get this straight. This guy claims that college and pro sports are “seedier, more entitled” and a “big money environment.” He thinks I’m silly for holding Capel to a standard of not breaking NCAA rules when every other coach in America is doing the same just not getting caught. And I’m the one who doesn’t focus on the positive? There’s too much here for me to rebut it all, because it’s virtually all nonsense, but the notion that a coach isn’t responsible for chemistry and that it’s a crapshoot on the character of his players, well, that’s absurd. That’s EXACTLY a coach’s job. The X’s and O’s, everyone knows. But knowing who to recruit and who to play and meshing them together, that’s the tricky part. That’s the difference between making $1.6 million and $45,000.

Cecil: “I absolutely agree with that headline that the OSU win shouldn’t be a factor. And I am disgusted with what has transpired with a good program. However, I propose that Castiglione has very few options until the much-beloved NCAA finishes mucking around and issues their pronouncements — guilty or not guilty. And I know the NCAA hates to issue not guilty verdicts, which seems to be the hangup here. Capel’s recruiting ability is limited with potential sanctions hanging out there, and the school’s ability to recruit a top-notch coach if Capel is dismissed is also limited until the issue is resolved. Both sides are being held hostage.”

Great point. The NCAA investigation is hamstringing OU and its future, be that with or without Capel. But Capel can’t even use that as an excuse. He invited the fox into the henhouse.

Ed: “Count us among the precious few who still care about OU’s team. I think Capel’s fate may be decided by his recruiting. I don’t deny that Capel recruited some players who were selfish and wouldn’t play defense and just wanted to hurry off to become pros. But Bob Stoops recruited Moe Dampeer, Dusty Dvoracek, Rhett Bomar, Josh Jarboe, etc. And I like both Stoops and Capel. I don’t think you can always tell about a player’s character. Just my nickel’s worth.”

I actually do think you can find out a great deal about a player’s character, if you’re really interested in finding out. Sometimes coaches hear what they want to hear. Just look at OSU’s recruitment of Chris Collins.

during the Bedlam men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State University Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, February, 5, 2011. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
during the Bedlam men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State University Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, February, 5, 2011. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Bud: “I don’t read your stuff and don’t know many knowledgeable people that do, but someone told me about your Caple article. Since you like to have people fired, how would you like it if some of us who think Caple is a good coach should write Christy or Louise to fire you. Maybe you could get a job in Arizona.”

Bud is talking about the Gaylord family. I told him I didn’t know Louise’s number, but I could get Christy’s for him, if he needs it. Also, Bud, you need to broaden your circle of friends. If you don’t know many knowledgeable peopel who read me, you don’t know too many OU people of influence. And if you want to support Capel, SPELL HIS NAME RIGHT.

Jeff: “I appreciate and agree with your position. These last two years were totally of his own making. The first three weren’t. Do you think Castiglione will admit the mistake?”

I don’t know if I would classify it as a mistake. Maybe it was. I don’t know. But it’s definitely time for a new coach. I sort of think he will make a move.

Joe: “Unfortunately, I concur with your conclusions. Capel has not produced as the OU coach, as his record throughout his five years proves. In fact, the record is not even as good as it looks as at least seven wins are the result of playing teams which provide a certain win in exchange for a needed payday. As you point out, this year did not have the extreme ugliness of last year, but OU still was a very bad basketball team, The last two years have resulted in the embarassing lack of attendance, which in turn indicates a lack of interest in the fan base. It is strange to me that Capel has done nothing to address this issue. In fact, he is an almost invisible person off the court. He has made no effort to communicate with the basketball alumni, who could have provided a base of support. Finally, his coaching is questionable, as is his recruiting. I personally do not think OU will take the necessary action. If they do, I hope they would hire someone who wanted to be in Oklahoma and not obviously be looking for another job in the East. Sherri Coale should have taught the AD and president how important it is to have someone who wants to be at OU and proves it through the basketball program itself and an active participation in community activities. I realize many people will take exception to your comments. I just wanted you to know that I agree with your thoughts and hope they will be seriously considered by the OU leadership.”

Great point about Capel’s record. OU has 26 wins total the last two years; 14 of those 26 came in exhibitions. Scheduled victories. Games against low-majors at Lloyd Noble Center. In legitimate games the last two seasons, OU is 12-35.

Rob: “I am OK with whatever Joe C. decides. I am a season ticket package buyer. I know it’s early, but I think the OU job would be attractive to lots of good ACC or SEC type coaches. Guys who are tired of competing with UNC, Duke and Kentucky, Florida. Say Clemson, N.C. State or Ole Miss. Maybe Pelphrey and Arkansas.”

What’s wrong with an assistant coach? Why do colleges hardly ever go after a good assistant. You’d think Roy Williams and Kansas would have taught us something. Dave Bliss was an assistant and delivered OU’s first Big Eight title in 30 years.

John: “I am willing to see Capel receive one more year to right the ship. Frankly, I think it will seal his fate. There needs to be definitive markers laid out by Joe C. and they will be enforced rigidly. For me, this is winning 20 games minimum and he must finish at least .500 in conference play. Miss on either or both, sayonara. This is all about achievement, and frankly, I am one of those who has grown so weary of the same ol’, same ol’. I bought NBA League Pass and watch the Thunder in lieu of the Sooners, all this after being a hard core Sooner basketball fan for 40 years. I am for a middle ground. Give him a year, but frankly, I would bet strongly he will fail if objective parameters are set out in advance. I agree with your result, but I am very afraid Capel has skillfully maneuvered this situation where his dismissal would leave a stain on OU very difficult to remove. Give him another year, set objective standards everyone knows what they are, and watch him fail to meet these reasonable expectations. I know it is tough, but I am just going to purchase League Pass again next year, relax, and let nature run its course.”

Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel gestures to his team from the bench in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. Texas won 68-52. (AP Photo)
Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel gestures to his team from the bench in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. Texas won 68-52. (AP Photo)

Is that what’s it’s come to? Resignation that failure is inevitable? If that’s the case, then you have to make a move. The only reason to keep Capel is if you believe he will right the ship. Not that you think it’s fair. Not that you think he might get it done. If you believe he will get it done.

Tom: “Well written! That was the most boring display of basketball that I’ve watched in a long time.”

Think about it this way. On Saturday, we saw a Bedlam basketball game that was back and forth — OSU was way behind, rallied to take a halftime lead, OU took command again, OSU rallied to lead again, then OU took the lead and held on to win by three when OSU missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer — and all anyone can talk about was how boring the game was.

Andrew: “I am still an avid OU basketball fan and I place blame at the feet of Joe C. for this mess. He gambled, refused to pay a big-name coach, and this is what the program has become. Capel wasn’t qualified nor ready to lead a program on OU’s level (go back and read his reactions after he got hired…he was shocked). I agree with you about Capel needing to go, he has caused this mess. Why should he get a chance to fix it? OU was a top-15 program. Sure, the Sampson stuff was going to hurt a bit, but still it was a very good program. I just wish Joe C. would have spent the coin and gone after a more established coach.”

I don’t blame Castiglione’s coach search. Paying huge money sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Was Capel a bad gamble? Not necessarily. It just was a gamble that didn’t work.

Richard: “No way he pulls the trigger and pays Capel 4.2 million. I was against the hire from day one. I was sick that we went out and hired a coach for 600k, which at that point was 11th in the Big 12. It was embarrassing.”

I’ve heard different numbers on the buyout. But look at it this way. If you saved money on the front end, maybe you’ve got the money on the back end for the buyout.

Jeff: “Would it be unrealistic to consider Terry Evans for head coach if Capel gets his walking papers?”

I think it’s bad timing for Evans. When you’ve just fired a guy from Virginia Commonwealth, it’s hard to hire a guy from Central Oklahoma.

Mark: “Let’s assume Capel is let go. Where do we go from here? Who do we go after, it does not appear there are too many options?”

Like I’ve said. There are a thousand options.

Slim: “I’m thinking OU has to keep Capel around until the Tiny Gallon benefits case comes due. That way the school can dump Capel as a show of self-punishment.”

There could be some truth to that. Or OU could be holding off in case the school is exonerated, then it might could keep Capel without so much flak.

Larry: “You hit the nail on the head with your column. He has succeeded in lowering the bar to the point that I hate to admit it, but I didn’t really care if OSU beat OU. I did feel good for Cade Davis, and even Bob Barry Sr., that they went out on a Bedlam win, but that was it. I actually feel sorry for the guys on this team because they’re probably a nice group of kids who didn’t know what they were getting into. OU basketball used to be second to OU football in my sports priorities. I still feel deep dark depression and excessive misery for a full week when Stoops loses one, and I used to at least get mad for a day or two when OU lost a basketball game, but I don’t feel anything anymore. I care a lot more now about OU baseball, women’s basketball and softball, wrestling and even gymnastics, which I’ve never cared about before. Capel has lowered the bar so far that 1) I’d like to see us beat Baylor so we at least have one more win than last year’s sorrowful, disastrous season, and 2) it would be nice to win six games in Big 12 Conference play next year. Simply pitiful and actually embarrassing. Thanks for telling it straight.”

Apathy is run amok, there’s no doubt about that.

John: “Jeff Capel is still coaching only because he has had the athletic director’s backing (Joe brought him in) and Blake Griffin. He probably knows Xs and Os but apparently does not have the energy to do what Sampson and Eddie Sutton did, which was try to find players that might be around for awhile, search under rocks for jucos and in both cases teach them to play defense.”

The lack of junior college recruiting has hurt Capel. It’s always better to go the high school route, but if you go get some jucos, they need to be good.

Richard: “I understand the word commentary, so write what you want. However, did you attend a game all season? Please duly note that we thought you were wrong when you suggested Capel be fired and you are wrong now. All your buddies will agree with you and you can write about all your support tomorrow. I know of lots of fans who don’t agree and I wanted to be one who voiced my opinion. I know we are both big time “Christians,” but I have to wonder if your commentary attitude has anything to do with why all 77 counties voted against Obama? Incite, incite, incite. Keep it up, you’re doing a wonderful job.”

I don’t know where to start. I guess here. I don’t know about Richard, but I’m not a big-tiem Christian. I’m just a sinner saved by grace. As for Obama and the 77 counties, anyone who knows what he’s talking about, let me know. That’s jibberish to me. And for what it’s worth, I covered OU’s home games against Colorado, Baylor, Tech, Texas and OSU. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but now you have the information. As opposed to Richard, all my buddies do NOT agree with me. Apparently,. my social circle is a little bit wider. But here’s the crux. And it’s the crux of everyone who wrote me to protest. Who has offered a defense of Capel? Who has trotted out a reason for him to stay? Who has expressed one shred of optimistic tone? They just don’t want me writing about it. And who can blame them. There is no defense of the job Capel has done as the OU basketball coach.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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