Oklahoma football: A reader weighs in on the Cotton Bowl collapse
As you can guess, I received a ton of emails after the Cotton Bowl. Anguished OU fans are searching for answers. I’ll post a big chunk of those emails, and some of my responses, later Monday. But I received one email that was really thoughtful and indepth. Fellow by the name of Randall. He raises a lot of good points and makes you think about the status of Sooner football. Here you go.
I think that you are overly optimistic if you think that all the Sooners need to do is fill some holes, address some deficiencies, and move on. You say that the OU program has not rotted at the core, and you cite the wins over Texas and OSU as evidence. But neither of those teams were very good this year. They both finished 5-4 in conference play. Texas has obviously fallen into disrepair, and the OSU game was in Norman. Beating the 2012 Cowboys by three points in overtime is better than being taken to overtime in Norman by Baylor in 2005, but not all that much better. The evidence seems clear to me. Bob Stoops’ Sooners have become a consistent three-loss per season program. OU only plays four, five teams a year that have reasonable prospects to beat the Sooners, and OU loses to three of them. The reasons all come back to the coaching staff. Here’s how I see it.
* Recruiting has fallen off. OU has not been able (or willing) to recruit enough good linemen to play college football at an elite level. I’ve heard several explanations for this. Advancing age and predominant ‘whiteness’ of the coaching staff often feature in these explanations. Another common explanation is that playing basketball on grass in the Big 12 does not bring linemen recognition by pro scouts and does not prepare them for the pro game.
* Retention of players is poor. Jerry Schmidt is a part of this. It is known that other programs use Schmidt as an example of why recruits should not sign with the Sooners. (Backups) never getting into games until the last couple of series in blowout victories is another part of this problem. Why be a good soldier for five years, working your tail off under Schmidt, when you will never get in for more than a handful of plays even in the biggest blowout games? Schmidt’s summer regimen is widely believed to be why several Sooners have left before their eligibility expired, even when it seemed quite clear that they could improve their pro draft prospects with another year of college experience. When you combine OU’s failure to recruit enough good linemen and Schmidt’s tendency to drive them off with the fact that the backups get little if any game experience, you get what OU has seen quite a bit in recent years, patchwork offensive lines where the lineup changes from week to week depending on who’s banged up to play, and with no experienced reserves to take the place of the injured.
* Mediocre coaching staff. Not many of OU’s assistants would be in demand at other top-10 programs. (I realize that I’m making the assumption that OU is still a top-10 program.) Josh Heupel certainly would not be offensive coordinator at any other top-10 program. I doubt that Mike Stoops is getting many phone calls from top-10 programs to come coordinate their defenses. Bobby Jack Wright was once in demand for his Texas recruiting connections, but he is getting older by the day, and so are those connections. It is not clear that he provides much value as a position coach. Cale Gundy’s value seems to be in recruiting too, but recruiting has fallen off. Is he in demand by other programs as a running backs coach? James Patton has developed interior offensive linemen who can pass-block, but they can’t run-block to save their lives. Running the ball on 3rd-and-1 requires toughness, attitude, and want-to. OU cannot run the ball on 3rd-and-1 against a good defense. As far as offensive tackles and tight ends, who is coaching them? Bruce Kittle? Kittle could not get hired to coach those positions at any other school in a BCS conference, much less any top-10 program. His qualification for holding this job seems to be little more than having been in the wedding party when Bob and Carol Stoops got married.
* Play-calling. Shaky. Josh Heupel seems lost against an interactive defense once he’s gone through his scripted plays. Mike Stoops has been shown to be something less than all-world by giving up all-time record yardage and points by not just Johnny Manziel and the Texas Aggies, but the likes of 7-6 West Virginia.
* Halftime adjustments. Not in evidence. In all of OU’s losses and close-calls, the Sooners were beaten in the second half. Consistently, the other coaching staffs are making the better adjustments.
* Blowout losses. Since marching into the Orange Bowl game after the 2004 season, OU has suffered its worst two bowl losses ever. It has suffered its worst-ever loss to Texas. It has done what no team with OU’s talent level should do — it has been humiliated. Blowouts are evidence of either failure to prepare or of moral collapse. Both of those problems come back to the coaches. They’re either not preparing the players adequately, or they’ve picked the wrong guys to be OU football players.
In summary, it seems to me that OU’s staff is operating far below peak efficiency, and far below where it was operating in 2000. Good coaches have left the staff to take better jobs. Their replacements don’t seem to be as good. They demonstrate the signs of complacency and entitlement. They aren’t getting the recruits because they’re not working hard.
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