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Oklahoma football: The fans speak

by Berry Tramel Published: September 24, 2012

I wear many hats in my job. One of those hats is being a sounding board after Sooner football defeats. People need somewhere they can go to vent and get some feedback that is part understanding, part counseling, part correction. I’ve had to talk fans off virtual cliffs, educate them, comfort them and often agree with them.

As you may have heard, the Sooners lost to Kansas State 24-19 Saturday night. I was rather hard on the Sooners in my column for the Sunday Oklahoman, which you can read here.  And here’s the nature of Sooner Nation’s unrest. Of the 100 or so emails I received, only one took me to task. No kidding, just one. Everyone else was in sackcloth and ashes, or wailing and gnashing teeth, or gathering torches and swords.

So I went through some of the emails — and my responses — to share with you.

Jeff: “It appears Bob’s stubborn arrogance will prevent him from making the necessary assessment to improve the situation. For one, Bob needs to tell head recruiting coordinator (Cale Gundy) to hit the bricks and then he needs to hire an unemployed guy who basically played a large part in running off the greatest coach in college football history, Mark Mangino. Sure he looks like an unmade bed and he is prickly and surly, but he is one whale (no pun intended) of a ballcoach.”

Interesting. I wonder if Stoops would consider bringing back Mangino, even if he had an opening?

Duane: “Oklahoma 16, Kansas State 7. Not the score, the latest top-25 rankings came out today. A national embarrassment, this game. Good job by Bill Snyder’s boys, OU can’t give away two TDs against a Top 25 team and expect to beat anybody. Take away those two “unforced” quarterback fumbles and the score could have been Oklahoma 26 K-State17. The Sooners are going to have a tough time with everybody else on the schedule, especially the four teams ranked higher now, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Texas and TCU. Not to mention, Baylor is undefeated and ranked 25th.

You know, I don’t buy this national embarrassment stuff. Sure, fans are frustrated and angry and alarmed. And you can’t blame them. But that doesn’t mean college football fans or even media in places like California and Michigan and North Carolina are sitting around saying, man, the Sooners stink. Locally, sure. The frustration is high. But not nationally.

T.W.: “When you have 85 scholarships available now, you can’t miss on many. Sooners aren’t getting the talent level they used to, though they recruit nationally. Three games don’t make a season, but don’t see much right now to give Sooner fans a great deal of optimism. Perhaps four to five losses this year? Hey could be worse, what if you were a Hog fan?”

Yep, the grass is sometimes browner on the other side of the fence.

Larry: “Looks like the Sooners are in for a very long season. One question, if you are Stoops, do you try Bell, or do you stick with Landry?”

I stick with Landry. He clearly gives you your best chance to win, and if you’re not committed to winning, then it’s mass chaos.

Jerry: “I seldom offer criticism of an article, but your conclusions in today’s article about Oklahoma football are really off-base. You say K State “Out-toughed OU. Out-clutched OU. Out-worked OU. Out-played OU. Out-coached OU.” You also had considerable criticism for Landry Jones and the entire team. However, K-State is obviously a pretty good team. And, with all the so-called bad play and weaknesses, OU still could have easily won the game. In fact, only one play probably cost them the game. That would be the mistake by Blake Bell, who fumbled away OU’s chances on the one-yard line. Points from that score would have been enough for a victory. Yes, OU did make a lot of mistakes, but with such bad play, it takes a pretty good team to stay in the game and have a chance to win. I believe your criticism was excessive and sincerely believe you owe the entire team an apology.”

You know what’s interesting about this. The idea that OU could have won. Probably would have won if not for the two goal-line fumbles. (Jerry seems to give more weight to Bell’s fumble than Landry’s fumble; who knew anyone this side of Whitney Hand were still sticking up for Landry?) Anyway, the last few years in college football, we’ve grown desensitized to the margin of victory. OU for the last four or five years has been so high-scoring, games get out of hand. We’ve lost sight of the fact that a 24-19 game, while a one-possession game that absolutely could be flipped with a play or two, is the way some teams win games. Like Kansas State. Bill Snyder was in control last night. He kept the game close, he shortened the game, he had new plays ready for critical situations. The idea that the game would have been reserved if Blake Bell had scored instead of fumbled, to me, does a disservice to Bill Snyder and K-State.

Erick: “Your article was spot-on! The defense often looked confused (how many timeouts did they call?) and blew some assignments. But had Jones and Bell not blown their roles (Jones passing behind a wide-open tight end on the first drive, plus Jones and Bell’s fumbles), this could have been a potential win for the Sooners. That said, I believe it would have hidden a fate yet to come. The bottom line is a complete lack of discipline plagued the Sooners. And to think I’ve paid a fortune for my father (from San Jose) and I (from Washington, D.C.) to come to the Notre Dame game. Oh well, it will be nice to see Dad.”

Excellent point about masking some problems. OU could have won that game, and yet the Sooner problems would remain. But let me make a point about the Notre Dame game. OU still has Texas, OSU and Notre Dame on the schedule. Are you telling me it wouldn’t be cool to fly from D.C. or San Jose and see the Sooners beat Notre Dame? OU hasn’t beaten the Irish since 1956. This season is disappointing, yes. But I’m not so sure it’s any less interesting.

Johnny: “I just have two comments regarding the game. First, don’t lay any blame on the defense. Mike’s boys held KSU to one legitimate, non-turnover-related score, and that occurred very late in the game when the defense, having already spent about 35 minutes on the field due to inept offensive play, started to tire a bit. If the offense had kept its end of the bargain, OU would have won by three touchdowns, and KSU would have been held to seven to 10 points. Also, did you notice how well the Venable defense worked yesterday — – Clemson held FSU to only 49 points. I think Mike has the defense going in the right direction, in spite of a thin D-line. Second, even though Landry is a really nice guy with his head screwed on straight, in the final analysis, from a football standpoint, all he has going for him is a strong (although frequently inaccurate) arm and a big body that is not particularly mobile. He does not react well under pressure, he has no apparent concept of a sense of urgency, witness the slowness of his play execution when time is running out. He displays no apparent fire-in-the-belly leadership aptitude, and he always seems to have a deer-in-the-headlights look about him at crunch time. I like him a lot personally, but the more I have seen of him I don’t see him as anywhere near a Heisman Trophy candidate. I’m not sure he could start on very many of the current Big 12 teams.”

I agree that Mike Stoops has the defense headed in the right direction, but you can’t sugarcoat it. The OU defense collapsed vs. Kansas State. Three KSU possessions, no stops. Two touchdowns and a grind-out-the-clock series. Kansas State’s offense was the star unit of the fourth quarter. Collin Klein made all the right moves. As for Landry, well, he’s regressed, there’s no doubt about it. Not playing well at all.

Tom: “I will ask again, do you think Bob is burned out? Got outworked by a 73-year-old coach this week when he had two weeks to prepare. Personally, I think the staff has gone stale and lost the edge. You can’t just hire your Iowa buddies (Kittles being the ultimate reach) to be your assistant coaches or promote from within and think it will continue. One of the things that Josh Heupel was good at was developing QBs. Now that he is in the booth calling predictable plays, the QBs are not improving. How many teams have two O-line coaches? How many teams don’t have special teams coaches? It takes years for Shipp to get a DT ready to play. It took him years to get Gerald McCoy ready. I think this staff is getting is getting whipped in practice, preparation and recruiting. The sad part is that Bob doesn’t seem to have the stomach or the desire to work at the level to turn it around. I guess he has finally succumbed to that sense of entitlement that comes with making 5 million a year. The question that I wish someone had asked Bob after the game last night, which coaching staff do you think worked harder to prepare for the game, Bill Snyder’s or yours? I think OU will be closer to .500 this year.

The hard-work angle is silly. Nobody outworks Bill Snyder. And while I long have proclaimed he’s the greatest coach of all time, outworking him isn’t the answer. He hadn’t beaten the Sooners in nine years. So that’s just frustration on your part and not particularly relevant to the problem. The questions about the coaching staff is legit. Heupel and Kittle are question marks. I don’t think the criticism of Shipp is legit. Defensive linemen don’t show up on campuses ready to play, except in extreme circumstances.

Larry: “That performance last night was not up to par. I saw a poorly coached team that was simply outcoached by the grand ole wizard. I have supported the team and coach Stoops since day one. I travel to many away games and many bowl games. This is not the football I want to see at OU. Time for something to change. Go hire John Blake to recruit or something. When Bob won, it was with John’s recruits. Time to put this era behind us and see what is ahead.”

Earth to Larry. Earth to Larry. Don’t be the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, wishing you were back in Egypt.

Braniff: “K-State sent Laundry Jones to the cleaners. People actually drive all those miles and spend all that money for this?”

Yes. Games like Saturday night are what sports are all about. The opportunity to win. Not the guarantee to win.

Dave: “My friends and I have a running bet each game on how many boneheaded plays our quarterback will make during a game. Other than Blake Bell’s emotions after he scored a touchdown, I don’t see any passion in this team. Just going through the motions. And I think coaching has a lot to do with that. I also think it’s time for Bell to get a shot, at least he appears to have some sand in his belly.”

Sorry, I don’t buy the passion stuff. The Sooners don’t need Landry Jones to get fired up. They need Landry Jones to take care of the ball. That passion stuff doesn’t mean anything.

Gene: “Texas, West Virginia and Notre Dame are just 3 of 7 that OU might lose. The others, TCU, TT, OSU & Iowa State are not gimmes. Big Game Bob needs to find his rabbit’s foot in a hurry! Rather than being angry with the press, Big Game Bob needs to be upset with himself, staff & players.”

Regardless of how the OU-KSU game turned out, the above is true. Heck yeah OU could lose those three games and some others. That’s life in the big city. And let me again reassure everyone. Stoops’ anger at the media is overstated. That’s just his personality. Probably the personality of most 50-year-old males raised in Youngstown, Ohio.

Sean: “Tired of his attitude. The part of the postgame press conference that I saw was of an arrogant ass who honestly has little reason, as of late, to be arrogant. I don’t envy guys like yourself having to try and ask important questions of a guy who refuses to be realistic or willing to be critical of himself. This program has seen a decline in talent since the UF loss and the only changes in the staff were to make room for Mike to return. For all the crap Mack Brown has taken, at least he’s gone outside and tried to hire good candidates when he’s needed assistants. Bob’s attitude seemed fine to many when we were winning. But it’s clear he’s gotten lazy and takes his position for granted. Time to learn some humility.”

I agree that there’s been a decline in talent. But I don’t buy it that he’s lazy. I could be wrong, I suppose, but I don’t see the fire going out in Stoops. My guess is, he’s madder than ever about what’s happened.

Smith: “Sadly, I’m in almost total agreement with your comments. Although we’ve seen signs of improvement from Mike Stoops’ defense, the cracks and fissures still exist and were exposed tonight in the fourth quarter. And then there’s Jones. Nobody wants to scald a 23-year old kid, but it has been evident to most (reasonably) objective observers that Landry simply is not a “gamer.” He lacks poise and has a deadly tendency (for a quarterback) to choke under pressure. It’s clear that although Jones made error after error tonight (as well as in games past), Stoops believes that his best chance to win still resides with number 12. Perhaps someone can tell me what it takes to persuade Stoops to yank a quarterback?”

I think it’s the knowledge – or belief, for you Blake Bell supporters – that the next guy isn’t better or ready. And here’s the truth about Landry Jones. He rarely has been this bad. Bedlam 2011, but that’s about it. The alarming thing is, these games are coming late in Landry’s career.

Greg: “I think the OU home crowd should bear a little responsibility for this loss as well. People are talking about the loss of our home field advantage, and that’s true, but I think the lack of crowd enthusiasm and interaction is a big part of this. I’m not sure what they can do to get folks fired up, but maybe the athletic department needs to re-asses fan interaction, music, etc.”

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. I thought the crowd was pretty solid. Seemed involved and energetic to me. One of the K-State players talked about how loud it was, and the fans didn’t flee even after OU got down 24-13. I’m not putting this one on the crowd.

Bo: “My brain hurts. OU just shot their own foot off. I do attribute some of this to the coaches, not enough Damien Williams, too many turnovers, the gimmick plays looked as if they had never practiced them. The outcome could have been worse, however, it sure could have been better as well. I thought Jones was off on his timing and made a couple of bad decisions. Again the line did not protect him as well as they should have, but he wasn’t on his back either. He got some pressure on a couple of plays, but he played only average (for him) most of the time. Jones is a good QB, he wasn’t spectacular tonight. OU never ever quit coming so, maybe the future will be better. I just hope they can get back up for the next one, and the next, etc. I hated the Fox announcers, they pulled for K-State all the way. That Sterling is on the verge of becoming the new Ryan in my humble opinion. One thing I can say, OU played hard, too many new guys, and we were never out of the game. K-state looked pretty awesome. Collin Klein is a terrific leader and we just helped him on his next step towards the Heisman. I hope you can think of something comforting to say that will sooth our cuts and bruises. But I sure miss G McCoy, Dusty Dvoracek, Roy Williams, Savage, Beal, Selmon, Tommy Harris, Boz, etc, etc.”

Man, a lot to digest there. Let me answer most of the concerns.
1. Damien Williams didn’t have much to do with this one. Dom Whaley looked better, to be honest. That long run by Williams that was called back for holding was not a long run – Williams stepped out of bounds at the 39-yard line, and he ran the rest of the 61 yards needlessly.
2. I thought the offensive line was decent. Not great, but not bad. The quarterback played awful. That’s the main reason OU lost.
3. I didn’t watch the game on Fox, but no way do I buy it. Gus Johnson is a pro’s pro and Charles Davis is a delightful guy. He spoke at a virtual OU pep rally on Thursday for the SoonerSportsTV deal and was fabulous. When someone accuses a network announcer of cheering for the other team, what they really mean, he didn’t cheer for your team.
4. Sterling Shepard is going to be a star.
5. I don’t blame you for missing Tommie Harris, Dusty Dvoracek, Roy Williams and anyone ever named Selmon. That’s why OU has slipped. The Sooners don’t have elite talent.

Bob: “I am 74 years old. Never have I watched such an inept OU football team as I did Saturday night except when Gomer Jones coached, Gary Gibbs coached, Howard Schnellenberger coached, and John Blake coached. I have been a Sooner fan since since 1947 (65 years)! Landry Jones can kiss the Heisman goodbye, the team can kiss the Big 12 Championship goodbye, the team can kiss the national championship goodbye and NOW the team can kiss me goodbye!!! I AM DONE!!! Obviously, you may send this e-mail to anyone you feel is appropriate.”

Well, I must say, that’s a dang fine attitude. I respect your decision, but it comes with a requirement. If OU beats Texas, or beats Notre Dame, or beats OSU, you can’t celebrate. You can’t gloat. You can’t even smile. And you can’t even watch.

John: “Berry, I know you don’t like fans who cry to fire the coach every time their team loses, but Stoops makes $5 million a year now and cannot even get to a title game let alone win one. Stoops has too much talent every year to play so poorly so consistently. I’m now convinced Stoops will never win another title at Oklahoma. So I have a choice – be satisfied with losing two or three a year, every year and watch someone else raise the trophy or start over. For the first time since 2000 I’m ready to start over. “

First of all, can someone please tell me where all this talent is? Where’s the talent? And I can’t think of anything more foolish than starting over.

Orson: “Is Oklahoma still an elite program. It is time to ask that question. As for the reasons why, I will propose that Bob Stoops’ great defenses disappeared in 2004 and save a decent stretch or two haven’t been back since. Also college football has now adjusted to the shotgun-spread offense. Many schools that tried it are now abandoning it, and most who still have it are using the dual threat QBs that Oklahoma continues to ignore. Add it all up and the Sooners have only been a factor nationally once since 2004: the 2008 season. That’s the only time that they haven’t needed a bowl matchup against the likes of 8-5 UConn to keep them from losing 3 or more games. Of course, no head coaching change is called for, but Stoops does need to make changes. He has to get the defenses back to championship level instead of allowing having to defend Big 12 offenses to remain an excuse. And the end of the anti-climatic Landry Jones era should be used to make the long overdue transition to a pro-style offense. It is amazing how Stanford is playing the type of football that Oklahoma SHOULD be playing, and doing it despite their lack of tradition and their academic requirements for their student-athletes. The issues with Oklahoma aren’t talent: the NFL is proof of that. Instead, the issue is Stoops needs to stop doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

I’m confused. Do you want a pro-style offense or do you want a QB-run offense? We all know the answer. You want something different. I don’t blame you. But let’s stay on point. The answer to your question is, yes, OU remains an elite program, unless you cut off elite at three schools. I agree, Stoops has some decisions to make, but wholesale changes? No. Starting with recruiting. Talent IS the biggest problem right now.

Bryan: “I don’t understand why there is this big controversy over Landry Jones. We know what he is by now. He is a decent quarterback with a great arm who isn’t very good at reading defenses or dealing with pressure. If he played for Iowa State or Kansas, he’d be beloved. But he’s not in the same league as guys like Sam Bradford or Jason White or Josh Heupel, which is what is expected at OU. But the coaches and others have made excuses for him, blaming the line, blaming the receivers. There were receivers open on most of the plays last night where Landry got happy feet and made mistakes. The line hasn’t been spectacular, but they were actually OK last night. On many of the plays where Jones was pressured, it was because he got nervous and rolled into pressure rather than stepping up in the pocket. I don’t understand why people don’t just call Jones what he is. A decent QB, a great arm, not good at reading defenses.

Good analysis. Landry has his moments, but good defensive schemes can give him problems, and frankly, the system is a problem, too. With so much coming in from the sideline, it seems like Landry doesn’t have optimum time to survey the defense.

Parker: “Landry is not an elite QB, never has been, never will be, no leadership on either side of the ball. Truthfully WV, UT, TCU, ND, and maybe Tech and OSU beat us. Our D played good enough to win, but couldn’t make a stop when they needed to. Bob is too loyal, I don’t care what Jones has done, it is time to facts, he is not a winner, not with the talent surrounding him. Bad decisions, terrible throws, afraid to get hit. He may be the passing leader when he leaves, but he will not be revered, nor will he be missed. The first year? Cut him some slack, but a 5th-year senior? Those were freshman mistakes, Maybe Bell should be in, although his impression of Jones on the goal line was spot on. Landry Jones is the second coming of Ryan Leaf, he is nice young man, just not an elite QB.”

Ryan Leaf is a nice young man? Be careful what you say. Sometimes you can talk yourself into nonsense.

Carol: “I understand that you have more average, ‘rebuilding’ and downright poor years than you do ‘great’ years as a team. Great years can only be appreciated to their fullest if you’ve endured the other. Thus I am fully prepared for this to be a rebuilding year after the first three games’ results. What I can’t understand is doing that with a 5th-year senior QB, who appears to be profusely regressing, as the cornerstone of your offense. I could even handle losing the remainder of our games this year (with perhaps exception of Kansas) if we were allowing B. Bell to QB; at least he would be getting experience in preparation for 2013. What I cannot handle is investing big bucks, entire Saturdays, and immense emotional energy in watching the product that was displayed this past Saturday evening on Owen Field. Give me a Sooner squad who is disciplined, well-prepared, well-coached that plays their heart out; and I can accept a loss to a better team. You can at least be satisfied and entertained with the effort. However, the emotions felt by myself and the many seasoned fans surrounding us were frequent disgust with minuscule enjoyment. KState and Alabama have a common thread. Both are disciplined, well-prepared, and well-coached teams. Both play non-flashy, solid, fundamental football. To some, it sometimes appears boring. But that ‘boring’ football is winning games. I would trade for a lot of ‘boring’ at this point. I would also trade for a top-notch OC (love & appreciate Josh, but he’s not ready for a program of our caliber); a (as in one) special teams coach, and a head coach who is hungry with fire in his belly. Stoops was that in 1999, but has become comfortable, overpaid and arrogant; forgetting his pledge ‘No Excuses’, and his words to us that we would probably one day have had our fill of him and be ready for him to move on. (Ding ding ding! ‘Game, set, match’)”

If OU went 3-9 and played Blake Bell, fans would storm the State House, demanding a new board of regents that would get rid of Boren, Castiglione and Stoops. You can’t play for next year in college football.

 

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 Oklahoman,...
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