The current LSU coach and former Oklahoma State coach returned to Oklahoma on Tuesday. The reason? Tiger cornerback Morris Claiborne received the Jim Thorpe Award.
What's it like to be back in the state of Oklahoma?
I love it to be honest with you. As soon as I landed, it was familiar. A familiar face picked me up. So many memories rushed my mind. I enjoyed my time here tremendously as an assistant coach, as a head coach. The thing that stands out here is the strength of the people in Oklahoma. I'm glad to be back.
Have you been back much since leaving OSU?
I have not. I would like to have said that I visited often, but I have not.
You didn't make it back last year when Patrick Peterson, an LSU guy, won this award, did you?
I did not. My eldest son had an emergency appendectomy. His appendix burst. We were watching the Super Bowl, and I said, “What's wrong, Mattie?” He said, “Well, I think I'm a little constipated, Dad.” I said, “Well, go over there and do some ab work or walk around the neighborhood, will ya?” That was what you call great parenting. Then the next morning I'm really looking forward to celebrating Pat's Thorpe Award and I get the call — “Well, he's at the hospital. Looks like it wasn't constipation. His appendix burst.” I spent the next three nights in the hospital with him, not because he needed me to but because maybe I needed to. But I'm very fortunate that I'm able to come back and remember it.
What about the season that Morris had to win this year?
It's an award that's representative of all the right things in college football, and the recipient is a team player, hard worker, not a ready-made guy. He came in not highly recruited. Very talented. Could play offense and defense. And just worked hard. It's very deserving.
LSU is becoming DB U. You might have another winner next year?
I know. My DB coach is here, and he's already thumping his chest over two Thorpe Award winners in a row. And frankly, with Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger, back there, there's certainly a chance that it could be three.
Did you have to go look up the Honey Badger video when he got the nickname?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Nobody calls him that. It's really not the thing to say, but Tyrann Mathieu has a lot of facets to him as a man, comes from a special place, has had special experiences that's developed him. But there are times he's the Honey Badger.
Did your defensive backs coach get a raise with all these Thorpe winners?
Shhh. Don't tell him. It's something I'm going to announce later tonight. (Laughs.)
What did you make of OSU's success this past season?
Magnificent, to be honest with you. Coach Gundy has done a great job. You look at Mike Holder, the influence of Boone Pickens and really the style of athletes that they're able to attract now, really there's no reason why they won't contend for the very highest honors. I'm proud to have shared some history with that great school and those people.
Almost got a chance to play them in the national championship game.
Yeah, that would've been exciting, I promise you.
What's life been like for you since that championship game?
Well, it's probably the first time in my career that I didn't celebrate being completely undefeated in the regular season, the Western Division championship, the conference championship and finishing slight in the last game. Not exactly what we wanted. But I have to be honest — I'm coming around. I'm starting to realize how much that team really accomplished, and frankly, I'll take 13 wins every year.
After the way things went down, are you any more of a proponent for a playoff in college football?
No, no, I can tell you our approach to that game made the difference, and we understand really how better to prepare. I can tell you that the BCS isn't perfect, and certainly, a hot team that is sideways of the national rankings can feel slighted. But if you have to pick one game, I think it's being picked the right way as difficult as it is. Don't get me wrong, I certainly could see a number of teams that we could've played and understand that there's a number of very quality teams. Certainly, Oklahoma State was deserving.