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Jenni Carlson: Next OU basketball coach needs to connect with fans

by Jenni Carlson Published: March 14, 2011

/articleid/3548771/1/pictures/1381488">Photo - OU head coach Jeff Capel reacts after an OU turnover during the second half of 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 13, 2010. OSU beat OU, 97-76. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
OU head coach Jeff Capel reacts after an OU turnover during the second half of 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 13, 2010. OSU beat OU, 97-76. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Years later, Capel's dad would call him when times were tough.

“Man,” he'd say, “don't let the weeds beat you.”

I don't remember Capel ever being as open or personable again. He was cordial but never warm. He was professional but always cool.

The media should probably be the least of any coach's concern, but the trouble is, Capel had the same disconnect with fans who could've filled his arena and leaders who could've saved his job.

Frankly, all of this wouldn't have mattered had the Sooners won a bunch more games and been an NCAA Tournament regular under Capel. But when those things don't happen and NCAA investigators have reason to look into your program, you'd better be able to draw on some good will.

Capel's well was dry.

Don't think that matters?

Ask Pat Jones. He went 62-60-3 at Oklahoma State, but he kept his job as the football coach even as the Cowboys went through six consecutive losing seasons as well as an NCAA investigation.

The reason: people liked him.

Remember, too, Jones coached the No. 2 sport at OSU. Back then, basketball was king in Stillwater.

In Norman, football rules, and that gave Capel a little leeway. He didn't have to win a conference title every year. He didn't even have to go to the NCAA Tournament regularly. But when he didn't do that and his program prompted NCAA investigations, OU brass needed a reason to keep him.

Capel didn't give them one.

To the next coach of the Sooners, consider this a cautionary tale. Winning on the basketball court is paramount, but being successful in the court of public opinion could save your job.

Tramel Blog: Firing was a business decision Tramel Blog: Football not a detriment
by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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