“That told me we had the nucleus of really dominating at the NAIA level,” Garrett said. “I don't think an NAIA team can beat us. As a result, our goal is to win the national championship.”
The NAIA coaches don't necessarily agree. They've got Langston ranked 23rd in the NAIA preseason poll.
But NAIA coaches didn't hire Sanders. Garrett did.
“I can guarantee you this, there have never been any NAIA coaches who have been put under more pressure than I'm putting my coaching staff under,” Garrett said. “The talk is national championships 24 hours a day.
“If you're around the kids, all the talk is national championship, national championship. It's very exciting.”
Langston president Kent Smith arrived in June 2012. He had been vice president of student affairs at Ohio University but was enticed to Langston for many of the same reasons that drew Garrett. The chance to create.
“We are equally yoked in the way we view the university's opportunity to change young people's lives,” Smith said.
“I don't think we've realized our full potential yet. I just think our best years are ahead. There's so much opportunity here.”
Smith's first hire was a Heisman Trophy winner. Smith had hired a search firm, which contacted Garrett. He was intrigued by the challenge and restless of sitting around his Pasadena, Calif., home. So Garrett and his wife flew to Oklahoma on their own dime, walked the campus, talked to some longtime Langston people like Ruben Oliver, director of the school's physical plant, and decided to take the job.
Smith said Garrett brought instant credibility, not just because of a certain piece of hardware, but all those years directing a department like USC's.
“We're so fortunate to have him,” Smith said. “Our students get to interact with someone who has operated at the highest level.”
The vision of Smith and Garrett is not new. Build up a university's brand with athletics. Make the public take notice. Attract more and better students. Grow the finances. The entire university benefits.
It's a tried and true formula on every level. Doesn't always work, but it's worked often enough to prove that it can work. But can it work at an outpost like Langston?
“In the black community, everybody knows about Langston,” Garrett said. “In the white community, older people remember Langston.”
Older people also remember the first of USC's five Heisman-winning tailbacks.
“People in industry and corporations, my age or maybe a little younger, they remember Langston and they also remember me,” Garrett said. “It entices them to talk to me and think about Langston and believe that things could happen.”
Garrett hopes to call on some old LA friends, if Langston wins big. Get them on the train, too. But again, winning is mandatory.
And historically, it's been tough for Langston to win. Limited resources. Disorganization. Scheduling difficulties, going back 40 years, when Oklahoma schools formed a new conference ostensibly to exclude Langston after some conflicts.
“It's no different than what I tried to do at USC,” Garrett said. “Hadn't won in a long time. My whole deal is, if you can't win national championships and be at the cutting edge, you don't want to play.
“If you're competing well against I-AA schools, there's no limit to what we can do.”
Garrett is nothing if not a dreamer. And at a place like Langston, it has to start with a dream.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
MORE FROM NEWSOK
Born: April 12, 1944
Hometown: Los Angeles
College: Southern California
Honors: Two-time All-America tailback, 1965 Heisman Trophy
NFL: Eight seasons, 4 1/2 with Kansas City, 3 1/2 with San Diego.
Honors: 1967 All-AFL, scored Chiefs' first touchdown in 23-7 win over Vikings in Super Bowl IV
Post-football career: director of business development for the Great Western Forum, worked for the San Diego district attorney's office, Southern Cal athletic director 1993-2010