NORMAN — The most prolific passer in Oklahoma football history decided the NFL could wait.
It waited for love.
“It really wasn't a lot of football things, surprisingly,” he said.
He's been asked and answered the question countless times since the Jan. 5 announcement of his return. But last week as he stood in the hallway outside the Sooners' locker room, the fifth-year senior quarterback's expression grew serious as he acknowledged the heart of his decision was about more than championships.
Landry Jones was more concerned about his marriage than an NFL career, no matter how much Whitney Hand insisted he leave her out of the decision.
“She told me she didn't want to play a role in it,” said Jones, who on July 6 married the woman he met in 2008 in the dorms after they arrived in Norman as freshmen. “She told me that this is my deal, my decision...
“I tried to make her not as big a role as she should have been.”
Most newlyweds don't choose to start their lives together apart. Of course, Landry Jones and Whitney Hand aren't “most newlyweds.” As Jones enters his second week of preseason practice in preparation for the Sooners' Sept. 1 opener at Texas-El Paso, Hand and her teammates are in the midst of a 10-day, four-game basketball tour through Australia.
That kind of separation comes with being married Division I athletes. Had Jones left for the NFL, he would have reported to training camp about a week after their wedding.
“That would have been really tough on a marriage,” Jones said.
Of course, the start of Sooners' camp hasn't exactly been easy on the quarterback. Lost to season-ending injuries are two starting offensive lineman, including center Ben Habern, a groomsman in Jones' wedding.
Habern's decision last week to call it a career rather than risk further neck injuries leaves only nine of the 20 players who arrived with Jones in the signing class of 2008 still on the OU roster.
Regardless of those departures, Jones says his goals and motivations remain the same. One more season as OU's quarterback. One more shot at a title.
“I wanted to stay with my team one more year,” Jones said. “I want to go out and win a national championship and accomplish one of the goals that I wanted to get done.”
Before leaving for Australia, Hand laughed when asked if she was the reason Jones declined turning professional.
“He claims it wasn't because of me and I told him if it was then I'd be really angry,” she said. “No, I think he wanted to leave with a good taste in his mouth. I think he was pretty disappointed after last season and thought he could achieve more and the team could collectively achieve more. I think he would have regretted leaving with another shot to achieve what he set out to achieve.”
At OU media day, coach Bob Stoops insisted Jones' decision to stay will improve his chances of making it professionally, citing Peyton and Eli Manning as examples of NFL starting quarterbacks who exhausted their college eligibility. In fact, 20 of this season's 32 projected NFL starters did so.
Projected as a first-rounder, Jones watched three fellow Big 12 quarterbacks — Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden — go in Round 1 and sign contracts worth between $12.6 million and $21 million. But Jones' decision ultimately came down to a comfortable feeling and, he said, that comfortable feeling is still in Oklahoma.
It's in the stadium where he'll play his home games and in the arena 1.3 miles down Jenkins Ave. where his new bride will play hers.
“It's great. It's so much fun,” Hand said of finally being married. “We're both fifth-year (seniors) so a lot of our friends are gone so it's been a really great transition. It's exciting for everything to be right and comfortable.
“And it's fun to get to kind of be in that safe place with each other and live together and start our journey.”