NORMAN — Bob Stoops took in an SEC outcast, seen by many as a drug dealer and bad seed unworthy of a second chance in major college football.
Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione were risking their football program’s reputation, and told him upfront there’d be zero tolerance for any malfeasance in Norman.
“We can’t have anything bad happen while you’re here,” they told him. “If your name gets brought up for anything, you will be out of here.”
Lynn McGruder kept his nose clean for four years, became a key contributor on the defensive line, graduated and completely changed his public image, which was stained following his 2001 arrest on a felony drug charge and subsequent dismissal from Tennessee
The Sooners added former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham last week, a surprising move considering Green-Beckham’s checkered past and Stoops’ reputation as a strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian. While many fans may be hesitant to embrace the controversial decision, though, McGruder became an instant Green-Beckham supporter, and hopes the troubled wideout makes the most of his second chance.
“It doesn’t look good on the program for them to take a second chance on certain people, because most people don’t really look keen onto that type of situation,” McGruder said. “But it really speaks volumes of the program and of Coach Stoops and the staff.
“They don’t have to do that at all, because they’ve already got the top players in the country. It’s a beautiful thing, man. He should take advantage of it.”
Green-Beckham — the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class — was involved in two drug-related arrests and, most recently, allegations that he broke into a woman’s apartment and assaulted her. He wasn’t charged in the alleged assault, but Missouri dismissed him anyway.
Stoops and the Oklahoma coaching staff recruited Green-Beckham heavily out of high school, establishing a relationship that allowed them to believe he is capable of changing and staying out of trouble in Norman.
According to sources, Green-Beckham will be kept on an extremely short leash, and almost any missteps will result in his dismissal.
“I was definitely on zero-tolerance the whole time I was at OU,” McGruder said. “They weren’t playing. You have no room for error, no room for mistakes. It makes you accountable. It makes your integrity have to go up a little bit more.
“All those kid games go out the window because you’re playing with your career and your life.”
The maturation process wasn’t always easy, though, for McGruder. He remembers hearing vicious taunts from opposing fans, who were all too eager to bring up his past.
“We were playing OSU one year, and the crowd was being nasty, saying, ‘If you want drugs, just call number 96,’” McGruder recalled. “But at the end of the day, the people saying that don’t know you. It’s up to you to change people’s minds.
“You’ve gotta change yourself first, because you can’t change anything until you change yourself.”
McGruder’s reputation changed forever in the summer of 2003, when he and teammate Mark Clayton witnessed an accident on Interstate 35, broke a window and pulled a family of five out of a burning van.
McGruder and Clayton were named as the Big 12’s Sportsmen of the Year for their heroics.
Green-Beckham will likely sit out the 2014 season under NCAA rules, unless his NCAA appeal for immediate eligibility is successful.
Either way, he’s clearly got a lot of growing up to do. But as McGruder — who played professionally for a few years and is now considering returning to OU for a master’s degree — knows, just about anything is possible.
“I would tell him to take it one day at a time,” McGruder said. “Stay positive. Really, really soak in the fact that he has a second chance, and truly, truly don’t let anything negative from the outside come into his life.
“Anytime you get a chance like this, and you’re that type of athlete, and you’re in that type of environment, you have to take advantage of it. That’s what OU is expecting out of him. That’s what Coach Stoops evidently sees in him.”