Oklahoma director of football operations Merv Johnson started out making wise decisions on Monday — but later that same day, um, not so much.
“I wasn't very smart,” Johnson admitted. “I was extremely lucky, but I wasn't very smart.”
On Monday morning, Johnson participated in the Tulsa Sports Charities golf tournament at Oaks Country Club. A tornado had barely missed Norman the day before and Johnson was well-aware more severe weather was expected Monday.
“My son (Jeff) insisted that I call him at work and let him take a look at (weather radar on) his computer, which I did before I left,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Right now, it looks like there's nothing going on. It's clear.'
“Going down the (Turner) turnpike, there were no problems at all, fairly bright, nothing threatening. About the time I turned south onto (Interstate-) 35, it started to sprinkle and within a couple of minutes, it was raining hard. Then I started getting hit with hailstones. Obviously, I was foolish. I should have had one of the local radio stations on, but I had satellite radio on or something.”
Still nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. Traffic flowed as usual.
“Everybody was just like me,” Johnson said. “We were sailing along pretty good in that heavy rain. Just before we got to Warren Theatre, it had quit pretty much, bright skies, high clouds.”
It actually was the calm before an EF-5 storm.
“I came on down into Moore and, man, a whole bunch of highway patrol were setting up on the access roads with their lights blinking and nobody pulled over,” Johnson said. “They were just sitting there. I was thinking, ‘That's weird.'
“I get on campus and see people on the streets looking up at the sky. I got to the stadium and one of the guys working construction said, ‘Did you know they just had a tornado on the ground in Moore?' I said, ‘No, and I just came through there.'
“I came on in to the (locker room) facility and I ran into three or four coaches' wives, and I knew then things were pretty serious because they come over here for shelter. My grandson in Tulsa called and told me what he had been looking at on TV and I finally woke up and realized what was going on.”
Johnson, who turned 77 last Thursday, was alone in the car on his trek from Tulsa.
“Probably if I had anybody with me, they would have had more sense than me and would have had the radio on,” Johnson said. “At my age if you don't wise up any better than that, that's pretty bad. I was extremely lucky.”
The affable Johnson served as an OU assistant coach from 1979-97 and since 1998 has served as director of football operations and special assistant to the athletic director. Johnson has been on staffs that have won four national championships and previously coached at Notre Dame, Arkansas and Missouri, where he was an All-Big Seven tackle for the Tigers and graduated in 1958.
Having lived in Oklahoma more than 30 years, Johnson is no stranger to tornadoes and recalled when Moore previously got hit in 1999 and 2003.
“That's about as close as you want to be to one of those (tornadoes),” Johnson said. “You want to go help any way you can, but they tell you to keep out. I'm really impressed with how they (rescuers) got there so quickly. They were so organized in a hurry and what they've already accomplished in terms of cleaning up, it's incredible. There's just disaster everywhere.