NORMAN — When Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops announced at his pre-spring press conference he has a special teams coordinator, it was news to media and fans.
The perception was the Sooners approached special teams with an everyone-chips-in approach. That remains the overriding structure. But the day spring drills began, Stoops announced defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright is in charge of the punting and kicking units.
“I don't know to what extent it's changed other than Bob has told me I'll be the special teams' coordinator,” Wright said. “We're not going to do anything different than what we've done before.
“We've always divided certain responsibilities. It just means we have a coordinator who kind of heads it up and organizes it, handles the (special teams') meetings.”
But for the first time since Chris Wilson left after the 2009 season after being named Mississippi State's co-defensive coordinator, the Sooners have one person directing special teams.
“Last year he kind of became the guy,” said punter Tress Way. “He'll let you know exactly what he's thinking. We'll mess around and cut up with him during practice. He's hilarious. It's nice to have a special teams coach again. I like playing for him. He definitely lets you know what he wants.”
It's not a dramatic change.
Running backs coach Cale Gundy continues to oversee kickoff returns. Wright continues to be in charge of kickoff coverage. One subtle change is Wright is in charge of punt coverage and punt returns, areas Stoops at times has handled.
This isn't the first time Wright, 61, has been OU's special teams coordinator.
For five years (2002-06) Wright ran the Sooners special teams units between Jonathan Hayes and Wilson.
“He's kind of the head guy who oversees everything, but we have four or five guys who have eyes out there at all times,” Gundy said. “But coach Wright is the coordinator. He divides up the duties among the other coaches.”
OU not having a designated special teams leader on occasion has been a hot-button issue, especially two years ago when the Sooners allowed five kickoff returns for touchdowns. OU has surrendered 10 kickoff returns for TDs the past four years.
“We've spent a lot of time this spring with kickoff coverage and drill work, things of that nature,” Wright said. “But again it's not anything really different than what we've done in the past. We've just put a little more emphasis on it.”
The Sooners made dramatic strides last season, allowing only one kickoff return for a touchdown.
What went almost unnoticed was OU's kickoff coverage unit ranked 24th nationally, allowing only 19.85 yards per return.
“You don't ever want to give up a touchdown,” Wright said. “But if you allow opponents under 20 yards a return for the season, that's certainly a mark you try to reach. That's a goal that most people set. It was a marked improvement from the year before.”
Having Wright in charge might enhance additional opportunities to create some special teams momentum-changing plays.
OU hasn't had a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2007 and no punt return TDs since 2009.
The Sooners were known for blocked kicks early in the Stoops era, but they haven't blocked a field goal in eight years and have only one blocked punt since 2008.
Wright's extensive background is a benefit.
During a 30-year career that includes being an assistant on the 1979 Texas A&I Division II national championship team, Wright has coached every position except offensive line.
Few, maybe no one, have experienced the Red River rivalry like Wright.
Before he arrived at OU Wright was profiled in a 1989 Sports Illustrated article that chronicled recruiting journeys as a Texas assistant before national signing day back when there was more drama surrounding the process.
Wright's recruiting ties are extensive. He's developed relationships with hundreds of Texas high school coaches.
His Red River story predates the Big 12 era, when he was on Texas' staff a dozen years, surviving three coaching changes.
The day after he was hired 14 years ago, Stoops hired the Mission, Texas, native with a 10-gallon-hat name — Bobby Jack. It was a ringing endorsement to Wright's impact on the recruiting trails.
Bobby Jack Wright has enjoyed an interesting career. A coach known for his down-home humor and straightforward approach has experienced one of college football's best rivalries from both sidelines for a quarter century.
Wright hit a milestone last season. He now has spent more years in Norman (13) than Austin (12).
“It's certainly been a great 13 years at Oklahoma,” Wright said. “We've certainly won our share of games, won more than our share of championships. Norman is a great town. I've had two daughters graduate from OU and another is a sophomore at OU. It's been a heck of a run.”
Surely it's been strange to be involved with burnt orange boosters a dozen years followed by 13 years in Sooner Nation.
“Not really,” Wright said. “While some people might see differences the two programs are very similar from the standpoint both have great traditions. It's a great college rivalry. It's fun. It's intense. It's important to both sides. There's great respect for each other.”
As he enters his 14th OU season, Wright downplays the perception his role will change dramatically by being named special teams coordinator.
Players, though, have noticed subtle differences.
“Coach Bobby Jack Wright really knows what's going on,” Way said. “He's been around the game for awhile. It's good to have someone who kind of helps with everything again.”
Special teams production
Oklahoma has slipped in overall special teams production three of the last four years, but consistently has ranked among the top 40 programs in the country, according to a detailed formula compiled by Phil Steele Publications and Joey Lucci.
Phil Steele Publications has ranked OU in the top 15 in overall special teams in seven of coach Bob Stoops' 13 seasons.
Listed below is OU's overall rank in special teams during the Stoops era and where each unit was ranked the past five years, according to Phil Steele's formula.
Year Overall- punt coverage- punt returns- KO returns- KO coverage
2011 34th- 102nd- 57th- 24th- 64th
2010 37th- 2nd- 54th- 65th- 53rd
2009 12th- 2nd- 3rd- 27th- 83rd
2008 101st- 9th- 67th- 102nd- 5th
2007 6th- 90th- 78th- 71st- 1st
(Other Stoops years, overall only)