Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Making Sooners a Tide or Tiger knockoff was never a good idea in the first place
Here’s a question.
What’s wrong with Oklahoma?
Not the state, but the football program.
Not now, but historically.
Of course, there was time in the wilderness, six seasons under head coach Gary Gibbs in which the Sooners fell three times three times, four times twice and six times once. Also, horribly, there were three campaigns under the alleged direction of John Blake, losing seasons all that produced 12 collective wins.
Then there was that guy between them, too, what was his name?
Wanted to make OU the next Miami, had no use for a glorious Sooner tradition, acted like he’d invented the game.
Howard … something.
It was Howard Schnellenberger, “The Colonel,” though “The Pipe” might have been more fitting.
Schnellenberger was a Norman resident for one forgettable season that began 3-0, ended 2-5-1 and closed with consecutive shutout losses to Oklahoma State and Nebraska.
For years and years, there’s been no good reason to recall his short tenure, only I can’t get it out of my head it in the wake of what’s right now happening inside the Sooner program:
• The resignation or firing, or both, of Thad Turnipseed, the administrator Brent Venables brought with him from Clemson and made his executive director of football operations.
• The turned-up scrutiny of the months-ago-unanimously-approved-by-the-regents new $175 million football operations facility, renderings of which were oddly leaked about the same time Turnipseed’s departure was announced.
• Struggling on the field in Venables’ inaugural season, finishing 6-7 with a bowl loss, and a follow-up squad that will bring serious and multiple question marks into the coming season.
• The still unfolding implications of name, image and likeness (NIL) earnings that every college football program continues to navigate.
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What’s that have to do with Howard Schnellenberger?
As far as I can tell, Venables is the first Sooner skipper since to take the job with absolute confidence he already knew everything it would take to resurrect Sooner football toward previously unexperienced glory.
Not to take it the next step. Not to finally build a defense to go with a fantastic offense. Not to shut down the leaks that had kept OU from winning in the playoff.
But to reinvent instead.
It’s a proven system, Venables has told us maybe a thousand times.
As though everything’s wrong with Sooner football, as though he inherited the same mess Bob Stoops inherited on Dec. 1, 1998.
So, what’s wrong with Sooner football?
Actually, but for a sub-.500 season a year ago, not a whole heck of a lot.
In 18 seasons, Stoops won a national championship, played for three more, reached the College Football Playoff an additional season, won won 13 games once, 12 five other seasons, 11 six other seasons and 10 conference championships.
In five seasons, Lincoln Riley won 12 games three times, went to three playoffs and won three conference championships.
Yet, upon arrival, Venables did not come in looking to build upon that success, but to build a program from virtual scratch.
So sure of himself, so enthusiastic, so committed to culture, process and the big picture, and with a pedigree on one side of the ball and not the one that had vexed OU for so long, Sooner Nation saw discipline and defense, which felt like everything after Riley left.
What the fans didn’t see, though, was OU trying to become a Crimson Tide or Clemson knock off, a model put into place when facilities remained everything, before NIL spread its wings.
Now, perhaps, it’s dawning on folks how silly it would be to raze the Switzer Center five years after being renovated and dedicated anew.
Now, perhaps, people will ask how much should be sunk into a football campus within a campus knowing many of those same dollars would have greater impact being placed in NIL collectives.
Now, perhaps, Turnipseed gone and the momentum to raise the obscene dough Venables has said must be spent in the name of reinvention bound to slow, the second-year coach can realize his quest to reinvent was never the right move to begin with, but the same mistake Schnellenberger made 28 years ago, certain he had every answer.
Now, Perhaps, Venables can lean on Stoops, and maybe Switzer, too, both of whom could help him overcome his most glaring flaws:
His role each Saturday, coordinator or head coach. Game management. Coaching his coaches and coaching the game at the same time.
Venables doesn’t need a $175 million complex, but a defense that can stop people, a quarterback that can beat other defenses and a team that doesn’t get in its own way.
The recruiting services say he’s getting the talent.
He would appear to have everything he needs.
Getting rid of the Switzer Center?
Are you crazy.
It ought to be enough.