John E. Hoover: Former OU football stars concerned about state of program
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, January 26, 2013
1/26/13 at 7:46 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Ex-OU stars are concerned about program
WINNING (or virtually sharing) a Big 12 championship every other year and losing three games should not be an acceptable standard at Oklahoma.
Those are the sentiments of many former Sooner players, including three OU stars who grew up in Tulsa and were in the inaugural class of the Tulsa Public Schools Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday night.
From schematics on offense and defense to evaluation of recruits to work ethic within the coaching staff to talent on the field, Randy Hughes (Memorial), Tony Casillas (East Central) and Spencer Tillman (Edison) spoke candidly about the program they love and the recent results of head coach Bob Stoops.
"I've showed support for Bob," said Tillman, 48, an OU running back from 1983-86 who played eight seasons for the Oilers and 49ers. "But I did unequivocally say, if he can't get it done, if they can't get it corrected, they need a change. That's the bottom line.
"In any other sphere of life, in business, if you can not meet the numbers, if you can not do what the constituency has hired you to do, they need a change. You're managing for shareholder value. I can't blame him for just wanting to hang on, like anybody would want to keep their job."
Tillman and others think Stoops can get the program back to competing for national championships again.
"Anybody is able to turn it around," Tillman said. "The question is, will they?"
After winning college football's national championship his second season in 2000, Stoops' Sooners lost in the title game in 2003, 2004 and 2008, but has significantly underachieved ever since.
"First of all, you've got to recognize that you've got a problem. A major problem," Tillman said. "And then second, you've got to have the leadership to do what's necessary."
From 2000-04, OU went 57-7 (.891) and never finished a season ranked outside the top six.
From 2009-12, Oklahoma is 40-13 (.755). During that stretch, OU started the preseason in the top five three times, and finished 15th, 16th and unranked.
The last two years, after 39 consecutive home wins, the Sooners have lost three games at Owen Field: one to a team that didn't make a bowl game, and two this season to teams that were blown out in their bowl.
In 2011, OU's defense set a program record by allowing 376.2 yards per game. So defensive coordinator Brent Venables left for Clemson, Mike Stoops took his place, and OU shattered that mark by allowing 398.3 yards per game.
"Their defense has got to get better," said Randy Hughes, a two-time All-Big Eight safety from 1972-74 who played six seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. "Last year, last 5-6 games, they were getting run all over by everybody. It was off to the races on every play. Off to the races. It was horrifying."
Hughes, 59, said the coaches simply have to recruit better players, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. But when asked how they can do that given current trends in Norman and in the title-hogging Southeastern Conference, Hughes said, "You've got to work harder."
Casillas, a two-time All-American from 1982-85 and a Lombardi Award-winning nose guard who played 12 seasons with the Falcons, Cowboys and Jets, is dismayed by the defense as well.
"They're so focused on using seven defensive backs, there's no linebackers any more," Casillas said. "I understand (offenses) spreading it out, but it all comes down to how much pressure you put on 'em. Work the edges, get upfield, create opportunities. To me, they don't play like that. To me, it looked like they let too many offenses dictate to them what they want to do. Defense, when you're facing a lot of issues with matchups, you've got to force the issue."
Casillas, 49, didn't stop with the defense. He also said the style of offense Oklahoma uses - trying to keep up with the pass-happy, no-huddle spread attacks that have permeated the Big 12 - has to change.
"I think they've got to evolve into something a little different on offense. Now you've got these read-option quarterbacks," he said. "I think the game's evolved a little differently. It's good to have a quarterback back there that can spread the ball out."
All three former players said OU coaches must do a better job of evaluating talent and signing big-time players. Tillman points out that this year's recruiting class, ranked 13th nationally by Rivals.com, is about on par with the last two classes that ranked 11th and 14th. OU's last seven recruiting classes have ranked outside the top 10 more often (five) than not (two), and none was ranked in Rivals' top five.
Tillman also addressed Stoops' preference - some call it nepotism, some intense loyalty - of hiring coaches who are old friends, from family (Mike Stoops) to guys he with whom he worked at Kansas State (Mark Mangino, Brent Venables) to guys he played with at Iowa (Jonathan Hayes, Chuck Long, Jay Norvell, Bruce Kittle) to old family friends (Bo Pelini) to a former player (Josh Heupel). He even hired his former boss' son, Steve Spurrier Jr.
"It's not even nepotism. It's just a matter of understanding that you have to have the ability to hold everybody accountable, and there has to be serious consequences if you don't meet that objective," Tillman said. "You're a CEO, and you have to look (at it) like you would a company, a publicly traded company."
Tillman, a long-time analyst for CBS Sports, recalled a conversation he had with Spurrier Sr., who "told me, 'I never get too close to my assistants because someday I might have to fire them.' "
Many ex-players express disappointment that Stoops has grown content with sharing the Big 12 title (despite losing to the other co-champs) and just beating Texas.
"Yeah, there's nothing wrong with that," Tillman said. "But who are you getting it against? You're getting it against a Texas team right now that has stage 4 cancer and doesn't realize it.
"That conference is soft right now. It's very soft."
Tillman said Stoops "needs to really evaluate his personnel (and) his coaches. And they need to get physical. They need a radical shift in the philosophy of what they're doing. Look, you can't hide behind statistics. I don't care if you win nine or 10 games. You lose to Kansas State and Notre Dame at home? Notre Dame proved to be fool's gold.
"If you don't change something substantive, how can you reasonably hope to have a different outcome? You can't. ...
"Can they get there? I don't think Oklahoma, doing what it's doing right now, can be at that elite level, where Alabama is right now."
OU head coach Bob Stoops waits for a penalty call in the first half of their game against Notre Dame in Norman, OK, Oct. 27, 2012. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World