Malcolm Kelly

Former Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who spent three seasons with the Washington Redskins before injuries cut his NFL career short, is now an assistant coach on the staff at TCU. TCU plays at OU on Nov. 23. AP file

Malcolm Kelly’s wild ride had him on the road recruiting one recent day. He answered his phone and talked about joining TCU’s staff as outside receivers coach, about selling potential Horned Frogs on Gary Patterson’s vision.

We still see Kelly suited up against Patterson’s Frogs to open Oklahoma’s 2005 season. Now he’s returning to Owen Field on Nov. 23 to fight the Sooners?

“It’s gonna be good to go back across that Red River this year,” Kelly said. “With different intentions. With (pause) different (pause) intentions, man.”

This is weird. The Freshman All-American receiver from that 2005 season is suddenly 32 years old.

Kelly has dealt with an injuries-induced early retirement from football. He has made a brief go at the oil business. He has had football call him back, this time to coach.

He has arrived at some peace, but it has not been easy.

“It took a while, man,” Kelly said. “Coming out (of OU) as a junior, I had a first-round NFL draft grade. I was projected to be a top-15 overall draft pick. Then you go to the combine and everybody’s like, ‘You’re damaged goods pretty much (a reference to the quadriceps injury he sustained in December 2007, his final year in Norman).’ Some teams told me they didn’t have me on their draft board anymore.

“Then you get to Washington and you blow your knee out your first training camp. If it had happened where it was something that was under my control, then maybe I would have been able to let go of it. Maybe I would have let it off my mind quicker. But since it was injuries, things I couldn’t control, that stuck with me for a while. It did. For a while, I didn’t watch ‘SportsCenter’ or anything that had to do with football.

“But I knew I had to get over it. I knew I still had love for the game. So it turned into, ‘How can I turn this love of the game into another profession?’ That’s how coaching came into play.”

Foot and hamstring problems followed Kelly’s initial knee injury with the Redskins, so he called it a career after Washington released him before the 2011 NFL season. He tried private business.

“I ran an oil well service company for a little over three years,” Kelly said. “We had test units and drilling rigs in northwest Louisiana and south and west Texas. Had a small crew of guys. Then oil prices kind of dropped and it was just one of those things.”

Kelly said he had an itch to get back into football anyhow. He was a naturally communicative guy as a player and figured that, plus his experience, could translate.

He still had connections in his native Texas, and in 2016 he landed a job as a quality control coach at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce. He got a good feel for the profession thanks to that experience, and to a field trip he made around then to a familiar place.

“Right after I got done with that season at A&M-Commerce, coach (Bob) Stoops invited me down,” Kelly said. “My boy Marcus Walker (Kelly’s former OU teammate) was on their staff and I went down and stayed a weekend with him. Coach Stoops knew I was getting into coaching, so I spent a weekend watching practice and going to meetings and stuff like that right before they went to the Sugar Bowl.”

This is encouraging to hear, since Kelly left Norman on uneven terms.

He went through a three-quarterbacks-in-three-seasons grind and came out with back-to-back Big 12 Conference championships and Fiesta Bowl appearances. This was notable, but so was the quad injury that kept him from the ’08 Fiesta Bowl, not to mention the rough run-up to the ’08 draft and the eventual second-round selection.

A decade later, there are no regrets.

“What I think about is how many young guys played early and went on to become great players,” Kelly said, “and the different storms that we weathered. Paul Thompson coming in and people thinking we’re not going to win, and we ride with him and win a Big 12 championship, different things like that. It was crazy ...

“You had Jason White for all those years. ... Then when I’m there we go through three quarterbacks (Rhett Bomar, then Thompson and Sam Bradford as a freshman). Then right after that we go to Sam’s era and then Landry Jones. Now OU just had two No. 1 picks at quarterback. It was a different deal, man. Very interesting times.

“But, hey, we made it work.”

The same can be said for Kelly’s young coaching career.

It has already been a whirlwind, with a two-year graduate assistant stop at Houston after A&M-Commerce, then movement from Stephen F. Austin to Arkansas State last January before a spot with Patterson opened. Kelly pounced on it and was hired in March.

So the ride continues. It will be interesting when it takes Kelly back onto Owen Field this fall. It will take some getting used to, for all of us.

Kelly was detailing his 2016 visit to OU, when he said: “This was right before we got ready, Oklahoma got ready, to play Auburn in the bowl ...”

Guerin Emig

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guerin.emig@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @GuerinEmig

 

 

Sports Columnist

Proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the Oklahoma Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.