Oklahoma coaching remaining optimistic despite struggles
NORMAN, Okla. - The Oklahoma football team plays lowly Kansas Saturday and then has another regular-season game left against an Oklahoma State team that will likely miss out on a bowl game.
Things should go smoothly for the Sooners the rest of the way, which is good, because the Sooners need a break from the norm.
It's been a missed opportunity of a season for Oklahoma, losing three times, twice at home and once in blowout fashion. Undoubtedly, there's been disappointment, seen most clearly when the home fans booed the Sooners in the 48-14 defeat to Baylor and seen repeatedly on the faces of coaches Bob and Mike Stoops.
No way to know for sure, but the booing seemed to be directed at the coaches. Hard to remember the last time something like that has happened in Norman, but then again hard to remember the last time there seemed to be this much chaos on the sideline either. And there's no way to quantify what kind of damage - to the player, or to the fan - is done when coaches are seen yelling at players.
Regardless, what's gone on this season, on the sidelines is a bad look.
Oklahoma is 7-3 which means fans are going to be upset, but when coaches are repeatedly yelling at players in full view and when the team looks confused and is forced to call timeouts in non-critical situations it gives the impression the Sooner coaches don't know what they're doing. The track record over the past 16 years says differently, but that doesn't mean the heart and brain agree.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is in his third season back with the Sooners and he's always been accurately described as excitable, but this season, Mike Stoops seems to be carrying on more than in the past.
Maybe it's because of increased expectations, or maybe it's because OU ranks last in the Big 12 in pass defense, but Mike Stoops has gotten into a verbal altercation with senior defensive back Julian Wilson in one game and was seen berating freshman Jordan Thomas after the Texas Tech game. There have been other occasions, too.
Mike Stoops says he's yelled at players less this season.
"Oh, way less," he said. "A lot of it may be correcting (the players) because there have been more mistakes than usual. It goes together, hand in hand. They are used to it and they understand it's never personal and if they trust you they'll believe in you no matter what. That's what it gets down to."
Whether it's out of love, for learning purposes or out of anger, it doesn't look good. Neither does the excessive amounts of timeouts called.
The Oklahoman reported the Sooners had called 43 timeouts on defense in the past two seasons, heading into the Texas Tech game. They came into the game last week having called 12 defensive timeouts this season. The Oklahoman went on to say only Iowa State and Texas Tech have called more defensive timeouts this season while Alabama and Mississippi State have called a total of five defensive timeouts this season.
That kind of participation from the sideline manifests itself in coaches jumping around, yelling and carrying on. It also projects confusion. Fans are easily swayed and, by nature, temperamental and non-objective. A coaching staff calling timeouts regularly and yelling at players doesn't pass the eye test. It looks bad. If coaches are yelling at their players regularly, how could they keep calm when the situation demands it?
And when the team has lost three times, hasn't beaten a ranked team and won't beat a ranked team this season, it doesn't sit right with fans and it doesn't look right on TV cameras.
"We'll play better. I'm convinced of that," Mike Stoops said. "I'm more encouraged than discouraged."
Bob Stoops hasn't avoided criticism this year, either. He recently commented he didn't care what fans had to say on social media, which is certainly understandable, but in a season where his team has underperformed, fans are going to push back some, from all available platforms and even boo when things don't look quite right.
On the field. And on the sideline.
Win 'em all and these coaches would get a pass. Start losing and the leash gets a bit tighter. Stuff that would normally get overlooked, like berating a player after the game is over would blow over or be explained away as, "That's just Bob and Mike being from Youngstown, Ohio."
"It's just frustration being expressed," Bob Stoops said of his face-to-face encounters with athletes on the sideline, caught on camera this season. "Those players and us have great relationships. Our guys know we have great concern and love for them and that's expressed daily."
Players do understand it. And Stoops has to be believed when he says his relationships with the players are strong. Part of the culture of football is rooted in coaches being part drill sergeant, part motivator while players are expected to take that rage and turn it into production.. "That's how I grew up," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said." I was pretty used to it. That's what I grew accustomed to."
But it doesn't make it right. Most of us didn't wear seatbelts in the car growing up. People used to smoke a lot more. Even in football, the players weren't physically protected to the extent they are now. We get new information. Some of us evolve.
"Nobody likes being yelled at," defensive back Zack Sanchez said. "But at the end of the day, I know it's to make me a better player. Emotions are running high. It just happens. It's not an everyday thing. You can't chalk it down to the guys having a bad relationship. It's a family. It happens."
So, is there a downside to yelling at a kid? Not much of one, according to Mike Stoops.
"There's a downside to busting coverages and not being in the right place," he said, sounding more like a coach than a politically correct educator. "The downside is guys are running free and there's a touchdown."
Perhaps the Sooners will figure out their defense and figure out how best to use their timeouts, but things aren't going to change at Oklahoma, not with the emotions from the Stoops brothers, anyway.
However, if the Sooners keep losing, or not winning as often, people's opinions will.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK