Way back in 2007, Oklahoma hosted Missouri in a battle for Big 12 supremacy so big that ESPN GameDay made its way to Norman for the game. Actually, that has been pretty commonplace at OU since Chris, Lee and Kirk started blazing a trail around the United States chasing the best matchups college football has to offer. I remember essentially nothing from the broadcast, expect for one thing.
The GameDay crew brought Bob Stoops out for an interview that morning. The producers decided to tease the spot going into commercial by panning down a row of cheerleaders and ending with Stoops.
Man, I wish I had the video of that for this article. When all was said and done, Stoops was standing there looking like he had fire ants in his jockstrap.
I think of that scene every time the subject of the Sooners’ public relations come up. Take Monday’s screed ($) from SoonerScoop.com head honcho Carey Murdock, who it seems to me gets how Stoops ticks better than anyone out there.
Murdock notes that in an offseason in which OU’s head coach has taken great pains to address some festering issues in his program, he still has yet to acknowledge arguably the biggest: access.
Stoops clearly disdains the ancillary parts of being a head coach. I’m sure he’s not alone among his peers in that regard, but he does little to hide his very public antipathy towards his non-football duties. Hell, after 14 years in the same spot, why bother? He’s not fooling anyone.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Stoops seemingly takes every opportunity he can to draw the shades around the program. Aside from limiting his own press availability, he has shut out the public and the media from practices and scrimmages. (He even stopped taking live calls from fans on his weekly show during the fall, opting instead for sanitized e-mails from viewers.)
Now, when it comes to watching actual football being played, fans get the spring game, 12 Saturdays in the fall, a bowl game (hopefully) and that’s it.
I don’t need a lecture on why Stoops does it. Keeping practices closed theoretically eliminates distractions. And why let the enemy know what you’re up to? Legend has it that TCU sent scouts to OU practices in 2005 and used the intelligence to engineer a stunning upset of the Sooners to start that season.
And plenty of coaches around the country have similar policies in place. Even Mack Brown, Texas' chief executive gladhander, has taken to the airwaves to bemoan his program's exposure.
Yet, Murdock contends – correctly – that walling off the program during the spring is hurting OU’s recruiting efforts. He notes that Texas A&M, for example, took the opportunity to turn a Friday night scrimmage into an event for fans and recruits, complete with a DJ spinning records. Stoops would just as soon lose a limb as pull that kind of stunt.
So yes, more access for fans during the spring would be nice. But even that’s not enough.
The reality is that OU football doesn’t have the same spark that it once did, not just on the recruiting trail, but in the minds of fans, too. It doesn't have to be that way.
The Sooners don't need to manufacture enthusiasm with gimmicks. They've already got a passionate fan base dying to boost the energy around the squad. More access to practices and scrimmages is an ideal way to harness that enthusiasm.
For the first time in six years, OU has an opening at the quarterback position. The Sooners have three new energetic coaches on the staff with new ideas and techniques to teach their players. There’s an overwhelming abundance of flash at the skill positions.
In short, fans should have no shortage of reasons to be buzzing about the program. They should be turning out in droves Saturday afternoon for the Red-White Game to see who among the newcomers rises to the occasion in front of a packed house. But don’t count on it. I also wouldn’t count on as many people climbing out of bed in the fall for an 11 a.m. kickoff against Iowa State or hanging in at Owen Field through a blowout, either.
When you don’t make much of an effort to let the fans get to know you, you can’t expect them to make as much of an effort to care.