The oft-rumored departure of Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton finally came to fruition on Monday, as Patton "left" Norman for some kind of utility man position on the Indiana coaching staff.
While Patton's job change is being characterized as voluntary by the school, few people – if any – in the know are buying that. As Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel points out, you don't just up and leave a program of OU's stature for a Big Ten bottom feeder.
Bob Stoops so rarely sends a coach packing that it raises the question of why Patton? And why now?
In his seven seasons overseeing Oklahoma's big uglies, the uneven play of Patton's units frequently exasperated Sooner fans, myself included. Although OU generally protected the quarterback well during that stint, blame for the Sooners' inconsistent running game and poor execution in short-yardage situations typically fell on the shoulders of the line.
Furthermore, Patton isn't one of Stoops' inner circle. Much like former defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who got the heave-ho after the 2011 season, Patton wasn't handpicked by the head coach. He lost his rabbi after the 2010 season when OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson took the Indiana job. (That all may have a lot to do with why tackles/tight ends Bruce Kittle remains employed.)
It's possible that Patton just didn't fit in without Wilson around. If Stoops is feeling heat from boosters and the administration to shake things up, that makes Patton the easiest target for a sacrificial offering.
Of course, the focus now turns to the guy who will take Patton's place. The consensus opinion for weeks has been that Stoops was angling to get his buddy Mark Mangino back in the fold. An opening for an offensive line coach signifies a step in the big fella's direction. On Monday, the talk turned to Bill Bedenbaugh, currently a member of the West Virginia staff, following a report from Carey Murdock at SoonerScoop.com that he had emerged as a prime candidate.
Both Mangino and Bedenbaugh have an Air Raid background, which would likely make integration with the current collection of coaches in Norman easy from a scheme standpoint. On the other hand, neither have shown much in the way of developing a punishing ground game.
In other words, even if there's someone new coaching the line in the fall, don't bank on massive changes to OU's offensive philosophy.