After losing to Baylor for the first time ever, and losing at home for the first time since 2005 (let alone that loss being to a horribly mediocre Texas Tech), it would be easy to get frustrated with the direction of the program. After losing to Oklahoma State by the largest margin in decades, it would be easy to get upset at the coaches. For all of those things to occur in a year where we started out ranked #1, it's only a matter of time before we end up as the headline fanbase for Roll Bama Roll's weekly "It's Meltdown Time" feature. (Note: While writing this, RBR posted It's Meltdown Time, but focused on their own fans' reactions to our abject failure against OSU. I think they safely spoke for most of us that night.)
However, with the utter and complete failure of Bedlam behind us, I'm asking Sooner Nation to calm down for a second, and realize that this season was a combination of fixable coaching errors and uncontrollable bad luck. There have been four major themes throughout the Sooner message boards and fan base that have been prevalent over the last 72 hours, and I will address each of them in turn. 1) "Fire Willie Martinez!" 2) "Fire Brent Venables!" 3) "Landry Jones sucks!" 4) "Bob Stoops has lost 'it' " Before I get into those things after the jump, I want to say that there is blame to go around. I'm not going to say it could be worse and try to shame you into being grateful for 9-3. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
1) "Fire Willie Martinez!"
This is the rally cry of the militant moron. If you talk to someone who advocates this, talk about Christmas, network TV shows, whether Lady Gaga is really Sir Gaga, or some other mundane subject of no import. Don't discuss football with such people. You'll only end up hating yourself for it.
You do not fire a position coach in his first year. Or his second. I don't care how bad the on-field product looks, you have to apply context. Who was the coach before him? How good are his personnel? What is the scheme, and has he coached it before? You also have to keep in mind that some position coaches don't make good coordinators (Martinez, Duane Akina at Texas), and some coordinators don't make good head coaches (Mike Stoops). Just because they lost their last job doesn't mean they're not very good at their previous job. They got promotions for a reason.
The coach before Martinez was Bobby Jack Wright. I'm not going to explain why this fact alone makes a case for Martinez getting more time.
The personnel are good, but I think some are out of place. Gabe Lynn is an all-Big 12 safety waiting to happen, and Aaron Colvin had better be back at CB by spring practice. Lynn is serviceable in coverage (i.e., you can leave him on a 3rd or 4th WR option), but, MY GOD, that kid can bring the wood. That is the textbook definition of a Stoops strong safety. Quinton Carter was EXACTLY that kind of DB. Did you want him in coverage on Justin Blackmon? Not if he didn't have help, but he made WRs on crossing routes deeply nervous.
What about the scheme? From what I've seen, Martinez has coached the base Cover 2 the way OU deploys it (multiple looks and zone blitzes), and he gets it just fine. We'll talk about scheme more in the section on Venables. To my eye, the issues are how we deploy our personnel, not how we coach them. I don't care if you have 6 DBs on the field, if a decent QB has 4 or 5 seconds to throw, he's getting at least 10 yards out of it. That's not on the DB's, that's on the front 7 and the overall scheme.
If you do feel like whining about Martinez, just remember 2009, boys and girls. In 2009, we had this new WR coach named Jay Norvell. And EVERYONE wanted him fired after we spent the entire season battling a case of the drops that made it look like our WRs purchased their receivers gloves from Williams Sonoma. Then, in 2010, we saw the emergence of Ryan Broyles, Superstar, and Kenny "The best #2" Stills. We also picked up some very solid recruits at WR (including 2012 entry Trey Metoyer). Now, Norvell is "THE MAN." Give Martinez some time to recruit and develop his personnel. From what I saw of his secondaries when he was DB coach at Georgia, I think you'll be very pleased. The guy can coach DB's.
2) "Fire Brent Venables!"
This one is much tougher to handle. It's obvious that Venables felt the 3 man front was a natural progression from the 50 front we ran at the end of last year. We stuck with a look that ensured opposing offenses could commit a tackle to our outside blitzer. I can't defend that. The failure was schematic, and it was obvious to anyone paying attention. Instead of having our LBs/DB's running into RBs, they were running into 300 lb meat sacs and the results followed naturally. Our defense simply did not fit our personnel. We're small and fast at LB, and our scheme requires too much thinking for us to sit back and react in a zone. We can't send 5 with two of those guys being sub 230 and think we'll get pressure on RG3 or Brandon Weeden. That was just bad game planning.
Venables strangely forgot the first rule of beating the spread offense: pressure the QB into going to his first read, and the turnovers will follow. The spread offense kills you when a QB gets time to go through 3+ reads. We're conceding the line of scrimmage by going 3 on 5. And instead of clogging passing lanes, we're giving up massive cushions and leaving holes in zones all over the field.
Our defenses have admittedly been either best or 2nd best in the Big 12, but that's been mostly unimpressive since 2006. The best Big 12 defense in the last 5 years is just an okay defense in the SEC. A top 25 defense puts us at 11-1 and going to a BCS bowl as an at large with OSU holding the tiebreaker and still winning the conference. Instead, we finished the season 62nd in total defense and 37th in scoring defense. When Tech, Mizzou, and everyone in the conference openly talks about being completely unafraid of playing at Owen Field, it's time for a change at the top. Either Venables needs to make some very serious changes, or he needs to be replaced. To my mind, 2012 needs to be his last chance in any case. Another mediocre defense needs to lead to a pink slip. I'm willing to give him a pass because Austin Box was very clearly intended to be the pivot man of the front 7, and even though Tom Wort filled in admirably, Box was a natural leader and a great LB. That leadership was very obviously lacking on this defense as the year wore on.
3) "Landry Jones Sucks!"
No, he doesn't. He's a good D1 QB with NFL potential who isn't good enough to be a 1st team AA or win a Heisman. If he isn't immediately preceded by an Oklahoma native who just happened to be the best QB this conference has ever produced, we're a lot more appreciative. Guys like this win national championships when you build the right kind of team around them. (See: McElroy, Greg; Tebow, Tim; )
I'll admit, I was deeply critical of Landry Jones to begin with, and there is cause for that. He can't throw on the run with any accuracy, he has trouble trusting his pocket, and when he screws up, he screws up BIG. He also throws the 10 yard out on a frozen rope, he can put the ball in a 2 foot window from 30 yards out, and he's got our offense down pat. His problems aren't physical limitations or flaws in his mechanics. To the contrary, both of those are top notch. His problems are purely mental, and those can be fixed or at least mitigated.
Landry Jones is a lot like Tony Romo in some ways. If you ask him to win the game on his own, he'll melt down. Bedlam is a perfect example. It was clear from the postgame comments that the coaches came to him and told him that the only way we were winning is if he had a Herculean performance. He responded exactly as the last 3 years would indicate.
If you support him with a couple of good WRs and a decent running game, he'll look like a hero. This is not unreasonable for OU. Even with Miller and Calhoun leaving, we're deep at RB with Whaley, Finch, Millard and Williams all able to give us great carries and catch the ball in the flat or down the field. As a side note, something is off with Brennan Clay, and I don't know what it is. It's like he's only going at 90% on the field, and he doesn't know how to find that 5th gear anymore.
Kenny Stills will come back to form when healthy, Jaz will be a very solid (though sometimes infuriatingly inconsistent) #2 option, and I firmly expect Trey Metoyer to take the #3 WR spot by fall camp. God help this conference if we land Dorial Green-Beckham. We could really use Austin Haywood back at full capacity, but it's up to the coaches if that happens. Looking at our roster and our recruiting prospects, I think Bob's going to have to swallow his pride on this one. If Haywood is truly contrite, understands what he did wrong, and will put in the work, we need to let him back. Our other options at TE are rather dismal. New commit Brannon Green looks more like Brody Eldridge than he does Jermaine Gresham. Again, nothing wrong with that, but having a TE who can be a threat over the middle completely changes how defenses have to approach your offense.
4) Bob Stoops has lost "it"
I don't agree with this, but not in the way you might think. I'm not saying that something isn't wrong with the program, though. I just don't believe that there is any such intangible, magic thing as "it". You need tradition, commitment to winning from the university and the athletic department, access to talent, great coaches (or a once-in-a-lifetime talent), some luck, and a defined culture within the program. I think the last of those factors is beginning to falter at OU. And I think the problem lies solely in Bob Stoops' lap. With a salary in the neighborhood of five million dollars, every scintilla of scrutiny needs to start with Bob.
Stoops is still one of the 5 best head coaches in college football. We caught some incredibly bad breaks early, and we knew starting off that we had almost no margin for error with injuries. Our best LB passed away, our next best LB broke his foot and played on it injured all season, our starting RB broke his ankle halfway through the year, and our single best player on either side of the ball tore his ACL midway through conference play. That shouldn't have put us any worse than 10-2 even with the defense being not great, but Tech is the fluke that just keeps on hurting.
That said, the team's sudden lack of cohesion and focus on defense after the Texas win is seriously disconcerting. I've never seen an OU defense just fall apart like that except against K-State (Mike Stoops' departure didn't help) and USC. In this case, it was a multigame collapse. That's uncharacteristic of the team, and I think Damian Mackey's thoughts on the matter are rather salient.
[M]y cousin was at OU just a year ago and literally lived with Kenny, Tony and Co. the things I heard about the team, the culture, the chemistry, and the relationship with the coaches really blew me away. those of you who think we lack talent are wrong, those that think the kids don't want it are wrong. as much as it pains me to say this. the problem is the coaches and it starts from the top. does that mean Bob needs to get fired...NO. but i think he really needs to sit down and talk to his team because he has lost them.
For those of you who don't know who Damian Mackey is, here's his bio from SoonerSports.com. He played from 1998-2001, and he was a GA for two years after that. I would argue that his opinion is not one to be taken lightly.
This is Oklahoma Football. We don't play for next year, we play for THIS year. We play for championships, not moral victories. We don't accept being second best, and we do not hope that things get better on their own.
T. Boone Pickens Oklahoma State is building a program over where the Rustoleum once stood, and, if it's not obvious, they're doing a hell of a job there. Texas has every resource and asset you could buy with oil money hope for, and they're bringing in top talent (both players and coaches). Also, we've got TCU moving to the neighborhood. It doesn't take but two or three years to go from top dog to also-ran with a group like that. At the end of the day, you have to hold someone accountable for failure, and the buck stops at the top. Your move, Coach Stoops.