By Michael Kinney
In the three weeks since Oklahoma lost in the Orange Bowl to Alabama, much has taken place inside the Sooners football program. Coach Lincoln Riley held his first media availability since the loss in the playoffs to talk about all the changes and introduce members of his new staff.
Bringing Hurts to OU
Last week former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts announced he would be playing his final year of college football at Oklahoma. Riley talked about the process of bringing the grad transfer to OU.
‘It’s been an interesting process,” Riley said. “When you have a situation like we did with Kyler (Murray), where I think all three options initially were on the table. One of those being coming back here. Had a discussion with him a week and a half ago… I knew after that night that he was going to go play professionally, one way or another and was not going to come back to OU. Once I knew that then obviously you have a chance to take a look at your room and see what you have, what you need, what are your concerns. After I knew that, I started thinking about adding somebody older in that room. Jalen came up here and visited. It was kind of a quick visit. You bring a grad transfer in, they don’t care about a lot of stuff. It went well and Jalen let us know that he was coming.”
Austin Kendall Situation
While the Sooners are gaining one quarterback in Hurts, they are losing another in Auston Kendall. He announced he was transferring to West Virginia last week.,
However, it didn’t come without a bit of controversy when Riley initially refused to grant Kendall permission to play at WVU in the 2019 season.
“Honestly, I encouraged the family to enter the transfer portal. There are parts of this transfer stuff I don’t agree with. But when asked the question from his dad, ‘if he were your son, what would you do,’ that was my honest answer. I had great conversations with him It was kind of just an open honest process all the way throughout… Despite everyone in the world wanting to jump the gun without any accurate info, it was a very smooth process. It was a tough decision on allowing them to be immediately eligible considering it is another conference opponent. Considering this is the pone conference you play every opponent. And sometimes, as you’ve seen the last couple of years, you’re going to play somebody twice.”
The deciding factor on Kendall
“It was the human element. With the way the transfers are going, with the way this thing is headed, we finally got to the point where we felt like we can do it,” Riley said. “In his time here we’ve brought in two other transfers at his position and done a great job here. In the end, the human element and my relationship with him. The thing that probably pushed me over the edge was my last conversation with him that morning. Then I released him that afternoon. The human element won out. It got the point where I could come to terms with it in my mind that it wouldn’t be an awful thing for our place.”
“He certainly has the ability to be a really good leader for us,” Riley said. “But he’s got to get in here and learn this team, learn this offense. He’s got to get in here and compete for this quarterback job. There’s a lot of steps ahead. But there is no the guy has been in some of college football’s biggest and best games the last few years. I’ve been really impressed with how he carries himself and the way he works. There is not going to be much that happens to this kid that he hasn’t been through already. But he’s got to come do it here. It’s not going to immediately snap in just because he had success at another school. He realizes that.”
Grinch has arrived
Riley introduced the Sooners newest defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch. The first bit of news he put forth was that coaches Ruffin McNeil (outside linebackers) and Calvin Thibodeaux (defensive line) would be staying with the program.
“I’m thrilled to have the staff that we have,” Grinch said. “Coach McNeil, coach Thibodeaux round out that staff. You’ve got good coaches, good recruiters, and good teachers.”
What is Grinch’s philosophy?
“We kind of use the phrase, downhill approach,” Grinch said. “Really what we mean by that is being less reactionary. The offense knows the play their running, obviously, we have to react to where the ball is. That’s football. But try as best we can to put our guy in a situation that an offense has to react to you to a certain extent. Single gap defense in our front. From a coverage standpoint, attempt as best we can to make receivers win. The game is space and speed. Structurally it will be multiple on the front and the back end.”
Turnovers will be a priority
In 2018 the Sooners ranked 120th in the nation in turnovers gained with only 11. Grinch says he is bringing an emphasis on creating turnovers with him.
“We kind of coined the phrase ‘takeaways equal victory,’” Grinch said. “It stems from the fact that the sole purpose of the defense to be on the football field is to get the ball back to the offense. The purpose behind every play in football is for the defense to get the ball back to the offense. The ball doesn’t have any working knowledge of who its supposed to be thrown to. It doesn’t know the quarterback is supposed to throw it to the receiver. It doesn’t know it’s supposed to stay in the runningbacks arms. So if the ball doesn’t know, then how on the earth do we know. It affects possessions. We did a study several years ago. Essentially 24 takeaways equated to nine wins regardless of any other statistic in football.”
Oklahoma’s newest coaches were also introduced Sunday. Both Roy Manning (cornerbacks) and Brian Odom (inside linebackers) said they are entering their new position with an empty slate. Nothing that happened in the past will be used as far as evaluation on current players.
Manning says he enters his new job with only high expectations.
“Just a no excuse mentality. I don’t like to waste anyone’s time and I don’t want them to waste my time. So I am just going to expect the best. Your best is good enough. It’s that simple. Only your best is good enough.”
Odom says the Sooners have a long and storied past at linebacker. Living up to that legacy will be important.
“I probably know the tradition at inside linebacker at the University of Oklahoma as well as anybody. TO be able to have the title of position coach over that group is awesome,” Odom said. “With that awesomeness comes a lot of responsibility. With those guys in there, they have a lot to live up to from the guys that came in during the past. There is an expectation level with the inside linebackers, going back as far as I can remember. I know there were people before I was born that were great players. There is a tradition here of inside linebacker play that is second to none.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance content provider