BY JOHN ROHDE
Aug. 7, 2017
It's hard to fathom how a 33-year-old could remain unchanged after being handed the reins to one of the nation's premier college football programs, but such appears to be the case with new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley.
"He hasn't changed at all," said senior quarterback and two-time top-four Heisman Trophy vote-getter Baker Mayfield, who has spent more time with Riley than any OU player since Riley arrived in January 2015 as the Sooners' new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He's the same guy. He's a humble guy. He's knows exactly why he's here and how he got here. He's worked very, very hard. He's paid attention to people around him."
Mayfield smiled and shared the following example of how Riley has remained unchanged: "I think it took (senior wide receiver) Jeffery Mead razzing him for three weeks for him (Riley) to finally get a new car," Mayfield said.
Mead confirmed the story, saying he prodded Riley every three or four days about getting a new set of wheels. Mead said he didn't specify which car Riley should get, but did tell his new head coach, "'You're our boss, so I want you to drive something nice.' Coach Riley does not care (about material things)."
Riley finally caved and swapped his Toyota 4Runner for a new Cadillac Escalade. "That's nice," Mead said approvingly.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal nodded his approval and said, "Oh, yeah. That's a big-boy truck."
Affable senior fullback Dimitri Flowers is on a first-name basis with his new head coach. Actually, he's on a half-first-name basis, playfully referring to Riley as "Linc" while simultaneously propping himself up as "probably the second-best quarterback on the team." Riley's reaction to Flowers' quarterback proclamation? "He really didn't acknowledge it," Flowers admitted quietly.
Though there is an undeniable comfort zone that surrounds Riley, other players aren't quite as bold as Flowers — no matter how physically intimidating they are. "I call him 'Coach Riley,'" 6-foot-8, 345-pound junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I am not going to call him 'Linc.'"
Senior defensive end D.J. Ward said, "Maybe down the line I'll call him 'Linc,' or come up with another nickname. But for now, I'm sticking with 'Coach Riley.'"
Riley became the nation's youngest FBS head coach on June 7 and the 22nd head coach in OU history following the sudden retirement of 18-year coach Bob Stoops. Riley will follow in the massive footsteps of Stoops (190-48 overall record; .798 winning percentage), who captured a national championship in just his second season with the Sooners (2000). The Stoops era also produced 10 Big 12 Conference crowns, 14 seasons of 10-plus victories and a bowl appearance every year.
The Riley regime is fresh off its first week of practice, which consisted of six sessions from Monday through Saturday. Though it's a small sample size, players said Riley already has set an overriding tone of physicality and intensity.
"He's a fiery guy and he's always been a fiery guy," junior tight end Mark Andrews said, "but now we're seeing him instill that into everybody. He's a competitor and he wants us to be competitors and he doesn't expect anything less than that. Every day, we have to come out and compete. And if we don't, we know we're not going to play. That's just how it is now."
Riley was weaned on the opposite side of the ball as Stoops. Since his days as Texas Tech student assistant in 2003, Riley has served as an offensive assistant while Stoops remained on the defensive side from 1983-1998 at Iowa, Kent State, Kansas State and Florida before taking over at OU in December 1998.
"That's the thing," senior defensive back Steven Parker said of the seemingly unflappable Riley. "He's so cool, he's getting along with both sides of the ball. Everyone respects him as a coach and as a person. Coach Riley, he brings that intensity that we need to get off to a fast start. Just throughout camp, we've had so much competition. I can definitely say this is one of the most intense and most fun fall camps I've been a part of."
Flowers joked offensive players are somewhat jealous they now must share Riley with the rest of the team. "It's actually kind of cool (to see him yelling at other people), but at the same time, he's cheering on the defense when they make a good play," Flowers said. "We're like, 'No, you can't do that. You were here (with the offense) first. Remember that.' It's great to see him do all those things and it's really cool to see him taking on that different role."
Junior offensive lineman Dru Samia: "It kind of feels weird when Coach Riley tells the defense, 'Good job getting a pick or getting a fumble.' But it's cool. I'm glad that he's in the position that he's in. I think he's handled it super well."
Senior offensive lineman Erick Wren: "Yeah, we are jealous. He's our coach, but that just lets you know what type of guy he is. He's a stand-up guy. In my eyes, this is one of the best head coaches I've ever played for."
Mayfield joked of Riley, "He forgets about us (offensive players). We're the little people now." Mayfield immediately pleaded for reporters not to mention what he had just said. "Nah, just kidding," he said. "Don't actually put that in there."
Mayfield admitted sharing Riley with the entire team is a bit of an adjustment for offensive players. "It's a little different," Mayfield said. "We just have to be a little more responsible."
The Sooners' current level of talent, experience and leadership are among the many reasons Stoops felt this was an opportune time for Riley to drive an Escalade.
Riley said he now works "all three sides of the ball. If there's a special-teams period, I'm going to be there. Defensively, I'll pick my spots. It varies each day."
"He kind of stays in his lane when it comes to the defense," Parker said of Riley. "He checks in that we're doing our job."
Riley has retained his role as quarterbacks coach while adding his new responsibilities of overseeing the defense, special teams, coaching staff, managers and office personnel. Riley has gone from managing roughly 50 people to approximately three times that many. "There's certainly more to keep track of," Riley admitted. "There's more things running through your head."
Has Riley been overwhelmed by it all? Certainly doesn't seem like it.
"Same guy. Same guy, for sure," senior linebacker/defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. "We know everything he says is for a reason."
Riley passes credit unto others while explaining his velvet transition to head coach. "The people around me in the program have handled it so well," Riley said. "That's made it smooth on me. I've enjoyed kind of diving into the different parts of it. I love the Xs and Os and coaching in the field, but I enjoy all the other parts of it, too."
Riley assumed control of a national powerhouse without the benefit of running his own spring practice.
He has been submerged in work since replacing Stoops. In addition to acquainting himself with an entire roster rather than just leading offensive players, Riley also dove head-first into recruiting, hired new assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill (his former boss at Texas Tech and East Carolina), granted a slew of media requests (which included Big 12 Media Days last month in Frisco, Texas), partook in Meet the Sooners Day with fans on Saturday at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which was followed by the team's annual media day in the stadium.
Riley said his winning expectations remain unchanged as head coach. "I feel the same amount that I did as the OC," Riley said. "You feel that at this place. It's not really anything that needs to be said. As a coach, I felt it the first time I walked in the door. I felt it when I came to interview here."
Perhaps most impressive, players agree the attributes they appreciated about Riley as an assistant have remained unchanged as head coach.
Mayfield said he has kept the same sales pitch whenever discussing Riley. "That's the thing I've always said to recruits and to anybody else. 'The person you meet is the person you're going to get as a coach,'" Mayfield said. "That's the most special thing you can get because you can build a relationship with him and it will be there throughout all phases of life."
Flowers said, "He's absolutely the same (person), and that's one of the things that I appreciate about him. He's stayed true. Whether we've had success after the game, whether we lost the game, he's been the same person."
"I don't think anything's changed about him, but I think his greatest attribute is relating to the players," Samia said. "He's a young guy, but he's also one of the smartest people I've been around. He's able to relate to the players and still get the job done."
Ward describes Riley as "a great listener. Most people think you probably can't talk to your head coach, but you can say anything to Coach Riley. He'll hear you out."
Okoronkwo echoed Ward and particularly appreciates Riley's open-door policy. "He's ready to listen to you anytime, any problem you have," Okoronkwo said. "Even if there's not a problem, he's ready just to talk. His door is open."
"I like his swagger," Beal said. "That's his swag and no one's going to change it for him. He can take this step on his own. In the back of my mind, I always thought he would make a good head coach."
Parker said of Riley, "What I appreciate most is just the way he handles things. Basically, it's the same as Coach Stoops, but it's a little bit more hands-on."
Meanwhile, Wren's admiration for his new head coach is multi-faceted. "The way he goes about things is a great example of how to be a man in life," Wren said.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Aug. 4, 2017
When the Oklahoma men's basketball team heads Down Under on a 12-day, four-game venture, the trip will offer many benefits. The most beneficial aspect came before the Sooners even boarded the plane.
Teams are permitted 10 practices in preparation for overseas trips. Under normal circumstances, a team is not allowed to commence formal practices until 42 days prior to its first competition, which meant OU would have waited until Oct. 1 this season. Thanks to this trip to New Zealand and Australia, the Sooners opted to spread practice sessions from July 9 through last Wednesday.
This is particularly beneficial when your roster features just one senior and four newcomers. It's also incredibly handy when a team can't wait to turn the page after an indescribably frustrating 2016-17 season (11-20 overall; 5-13 in Big 12 Conference) that featured nine losses of two possessions (six points) or less.
“Last year was an eye-opener,” OU seventh-year coach Lon Kruger said. “It was kind of humbling from the standpoint we have to do things different, we have to do more, we have to invest. When you lose a lot of close games, you realize, ‘Hey, we've got to do more in preparation.' And that's healthy for all of us.”
Rather than having to wallow two extra months, the Sooners were able to hit the reset button by practicing in July rather than October.
“It certainly benefits the players,” Kruger said. “The timing for this group is especially good with new guys coming in and guys returning who will have enhanced roles over a year ago. These (pre-trip) practices have been pretty similar to what we do in October. They're much different than what we would be doing during the summer if not going on a trip when you're only allowed two hours a week with players.”
One player expected to have an increased role will be sophomore guard Kameron McGusty, who started 17 of 31 games as a true freshman last season, averaging 24.9 minutes, 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range. In conference play, McGusty led the Sooners in scoring with 14.4-point average, shot 38.0 percent on 3-pointers and was named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team.
“We'd like to forget about last season, but at the same time, that motivates us,” McGusty said. “Nobody on our team wants to go through something like that ever again. It's what keeps us in the gym. It's what keeps us working hard. It keeps us focused in workouts and going hard in the weight room and at practice. It (stinks) that it happened, but at the same time, it's a motivator. We really can't complain. We have to live with it. You can't look at the past.”
BY LEE JENKINS
July 11, 2017
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — The Conejo Valley lunch crowd was confronted by an alarming image Monday afternoon on the 3100 block of Willow Lane: Paul George lying face down on the floor of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse, garage doors open to the street, cursing under the weight of six 20-pound metal chains draped across his back. This is where George has spent the past three months, at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, pushing 800-pound monster-truck tires alongside linebackers such as the Packers’ Clay Matthews and running backs like the Bucs’ Doug Martin. On Road Trip Fridays, George and his new NFL pals charge up 35-degree inclines on 200-yard sand dunes north of Malibu.
No one has figured more prominently in the NBA’s manic off-season than George—traded by the Pacers, rumored to the Cavs, ticketed to the Celtics, fated for the Lakers, acquired by the Thunder—yet no one has been less visible, training six days a week with Ryan Capretta at ProActive and recovering at his home in aptly named Hidden Hills. George will finally extricate himself from the chains, which he uses for resistance during pushups, and board a private plane Tuesday morning at Van Nuys Airport that was dispatched by Thunder owner Clay Bennett. He cannot fathom the outpouring that awaits him when he touches down in Oklahoma City. “I’ve heard there might be people, like, at the airport,” he says.
George has no relationship with Russell Westbrook beyond pregame pleasantries. He describes Sam Presti as one might depict a character in a spy novel. All he has ever seen of his new home is the Skirvin Hilton Hotel and Chesapeake Energy Arena. But in the 11 days since George was sent from Indiana to Oklahoma City, he has done his research, asking former Thunder players what he can expect in one of the league’s smallest but staunchest markets. One notable source was particularly insightful.
“KD was like, ‘That place will blow you away,’” George says. “He told me, ‘They can offer what other teams can’t in terms of the people and the preparation and the facility, down to the chefs and the meals.’ He was pretty high on them. He thought it was a first-class organization in every way.” The Thunder, who essentially traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for a yearlong free-agent pitch session with George, will take any recruiter they can get—even if it’s the guy who left, sweet-talking his replacement.
BY JOHN ROHDE
Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor
June 22, 2017
After hiding himself underneath the familiar Amana “bucket” hat that became his signature, Mark Hayes no longer can avoid the acknowledgement he richly deserves.
One of the greatest junior players in state history, who went on to notable collegiate, amateur, and the PGA Tour accomplishments, Hayes will become a member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame during the Oct. 1 induction ceremony at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.
Hayes came from an athletic lineage. His father, Larry Sr., was a gifted athlete and played for Hall of Fame basketball coach Henry P. Iba at Oklahoma A&M (1945-46; 1947-49). Larry was a member of the 1946 NCAA championship team and the national runner-up team in 1949, which is the same year Mark was born.
Larry taught all four of his sons – Larry Jr., Mark, Jim and Dan – how to play golf. Mark and Larry Jr. started at age 6 and 7, respectively. Hayes’ parents were both educators who received their doctorates from OSU so the family moved between Stillwater and Oklahoma City. In Stillwater, Mark started competing in tournaments against older kids at age 10. He remained unbeaten until age 12 when he finally experienced defeat, though only occasionally.
For the better part of a decade, Hayes essentially served as the measuring stick for other in-state junior golfers.
It was about age 12 when Hayes came under the tutelage of Oklahoma State golf coach and 2016 HOF inductee Labron Harris Sr. Around this same time, Hayes convinced another 12-year-old from Stillwater to take up golf. That kid was Doug Tewell, a fellow 2017 Oklahoma Golf HOF inductee who was born just 47 days after Hayes arrived on July 12, 1949. Hayes and Tewell quickly became lifelong friends/rivals.
Tewell said he measured himself as a golfer by how well he fared against Hayes. “I think playing against Mark meant everything for my career,” Tewell said with sincerity. “We all need somebody like that who we chase, so to speak. It’s kind of like two quarterbacks – the starter and the guy who wants to start. Mark set the bar. He was so much better than the rest of us. I wanted to beat him worse than anybody, yet we were friends. I’m not sure we really knew we were rivals.”
BY JOHN ROHDE
Golf Oklahoma Magazine Contributor
June 21, 2017
Doug Tewell freely admits “golf just wasn’t on my radar” when he was 12 years old. He was far too busy playing football, baseball and basketball in his hometown of Stillwater in those days.
Tewell played center in football, was a first baseman in baseball and a “benchwarmer” in basketball. “I thought my future might be in baseball,” Tewell said. “I could hit.”
However, Tewell’s athletic journey took an entirely new path when he suffered a concussion at age 12 while playing football on Lewis Field. “My parents said, ‘That’s it for you. No more football,’ ” Tewell said. “Dad said, ‘You ought to start playing golf with me.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it and see.’ It was hard to quit all those other sports because in those days there was a lot of peer pressure to play football, basketball and baseball. Here I was joining the minor sports brigade.”
Tewell wasn’t a complete stranger to golf, having already served as his father’s caddie. Turns out Tewell also could swing the clubs rather than just carry them. He played the game well, and it didn’t take long to discover this. “I got pretty good at it quickly because on my 13th birthday I went and played my first ever golf tournament in Okmulgee,” Tewell recalled. “I tied for second with a guy named Mark Hayes. I won the playoff.”
Born in Baton Rouge, La., Tewell moved to Stillwater at age 11. While Tewell dove head-first into mainstream sports, Hayes began playing golf at age 6 and had become somewhat of a prodigy by the time he was 12, frequently beating older players.
A fellow member of the 2017 Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame class, Hayes was born roughly seven weeks before Tewell in the summer of 1949. They were in the same class while attending school, and they’ll be in the same class as HOF inductees on Oct. 1 at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club.
BY JOHN ROHDE
June 12, 2017
Five days have passed since Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops announced his sudden retirement at age 56. Even those closest to him were stunned when Stoops shared the news last Wednesday.
Sooners associate head coach/defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is 15 months younger than his older brother. They grew up in a close-knit family in Youngstown, Ohio, were teammates throughout their playing days in school, coached alongside each other as assistants at Kansas State and Mike spent 10 seasons at OU as an assistant under big brother.
A bit of shock lingers even for Mike.
"It still feels a little strange, but it's all good and time for a new beginning," Mike said Sunday evening. "When you really think about it, why not (retire)? Bob's not about money. He's not about records or anything like that. He's just about doing his job and being happy."
The day after his announcement, Bob Stoops and longtime friend Matt McMillen headed to a Florida beach. McMillen is OU's assistant athletics director for football operations and arrived alongside Stoops in 1999. They've been friends since 1989 working at K-State. McMillen was having dinner at Stoops' home last Tuesday night when he got blindsided.
"We were outside and Bob says, 'Matty, I'm not going to coach anymore,'" McMillen explained. "I don't think I said a word for 20-25 minutes. He started laughing at me. It was like somebody hit me on the head with a sledgehammer, or an anvil fell on my head, or something. I didn't know what to say. It was crazy."
Early in the morning on the day of the announcement, Stoops called assistant head coach Cale Gundy into his office. Gundy, who serves as director of recruiting and coaches inside receivers, has been with the OU football program for 23-plus seasons. He played quarterback for the Sooners (1990-93), served one year as a student assistant and returned to OU when Stoops became head coach 18 years ago.
"Bob told me what was going on," Gundy said. "It was kind of tough for him to tell me and it was tough for me to hear it. We have been around each other for so long and it's something I'll remember forever."
A mid-afternoon meeting was scheduled last Wednesday to inform OU players of Stoops' retirement. When word leaked, the meeting was bumped up to early afternoon. Before meeting alongside his teammates, however, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield was summoned into a meeting with Stoops and new head coach Lincoln Riley.
“By then, everybody kind of knew what was happening,” Mayfield said. “I was shocked at first, just hearing it come out of Coach Stoops' mouth. I also was taken aback that he respected me enough to call me in there and tell me in person before meeting with the team.”
Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Stoops gave him a tour of the new facilities three days before the announcement and Stoops never hinted of his pending retirement. The day after the announcement, Stoops telephoned Switzer.
"Bob said, 'The timing was right,'" Switzer said. "And I said, 'Well, you're the only one who keeps that watch. No one else keeps that watch except you. It's your clock and you set the time. I'm all for it. I can understand.'"
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a two-time, first-team All-American with the Sooners in 2002-03, won the 2003 Vince Lombardi Award, declared for the 2004 NFL Draft after his junior season and was selected 14th overall in the first round by the Chicago Bears.
"I was shocked," Harris said of Stoops retiring, "but then at the same time, I was more excited for him. It showed his courage to leave at the top of your game. He can do whatever he wants with his time now."