Redemption is too strong of a word for what Oklahoma is looking for Wednesday night, but it’s hard to fully encapsulate what the last month has been like to find the perfect term.
Take a breath, yep, it has officially been 31 days since Lincoln Riley sent a jolt into the program by unexpectedly leaving to become the head coach at USC.
The program was staggered but never knocked out. Then came Bob Stoops to not just be the interim coach for the Alamo Bowl vs. Oregon, but a whole heck of a lot more. On the road recruiting, in the trenches with the guys as counselor and friend and coach, the public face. Anything and everything that was asked.
All the doom-and-gloom feelings were erased with Stoops’ passion and enthusiasm for the program and his clear-cut message that no one person is bigger than the program.
OU rose back to its feet with the hiring of Brent Venables as head coach a week after Riley’s departure, and the Sooners have done more than just steady the ship.
So, again, redemption doesn’t feel like it’s at stake vs. the Ducks at the Alamodome, but how about just one feel-good moment to end the wildest ride any OU fan has been on in the last month?
“You know, adversity makes you stronger in more ways than one,” said captain Jeremiah Hall earlier this week. “When you have a departure, and like I said, adversity, on the field, emotionally, decisions have to be made. When guys are leaving, they’re not just making that decision on their own. They’re asking teammates, teammates are asking them to stay, and we have a lot more conversations with one another.
“Between that and having to come together on the field, just makes us stronger, and so I’m hoping that through everything that we’ve faced here recently that we can go out on this game and have one last hoorah together and go out with a bang.”
There could be books written about the 2021 OU team. Heck, there might be in due time as everyone tries to piece together how what felt like the most complete team since Riley and Alex Grinch had formed their head coach-defensive coordinator partnership ended up being the one which nearly imploded the program.
What happened 31 days ago, though, no choice but to move on. And the biggest way to move on, at least in this moment, is for the Sooners to perform at a high level vs. Oregon.
You could say it’s to send out Stoops a winner and give him a final moment. Sure, that’s there. But more than anything, it’s because the 2021 group who is still around, still scratching and clawing, has earned the high note moment.
“But this game Wednesday night, I’m excited for the guys that we still have here, my class and the class below me,” wide receiver Marvin Mims said. “And I feel like depending on how we perform on Wednesday, the way we’ve been practicing, it’s definitely going to play into the decision that they do next season. But I feel like with the guys we have here right now, they definitely want to be here, and it’s definitely going to give them a huge confidence boost going into the off-season period.
“At the end of the day it’s going to make everyone in that room a better player and it’s going to make us play in unison on Wednesday night.”
OU was expected to be one of the four teams competing in the playoff Friday, expected to be chasing that elusive eighth national championship.
Here they are, instead, playing in its first Alamo Bowl, falling into it after losing Bedlam at Oklahoma State to close 10-2.
All the reasons in the world to pack it in and not care. It won’t end that way. The 2021 group that might have had to fight through more than we’ll ever know, isn’t going out in that manner.
“I think the university demands a high level of football play because that’s what we’ve done historically, even before Coach Stoops, before Coach V, talking Barry Switzer and all the legends that have come through here, like the standard has always been to play excellent football,” captain Pat Fields said. “For us we’re just the 2021 team and we’re doing our part in ensuring that the standard is upheld.”
“But I think Coach V, he demands a very high standard, and I think – I’d be naive to say this game doesn’t mean a little bit more because obviously this is my last game here, so I’m willing and ready to give whatever it is that I have for this game and to come out with a W, and I think there is a little bit of emotions that are going into it, so I’m not going to negate that, but I think we’ve just done an incredible job of keeping the main thing the main thing, and we have our duty and responsibility whenever we signed to come to OU to live up to the standard that OU has created.”
It has been a long, long road to get from Stillwater to San Antonio. A month none of those players or anyone in the program will ever forget. You can’t lament about what might have been, just time to do what you can now and get ready for what’s ahead with Venables commanding the ship.
“This program is in great, great, great shape,” said interim offensive coordinator Cale Gundy, who will remain with the staff. “This is not a program that’s been going 3-7, 4-8, 5-6. That’s not who we are here. This program is at the top of the college football chain, and it’s going to continue to stay there.”