Oklahoma and Howard Schnellenberger each found anonymity these
last few years. The Sooners, under coach Gary Gibbs and in the
wake of Barry Switzer's inglorious departure in 1989, drifted
into mediocrity and went 1-10-1 against Nebraska and Colorado.
Schnellenberger tried to build a power in his hometown of
Louisville and over 10 years lost more games than he won.
Now they seek redemption together, the proud program and its new
coach. Think of this as a salvage operation--at stake are two
reputations, and on trial is the popular theory that dead
dynasties like Oklahoma's cannot rise and reclaim their cachet.
"It's similar here to Alabama," says Schnellenberger, who was an
assistant under Bear Bryant from 1961 to '65 and an admirer of
Bryant's methods and results. "You can't understand the depth of
it for the people of this state until you get here, and you
can't totally comprehend it unless you're the coach."
When Schnellenberger arrived in Norman last winter, he found a
program that was far richer in talent than the one he had left
in Louisville, and richer even than the one he had taken over at
Miami in 1979 and coached to a national title in 1983. He also
found a team that lacked both confidence and conditioning,
evinced by a 31-6 Copper Bowl loss to BYU.
However, Oklahoma's talent never ebbed badly, and its facilities
(read: recruiting tools) remain among the best in the country.
"With what they have here, sometimes I feel like I'm stealing
half my paycheck," says offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who
came with Schnellenberger to Oklahoma from Louisville.
The Sooners have 19 starters returning, as well as 21 other
players who have started at least one game, an embarrassment of
experience. The best of them are in the two backfields: junior
running backs Jerald (Thunder) Moore and James (Lightning) Allen
and senior cornerbacks Darrius Johnson and Larry Bush. At issue
is quarterback, where the new staff must decide among returning
starter Garrick McGee, three top recruits and a wiry redshirt
freshman, Eric Moore, who became a film-watching fixture in the
football offices over the winter and spring.
"Moore is what I call highly motivated," says Schnellenberger.
Also highly opportunistic. When McGee, the Big Eight Newcomer of
the Year, missed the Copper Bowl with viral hepatitis and didn't
participate in any contact during the spring, Moore leaped into
The Sooner talent is sufficient, and the schedule not
forbidding, but the fulcrum is Schnellenberger, who drilled the
Sooners relentlessly in the spring.
"We're not running an experiment here," he says of his method.
"If it doesn't work here, it's not my fault. I know it's worked
If it doesn't work here, as Schnellenberger well knows, that
explanation won't be good enough for Sooner fans.
COLOR PHOTO: PHIL HUBER Jerald Moore will help the Sooners thunder into the Schnellenberger era. [Jerald (Thunder) Moore in game]
THE DATA BOX
Head coach: Howard Schnellenberger
Career college record: 95-71-2
First year at Oklahoma
1994 RECORD: 6-6
Big Eight record: 4-3 (fourth)
W at Syracuse 30-29
L at Texas A&M 36-14
W Texas Tech 17-11
W Iowa State 34-6
L Texas (at Dallas) 17-10
L at Colorado 45-7
W at Kansas 20-17
L Kansas State 37-20
W Missouri 30-13
W at Oklahoma State 33-14
L Nebraska 13-3
L BYU 31-6 (Copper Bowl)
Final '94 ranking: unranked
Lettermen lost: 5
Lettermen returning: 54
Returning starters, offense: 9
Returning starters, defense: 10
Sept. 30 Colorado
Oct. 14 Texas (at Dallas)
Nov. 24 at Nebraska