Ah, those lovable Sooners: a 90-yard touchdown one minute, a fumble the next; a problem with grades one week, a minor crime wave the next. Well, the word is out in Norman that after last year's carnival, enough is enough. Besides the ballyhooed departure of Marcus Dupree, 1983 brought the usual plethora of fumbles (39), dropped passes and penalties (95, breaking a Big Eight record that had stood since 1952). Result: The '83 Sooners had the distinction of being the first eligible Oklahoma team since 1969 to stay home at bowl time.
Local newspapers called for coach Barry Switzer's resignation, and the school's board of regents didn't uphold its eight-year tradition of adding a year to his rolling five-year contract. The board expressed its concern about the players' slipshod academic image, their lack of discipline on and off the field and Switzer's business ventures. This spring he was cleared of insider trading charges in a suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. At press time, though, he is appealing a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation request that he and two partners cough up $1.5 million in loans they owe to Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma City, which folded.
Switzer laid down the law with his players at a meeting in January. "I'd never heard a speech like that," says running back Spencer Tillman, "There were tears in his eyes." Switzer railed about the 12 losses in three years, about rededication and new rules of conduct. There would be classroom attendance checks, no more tardiness at team meetings and more offseason conditioning. And he added, "Don't test me. I love you, but I'll kick off the team anyone who breaks the rules." Another crackdown: The university has announced that in the fall it will begin testing varsity athletes for drugs.
Along with all that, Switzer has junked the I formation, which the Sooners never really learned to run anyway, and reverted to the wishbone. It's a modified 'bone, updated for the passing age by new offensive coordinator Mack Brown, formerly the head coach at Appalachian State. Switzer calls the alignment a "scramble-bone," because the backs "scatter like a covey of quail" before the snap. "The idea is to look complicated and be simple," says Brown, "to shift into passing formations without altering .the simplified blocking patterns of the wishbone."
The Mack attack will be run by Danny Bradley, who, with his 4.41 40 speed, is a natural wishbone quarterback. Eight other offensive starters return, including Tillman, who ran for 1,047 yards in '83. Part-timer Earl Johnson, who had 945 yards, is also back. The defense, seventh nationally last year, lost five players in the first 36 picks of the NFL draft, and two others who started in the USFL. But that still leaves preseason All-America end Kevin Murphy, noseman Tony Casillas ("Feet like a sewing machine," says Switzer) and Keith Stanberry, the best strong safety in the Big Eight. A fourth straight four-loss season would surely cost Switzer his job, but he's safe for now.