When Oklahoma Coach Gary Gibbs arrived at Owen Field in Norman last Saturday afternoon, he was neatly attired in a madras sport shirt and khaki pants. Gibbs's players trailed behind, decked out mostly in crimson sweat suits, as they passed calmly through a knot of clamoring fans. None of the players sported earrings, and each had been tonsorially tamed. "After we've been through rapes and drugs and guns and probation," said standout defensive tackle Scott Evans before the game, "we'd be reinforcing a bad image if we showed up in hats and camos [camouflage outfits] and boots and ripped T-shirts like we used to."
Meet the new Sooners. They dress in sport coats on the road and are supposed to be in their rooms before midnight. They play on TV, something they couldn't do last year because of NCAA sanctions. They even pass on first down. They also swarm defensively, run their option with abandon and can hang half a hundred on the scoreboard just as they used to—and just as they did Saturday in burying Pitt 52-10. The 42-point margin of victory was Oklahoma's biggest ever over a ranked team, and it followed a season-opening 34-14 pasting of highly regarded UCLA in L.A.
The Sooners are still on NCAA probation for violations committed under Gibbs's predecessor, Barry Switzer, and they can't appear in a postseason game. What's more, they must make do with 80 instead of 95 scholarship players.
Against Pitt, though, Oklahoma didn't seem to be hurting for talent or depth, particularly on offense. Led by fullback Kenyon Rasheed, who gained 122 yards on 13 carries, and tailbacks Ike Lewis (110 on 14 carries) and Dewell Brewer (107 on eight), the Sooners piled up 460 yards on the ground. And quarterback Steve Collins directed four touchdown marches, each of which included big-gain plays.
September 23, 1990
After the game, Gibbs hardly sounded like a coach who thought his squad was national championship material. "We can be a good football team, not a great team, not a dominant team," he said. "We don't have dominant players. We don't have a Brian Bosworth, a Tony Casillas, a Rickey Dixon, a Keith Jackson. Want me to continue? I don't. It brings up memories you can't replace."
Maybe Gibbs can't replace the memories, but he's still expected to return Oklahoma to the top. In 16 seasons at Oklahoma, Switzer won 83.7% of his games and three national crowns, but a litany of NCAA rules violations, coupled with several off-field incidents involving his players—including a rape, a shooting and quarterback Charles Thompson's conviction on cocaine distribution charges—led to his resignation in June 1989. The thrust and parry of allegations continue. Bootlegger's Boy, Switzer's autobiography, is a best-seller (page 19), and Thompson's Down and Dirty: The Life and Crimes of Oklahoma Football is due soon. "The old argument you get visibility from the football team is true," says OU president Richard Van Horn. "But if that visibility is negative, it's not a good argument."
Enter the new coach. A former Sooner linebacker who earned an MBA in Norman, the 38-year-old Gibbs initially wanted to pursue a career in accounting. Instead he went into coaching, and as a member of Switzer's staff ended up coordinating the defense, which three times finished No. 1 nationally.
Switzer and Gibbs couldn't be more different. Whereas Switzer was a man-about-town, Gibbs stays close to his home and his Tom Clancy novels. Whereas Switzer bounded out to midfield with the players before games, Gibbs peels off at the five-yard line and blends into the crowd on the sideline. Whereas Switzer was a proponent of personal expression, Gibbs says his nine-year-old daughter will have to battle to get her ears pierced.
Finally, whereas Switzer still has loyal followers around Norman, many of whom sport THANKS BARRY T-shirts, Gibbs will have to win to gain converts. The Sooners' 7-4 finish last season was their worst since '69. Last week Gibbs acknowledged that establishing hair and dress codes for the team wouldn't guarantee the sort of success the state expects. "We might not do it in our lifetime," he says. But, he adds, "if I was a head coach somewhere else, I'd do things the same way."
To some Sooners the make-over has been a welcome departure, to others, a difficult adjustment. When Evans was asked a few years ago what he hoped he would never have to do, he responded, "Cut my hair." It's trimmed now. "I had a problem with trying to kiss up to the public," says Evans. "Now I realize we have to do it."
Says cornerback Darnell Walker, "We are kind of under surveillance. But we know it's in our best interest."
Pitt went west with its own new look. Paul Hackett, 43, the Panthers' offensive coordinator last season, replaced Mike Gottfried as head coach near the end of the year and installed the high-tech ideas (he tripled the size of the playbook) he brought to Pitt from his NFL years as an assistant with Dallas, San Francisco and Cleveland. The Panthers began the season with easy wins over Ohio University and Boston College, but Hackett knew those two teams were a far cry from Oklahoma.
What the Panthers were missing Saturday was any offensive continuity and a solution to the Sooners' I-formation option. Oklahoma had opened its first two series against UCLA by throwing, and Pitt was prepared when Collins took his first snap, faked run and faded back with 13:09 to go in the first quarter. Nonetheless, wing-back Otis Taylor cleared the cornerback, gathered in Collins's floater and went 71 yards into the end zone. Not even the hoariest Oklahoman could recall when the Sooners had scored that early in the game through the air.
The Sooners moved with ease, especially the powerful Rasheed on up-the-gut blasts and traps. Rasheed, brought up a Muslim, enrolled at Oklahoma even though during a recruiting visit the Sooners served him pork, which he doesn't eat, and even though Oklahoma has a scarcity of pass plays to the fullback, which he loves. On Saturday, Rasheed, whose surname means "the wise one who follows intelligent guidance," shrewdly steered his size-16 feet through sizable holes, where he gathered followers and dragged them forward. "People get tired of tackling 230-pound backs," said Rasheed. "Eventually, they get kind of passive."
Which is when the Oklahoma offense gets active.