It was a chaotic and joyous gathering, and we aren't talking
about the raucous crowd of Oklahoma players, coaches and fans
celebrating after the Sooners' 41-31 upset of No. 2 Kansas State
last Saturday at KSU Stadium. We're referring to a get-together
that took place in the Oklahoma football offices back in Norman
three days earlier. Wednesday night is family night for the
coaches, and at around 7 p.m. the offices were overrun by
spouses and rug rats.
There was coach Bob Stoops's four-year-old daughter, Mackenzie,
gathering courage to reach into a bowl of Halloween candy guarded
by a disembodied hand, like the one in The Addams Family. (She
finally sneaked up from behind and got some candy.) Wide
receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. dandled Jaxson Hayes, the
five-month-old son of tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. (Spurrier
needs the practice: He and his wife, Melissa, are expecting
triplets next year.) In the hall co-defensive coordinator Brent
Venables competed against his nine-month-old son, Jake, in a
series of crawling races. The festivities also included a pair of
During the partying, one of the wives asked, "What do you think
they're doing in Manhattan tonight?" Said another, "Probably not
having a family dinner."
The reference was to Manhattan, Kans., a.k.a. the Little Apple,
home of Kansas State, where Stoops and three of his assistants
put in a combined 28 years of service under the brilliant, driven
coach Bill Snyder. Stoops left his post as the Wildcats'
defensive coordinator in 1996 to fill the same role at Florida
and helped the Gators win the national championship that year.
After the '98 season he was hired as coach at down-on-its-luck
Oklahoma. In an act of grand larceny that enraged Wildcats fans
and injected Tabasco into a hitherto bland rivalry, he raided
Snyder's staff, luring away Venables and Bob's brother Mike, now
the other Oklahoma defensive coordinator, and Mark Mangino, the
Sooners' offensive coordinator. Of the three defections, that of
Venables, a former Kansas State linebacker, was most hurtful to
Wildcats fans and Snyder, who had offered him the same job title
he would share at Oklahoma.
For a hint as to why these men left Kansas State, consider this
statement made by Snyder at the Big 12 media day last summer:
"Most of you understand, my time is spent with football, and
that's an 18-hour day. The rest of the time is spent with
Hypothetical dialogue between Snyder and his wife, Sharon.
Bill: Hi, honey. I'm home.
Sharon: Hello, dear. Do you want dinner now, or should we wait a
few minutes until Letterman is over?
Who says Snyder, who expects his assistants to put in the same
hours he does, is a humorless workaholic? This is a man who
consulted a hypnotist in an attempt to get by on fewer than four
hours' sleep per night, a man who became upset when the Wildcats
were served pats of butter before a game rather than the
margarine he'd specified. Before the Wildcats shared a charter
flight to Japan with Nebraska in 1992 for a conference
championship game, Snyder figured out on which side of the plane
the sun would rise and sought to seat his players on the opposite
side. Snyder is very funny; he just isn't intentionally funny.
While all the former Kansas State coaches on the Oklahoma staff
express deep respect for their old boss, none deny that one of
the main reasons they left him was to reclaim some semblance of a
normal life, to see more of their families. Their familiarity
with their old program served them well on Saturday. After the
Wildcats broke their huddle at the Sooners' 14-yard line,
trailing by 10 points with a half-minute to play, Venables
immediately began screaming, "Watch the tight end screen!" Kansas
State ran a tight end screen, which the Oklahoma defense
summarily blew up, with freshman cornerback Derrick Strait making
the tackle for an 11-yard loss. On the game's final play, a pass
by Wildcats senior quarterback Jonathan Beasley was intercepted,
wrapping up the victory for the eighth-ranked Sooners and
snapping the nation's longest home winning streak at 25.
While Snyder, who took over at Kansas State in 1989, is rightly
lauded for bringing a dreadful program to life, he's now 1-19
against Top 10 opponents. Stoops and his staff now also must be
given credit for pulling off a rebuilding job. They inherited a
program that had lost 27 of its previous 44 games and was
populated by players lacking fitness and cohesion. "There was no
leadership," says Venables. "There were a million factions. It
was us versus them, me versus everyone else, everyone for
In fewer than two seasons Stoops has restored a level of glory
Oklahoma hasn't enjoyed since it was coached by the lantern-jawed
gent hanging out on the sideline during the game and by the
visitors' dressing room afterward. "I can't believe we only
rushed for 11 f---ing yards!" said Barry Switzer, grinning. "If
we ever rushed for 11 yards when I was here, we'd have got our
Oklahoma rushed for 11 yards because senior quarterback Josh
Heupel took what the Kansas State defense--ranked No. 1 in the
country coming into the game--gave him. The Wildcats often put
nine men on the line of scrimmage and blitzed on almost every
down. It seemed like a sound plan. Here's why it didn't work:
Heupel has been blitzed ceaselessly by every team the Sooners
have faced since he became the starter at the beginning of last
season, fresh out of Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah. His
father, Ken, has coached at Northern State, a Division II school
in Aberdeen, S.Dak., for 14 years, so Josh was breaking down film
before he began breaking out. The guy reads blitzes in his sleep,
but teams keep coming at him, because that's how you're supposed
to play defense against a guy who wants to pass on almost every
"It's kind of a race," says Heupel. "Can you get rid of the ball
before you get hit?" He could on all but four occasions last
Saturday. Shuffling laterally or stepping forward, he bought time
in the pocket. He threw dump-offs, he found his safety valve, he
subjected Kansas State, in Snyder's words, to "slow death." Time
and again he shushed the Wildcats' notoriously boisterous crowd,
chipping and chiseling his way to 29 completions on 37 attempts
for 374 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Beasley was less patient, preferring to throw bombs, and why not?
It had worked in Kansas State's first six games, which it won by
an average score of 51-10. Of course, the opponents in those
games, which included Iowa, Louisiana Tech, Ball State and North
Texas, are a combined 10-28. As Venables and Mike Stoops told
their players all week, "Kansas State hasn't seen a defense like
ours all year." The first of the six keys on Oklahoma's defensive
scouting report read: "We must stop and contain No. 18 Beasley.
Every part of their offense goes through him."
Beasley is most effective when he can scramble and freelance. By
keeping him in the pocket, for the most part, the Sooners forced
him into his worst outing of the season: 14 for 36 with two
interceptions. His best play of the day was a ho-hum four-yard
completion to senior wideout Quincy Morgan at the right sideline
with 12:39 left. But Strait was caught in a corner blitz, and
Morgan broke a tackle and outran Sooners defenders for a 69-yard
touchdown that brought the Wildcats to within 14 points. Two
minutes later Kansas State blocked an Oklahoma punt and ran it
into the end zone, whittling the lead to seven. Like the dark
clouds overhead, the Wildcats were threatening. The crowd was
Kansas State intercepted a halfback pass on the Sooners' ensuing
drive but was forced to punt after three plays. Heupel then
methodically drove the Sooners 47 yards to set up the 24-yard
field goal that put the game out of reach with 3:27 left. Heupel
has now thrown for more than 300 yards in 11 of his 18 starts at
Oklahoma. With his superb play for the last two weeks--he threw
for 275 yards in a 63-14 rout of then No. 11 Texas on Oct.
7--Heupel has inserted himself into the Heisman race. More
important, he has helped vault the 6-0 Sooners to No. 3, their
highest ranking since 1988, which makes their Oct. 28 game
against top-ranked Nebraska a much bigger showdown than it
figured to be before the season started.
All week Oklahoma's coaches with Kansas State ties had insisted
that they bore no grudges against the Wildcats. The scene on the
field after the game affirmed that. Venables embraced a half
dozen of his old players. Mangino kibitzed with one of his
favorite Wildcats, linebacker Warren Lott, whispering to him,
"There's still a lot of football to be played. We might see you
guys again in December" in the Big 12 title game. The Stoops
brothers sought out and embraced Snyder.
It turned out that Venables, Mangino and the Stoopses didn't
really need the security escorts who had been assigned by
Oklahoma. "These are classy fans," Bob Stoops said. "I didn't
hear an insult all day." He presumably didn't see the signs
disparaging him, the wittiest being STOOPID IS AS STOOPID DOES.
Then he was off on a rescue mission. Darkness had fallen, but
Heupel was still on the field being passed from one television
crew to the next. Stoops walked down and issued an order:
"Interviews are over. He needs to be with his family."
guy reads blitzes in his sleep.
top-ranked Nebraska a much bigger showdown.