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Focus on the intangibles

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Several weeks ago I received a call from a sportswriter asking me how I thought the Oklahoma Sooners were going to do this season. It seems that he, and many others for that matter, were predicting great things – even so much as a trip back to the national championship game – for the Sooners.

I told him I really liked Oklahoma’s chances for a very good season. I felt that the entire program had been humbled last year and that the Sooners would be hungry to make amends for last year’s shortcomings. They had the nation’s best returning running back and a defense that would make sure they were in every game. Most importantly, they returned their starting quarterback, a prerequisite, I believe, to having a championship team.

However, it was this last factor – a returning starting QB – that gave me the most concern as to whether the Sooners would be able to compete for the title.

I always have said that one of the keys to a championship football team is a veteran quarterback who is a great leader and a great decision maker. If you look at the quarterbacks that head coach Bob Stoops has had at Oklahoma – Josh Heupel, Nate Hybl and Jason White – all had those intangible characteristics. Not one of them proved to be a big-time NFL talent, but they all had those special intangibles that I like to call “it.” And because of it, they led Oklahoma to some of its finest years ever.

However, as I evaluated the current quarterback situation at Oklahoma, I began to have reservations about Rhett Bomar. Although he was one of the most talented high school quarterbacks in the country when he was recruited, something else just didn’t seem right.

It wasn’t so much that he was a somewhat reckless quarterback on the field who often played by the seat of his pants. I figured time could take care of that. More than that it was the poor decisions he kept making off the field. Twice since September he had been cited for underage drinking in public. There also was a party he hosted that had gotten out of hand. I’m not saying any of these things makes him a terrible kid, but they did reflect on his leadership and ability to make good decisions.

You see, I don’t think leadership is a one-time thing. I think it’s an all-the-time thing.

Anyway, I told that writer a few weeks ago that Bomar would have to show me that he had improved his decision-making skills before I could put Oklahoma back into the championship picture. I told him there just seemed to be something different between him and the type of quarterbacks that Bob Stoops had made a killing off between 1999 and 2004. We were just going to have to wait and see.

Well, I don’t guess we’ll ever get that chance. As most everyone knows, Rhett Bomar was dismissed from the team for yet another poor decision. This one, however, proved monumental.

I think there’s a lesson here for Stoops and every other head coach in college football (including former head coaches like me). Yes, you have to recruit the best talent if you are going to be successful. You have to have the most talented tailback and the most talented defensive tackle and the most talented cornerback. However, when it comes to quarterback, first and foremost you had better make sure he has the intangibles.

Footnote: Oklahoma has named Paul Thompson as its starting quarterback going into the season. He was the starter going into last year, and he is a great character kid. He just needs to prove that he is an accurate enough passer. Incidentally, for all you Oklahoma fans who may worry that I am projecting gloom and doom, if the Sooners get by Oregon at Autzen Stadium and Texas in the Red River Shootout, they should be favored in every other game this year.

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