NORMAN — Where does Oklahoma go from here?
The fact it is looking for a new basketball is odd enough. Jeff Capel was linked to job openings elsewhere in 2008, 2009 and 2010. It makes the fact he was fired Monday after five seasons even more surprising.
Players certainly didn’t see it coming.
“He’s the perfect guy for this program. I came here to play for him. I wanted to play under coach Capel,” point guard Carl Blair said after OU’s loss to Texas in the Big 12 tournament. “I don’t even want to think about what it would be like if coach left.”
But Capel knew he was on shaky ground coming into the season.
The Sooners went 13-18 in 2009-10 with a team that included three McDonald’s All-Americans — guards Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin and forward Tiny Gallon. After all three turned pro following the season, his program was left in a lurch.
In an e-mail obtained by The Transcript in its investigation into former assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro’s relationship with a Florida-based financial planner who gave a $3,000 loan to Gallon, Capel laid out his concerns to members of his staff.
“As you know, this program is in a very bad place right now. We have made many mistakes in recruiting, and it showed its head this season in many ways. We have had so much turnover since we have been here that it left (us) in a position where we really did not have any upperclassmen. Now, we will lose many guys from this year’s team, and recruiting is not going as I anticipated. Also, how our guys conduct themselves when they get here, our reputation on campus, and in the community has taken a severe hit.”
The conduct issue appeared to have been cleansed this past season. No players missed any games due to bad off-court behavior this season. But whoever OU gets to replace Capel will still be in a very tough spot when it comes to finding the players who will lead a Sooner resurgence.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione admitted it will take time for whoever he hires to rebuild.
“We’re not a program that’s ever going to take shortcuts. We want to build it right and we want to build it to be strong and to be sustainable in the future,” he said. “It’s not just our program’s ability to be successful, but the fans that we have, for them to embrace the characteristics of the program so that they’re in place year after year.”
Cade Davis was the only senior on the roster this past season. OU will only have two seniors on scholarship — C.J. Washington and Nick Thompson — next season. It will once again be a very young team.
The Sooners, who went 14-18, made some strides this season. By winning their regular-season finale and a game at the Big 12 tournament, next year’s squad might actually have some momentum. This year’s squad was coming off nine straight losses to close out the 2009-10 season.
Finding players will be a task. The overwhelming majority of elite prep players elected to sign with schools back in the early signing period in November. Only 12 of the prep players currently listed in Rivals.com’s top 150 have yet to sign letters of intent.
The Sooners only have one player — junior college forward Robert Goff — signed to come in next season. There’s also the chance some of OU’s current players might transfer.
Castiglione said he would keep players up to date on the coaching search in hopes of avoiding that scenario.
“We communicate with them as best we can and encourage them to stay committed to our program and committed to their responsibilities,” Castiglione said. “The student-athletes that go forward with us, we’ll let them know when we’re ready to announce the hire. As I’ve always done, I’ll get the new coach in front of the team before they make any public appearance.”
OU is on spring break this week and most of the players had left campus when Capel’s firing was announced.
There’s also the possibility the Sooners could face NCAA sanctions due to the mess created by Gallon’s loan. It’s been nearly a year since news of the loan first broke. There still hasn’t been a resolution on the matter.
The program faced recruiting restrictions left behind by former coach Kelvin Sampson when Capel took the job in April of 2006. Capel’s successor may face new restrictions.
Castiglione gave no timeline for the hiring process. The spring signing period doesn’t begin until April 13. If a coach is hired in the next few weeks, he would have time to get somewhat settled and have most of his staff in place when the contact period begins April 7.
No hints were given about potential candidates.
Several names have come up recently due to state ties (Marquette coach Buzz Williams), OU’s previous coaching search (Miami coach Frank Haith and Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma) or familiarity with the conference (Nebraska coach Doc Sadler).
Then again, when Castiglione hired Capel, he took a shot on a 31-year-old coach who was on nobody’s radar, at least around here.
Castiglione only gave a very broad answer when asked what he’s looking for.
“The easiest way to say it is: the best fit for the University of Oklahoma (who) best represents our values and the skill set to lead this program in its pursuit of championships,” he said.
John Shinn 366-3536 firstname.lastname@example.org