For a lot of staffs, it never gets better than those first few months on the job. That’s not to say things always get bad from there, but those early months are an extended honeymoon period.
First of all, you haven’t played a game yet, which means you haven’t lost a game yet. Everything and everyone still has that new car smell, when you’re watching film to figure out how you can tinker with the pieces the previous staff left behind while also looking elsewhere to the players you can find to bring the program back to glory.
And then there’s the other factor: since most of these changes happen in the middle of the school year, Mom and the kids often don’t join Dad at the new job until months later.
Combine those two things and you have a bunch of men in their 30s and 40s living in a football-themed frat house.
And boy was this ever the case in the early days of Bob Stoops’ tenure at Oklahoma.
Coming off a 5-6 season, Oklahoma hired a 38-year-old with zero head coaching experience to turn around a blue blood program mucking through the worst decade in program history. To help him, Stoops hired a legendary staff: Mike Stoops and Brent Venables were his top two defensive lieutenants, future Kansas head coach Mark Mangino was his offensive line coach, former Sooner quarterback Cale Gundy served as his running backs coach, and Mike Leach served as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Much of those early days was spent at a Residence Inn in Norman, where most of the staff spent their nights watching film, drinking beer and smoking cigars. Leach did not partake, but not because of a personal stance against tobacco. No, he and defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp simply preferred dip.
Once their time at the Residence Inn ran its course, half the staff moved into actual homes, while the rest lived in their offices, working into the night before collapsing on an air mattress on the floor of their offices, as Leach described to a banquet audience Sunday night at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“It was actually a pretty fun time. At some point, morning would hit,” Leach said, via The Oklahoman. “The cleaning lady got there real early. Like 6. Mine was the first office. I don’t know how she didn’t get this sorted. I should have had a do-not-disturb thing or whatever. All of a sudden, she’d open the door every day and scream. Every day. Every single day, there was somebody sprawled out on the air mattress there, and she’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here.’
“After about three days of that, I said, ‘You know, I’ll be here tomorrow.’ But it didn’t make any difference.”
This group of coaches acting out the football version of Old School before Old School actually existed would turn a sub-.500 Sooner team into national champions within 20 months on the job, while Leach would go on to revolutionize the entire sport of football by popularizing the Air Raid offense. And they were living like vagabonds.
What a magical time, indeed.