Oklahoma Sooners Football: The 10 Most Important People in the Program
After a disappointing 2011 season, finishing 9-3 with an Insight.com Bowl invitation instead of living up to preseason BCS title-favorite hype, the Oklahoma Sooners have some work to do for next season.
As fans, we spent all season pointing fingers and placing blame wherever we could think to place it: head coaches, assistant coaches, injuries, weather, players' effort, attitudes and even their haircuts.
Well, the season is (almost) over and the mistakes that were made have already been made. There is no use in piling on any more blame.
Rather, let's look ahead. When times are tough, we look to leaders to help pull us out of the rough patches.
Here are the 10 most important people in the program, including those that will be looked upon to help bring OU football back to the top.
Since Bob Stoops walked on campus in 1999, the program has been on quite a roll, making it a tight squeeze in the trophy case.
If we are going to start doling out credit, we have to start at the top.
University president David Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione were responsible for bringing in Stoops and have given him every tool he needs to run one of the top programs in the country.
The two set up the football program as its own separate business entity, a unique situation that allows it to thrive on its own revenues and donations instead of begging Regent boards full of stuffy professors for funding.
The stability of having Boren and Castiglione in place for so long is a luxury most schools do not get to enjoy and helps give the program a leg up on most of the competition.
Head coach Bob Stoops took a little heat this year after tough losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State. Some fans were even calling for his head!
Contrary to those "fans," however, Stoops isn't going anywhere.
He has proven that he has what it takes to win and is the unquestioned long-term solution at head coach.
Stoops' best quality, even in the face of multiple conference titles and BCS games, is his integrity. He has shown that in a difficult situation he is not afraid to make the right decision.
His zero tolerance policy has kicked several players off the team, even if he knew it would have an impact on the field (think Rhett Bomar). Compared to the hot water that Ohio State, USC, Miami and Penn State are boiling in right now, this quality is often overlooked.
Jerry Schmidt, Oklahoma's strength and conditioning coach, followed Stoops to Norman from Florida in 1999 and has been in charge of running the players ragged ever since.
His summer conditioning programs are as legendary as they are feared by the players. One thing is for certain, however, the players are never gassed at the end of a game.
The recent run of injuries has dented his reputation a bit but Schmidt is recognized as one of the best at his job in the country. His loyalty to Stoops has helped the program maintain important consistency at the position and will be pivotal to future success.
Merv Johnson's fingerprints can be found all over the Oklahoma program. He began his career at OU with a 19-year stint as an assistant coach from 1979-1997. Merv helped produce 19 All-Americans, seven bowl victories, five conference championships and the 1985 national championship.
He was honored in 2002 as an inductee to the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Johnson left the sidelines in 1998 and moved into an administration role. His official title is "Special Assistant to the Athletic Director," but Merv is much more than an assistant today.
He coordinates off the field activities for players, runs the walk-on program, sets up on-campus recruiting activities, acts as the pro-scout liaison and, amidst all that, does color commentary for the local broadcast.
He his pictured above with close friend Bob Barry Sr., the "Voice of the Sooners" for more than 50 years who recently passed away.
Oklahoma's anchor for the offense next season will be senior center Ben Habern, an eventual four-year starter.
He has had two major injuries during his career (ankle in 2009, forearm in 2011) that have cost him partial seasons, but when he is on the field he leads the show.
His presence will be needed next season for a team who's leadership was called into question several times this season. The likely-team captain will be asked to assume such a role.
If he remains healthy, keep an eye out for Habern to be on award short lists at the the end of next season.
Kenny Stills will be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver next year and will also be looked to for leadership amongst a relatively young receiver unit.
He showed big-play ability early in the season with monstrous games against Florida State and Texas, but had trouble maintaining that level as the year went on. A key third-down drop against Baylor sticks out as his low-light of the season, epitomizing the Sooners' post-Broyles struggles.
His first two years have been very productive, however. Stills is only 16 receptions and 203 yards behind Ryan Broyles at this point in his career and has all the ability to surpass the Sooner legend.
Tony Jefferson will have plenty of pressure on him next year being the most talented member of a secondary that got shredded this season.
He started his career off with a bang, earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010. Even though he improved his stat line this season, Jefferson's credibility took hit after hit as Baylor and Oklahoma State passed up and down the field.
While the secondary's woes were far from Jefferson's fault alone, he will be looked to to right the ship and help lead the defense next season.
Tom Wort will join Tony Jefferson next season as two of the most experienced members of the defense.
Wort will have big shoes to fill at MLB as Travis Lewis leaves the program, but his experience gained in the two previous seasons will make Tom an able leader.
The MLB in a Stoops defense calls the shots for the front-seven while regularly recording 100+ tackles in a season. If Wort excels in his new role, he could go down as one of the greats in a long, rich line of Sooner linebackers.
The Jimmy Stevens era is (finally) over at OU and Michael Hunnicutt, a true freshman this year, proved he is ready to take over kicking duties full time.
Hunnicutt went 20-23 this season with a long of 53 yards against Kansas State and a handful of 40-yarders to go along with it.
Sometimes a team is only as good as their kicker (ask Kellen Moore!) so Hunnicutt will play an important role over the next three years in Norman.
Young Wide Receivers
Juniors: Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks,
Sophomores: Kameel Jackson, Justin McCay
Freshman: Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal, Derrick Brooks
The 2012 Sooners will feature only one senior in the skill position unit (WR, RB, TE) and walk-on transfer running back Dom Whaley isn't high on experience himself.
The Sooners have been stockpiling talented receivers over the 2010-2012 recruiting classes and now that the offense's go-to Ryan Broyles is no longer a Sooner, the depth chart is wide open.
Kenny Stills will likely be the No. 1 guy next year, but after that the position battles will be heated during the offseason.
Jaz Reynolds showed off his impressive hands this season, but the only consistent aspect to his game was his ability to get in trouble. Guys like that don't last long under Bob Stoops.
Trey Franks displayed his athleticism on end-arounds, kick returns and catching balls in 2011 and will hopefully play a bigger role on the team in 2012.
Kameel Jackson, a freshman this year, is the only other receiver to record a catch on the 2012 roster. Fellow freshman Justin McCay was talked up before the season, but never saw the light of day. His 6'2", 209-pound frame make him the largest of next year's receiver crop, however.
The 2012 recruiting class has four receivers in it so far. Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Derrick Brooks are all four-star recruits with a chance at catching balls next year. 6'6" 220-pound Dorial Green-Beckham is the nation's top receiver prospect and reportedly has the Sooners in his final three.