Jeff Capel is a good basketball coach.
“Good” will cut it in just about any profession, just not Capel’s. Good coaches get fired every season and some in this state believe now is the time for a change in leadership of the Oklahoma program.
Capel’s detractors have a case. The Sooners finished the season last night with a 20-point loss to Texas and an overall record of 14-18. For the first time in 46 years, OU has posted back to back losing seasons.
Capel’s squad will also miss the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year. The Sooners haven’t been left out of the dance two years in a row since 1994.
There was a brutal string of nine straight losses at the end of last season. At one point this year, OU dropped eight in a row and wound up losing nine of its last eleven.
The Sooners have fallen close to the cellar in the Big 12 conference. Only Iowa State finished lower than OU in the standings, and ten of the Sooners conference losses were by a margin of ten points or more. It isn’t just that Capel’s team was losing, it’s that his team wasn’t even consistently competitive. It looks worse for OU when you look at recent history against the top teams in the conference. The Sooners have now dropped four in a row to Texas, four in a row to Texas A&M, and six straight to Kansas.
Critics also love to point out Capel’s recruiting history. Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin, and Tiny Gallon were all McDonald’s All-Americans and were supposed to be the next wave of Sooner superstars. They were going to pick up the slack after the departure of Blake Griffin, and continue to keep the program in a position of prominence. Warren played two seasons and bolted to the NBA. Mason-Griffin skipped town after only a year and was quoted in the Houston Chronicle saying, “School work was just not in my comfort zone.” Gallon also left Norman after his freshman season amidst allegations that he and his mother received $3,000 from a financial adviser. OU assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro was rumored to be connected to the adviser and the NCAA launched an investigation into Taliaferro’s actions.
Although Capel recruited these players and got them on campus, there was very little chemistry within the team. Their departure has set the program back and unfortunately for Capel, there are no big names in next year’s recruiting class. A bare cupboard doesn’t translate into much hope that the Sooners will turn a corner next season.
The Capel defenders are asking for one more year. The question is can OU afford to wait one more year and experience more of the same. Granted, Oklahoma is not Kansas or North Carolina or Kentucky. It will never be a “basketball” school. However, it is a program with a solid tradition of winning. An annual NCAA tournament appearance is expected from the Sooner faithful and it’s not an unreasonable expectation. It is going to be difficult for the program to bounce back from two straight losing seasons. Three dismal seasons in a row could do serious harm not only to recruiting, but to the fan base, and the ability to attract another top tier coach.
Jeff Capel is more than a good coach. He’s a good family man, and a good role model. Some circumstances at OU have been out of his control, but at the end of the day all that matters is wins and losses. OU President David Boren and Athletic Director Joe Castiglione are in a difficult spot. It is an unenviable position to be in, but those two men have a pretty good track record and they’ll make the decision that’s in the best interest of the program. Capel will know soon whether “good” is good enough.