Tramel's ScissorTales: OU football to play up-tempo offense under coordinator Jeff Lebby
Jeff Lebby graduated from OU and got famous for offensive brilliance at Ole Miss, but in truth, Lebby comes from the Baylor family of football. Literally.
Lebby, Art Briles’ son-in-law, was part of the Bears staff when Briles’ offense took college football by storm a decade ago. Those teams quarterbacked by Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty and Seth Russell were known for their super-spread formations.
Often four wide receivers, two to each side, and all four split to almost the sideline. With defenses stretched like David’s slingshot, Baylor often as not would just run the ball through the huge gaps.
Now Lebby is back in Norman, as OU’s new offensive coordinator. Will the Sooners suddenly look like those explosive Baylor teams?
No. Not necessarily, says Lebby. Offenses and defenses evolve, and coaches do, too. A quick scan through Ole Miss highlights from 2021 show plenty of Baylor remnants, but not a ton of the super-spread.
But here is the constant from Lebby’s Waco days. Up-tempo. The Sooner offense plans to play fast.
“We’re going to play incredibly fast,” Lebby said Thursday. “We’re going to push the tempo. We’re going to dictate how the game is played.”
Be still our hearts, says a legion of OU fans, who wondered why the Sooners seemed to slow down in recent years under Lincoln Riley. Particularly in 2021, with the offense descending from orbit. Still productive. Still the Big 12’s best. But not the wild show it had been in the Riley heyday.
And OU played more deliberate. Maybe that’s because Spencer Rattler wasn’t as adept as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts. Maybe Riley was protecting Caleb Williams, since he was a freshman and hardly-versed in such bustle.
Truth is, we never really got much of an explanation from Riley, and we definitely asked. Oh well, that’s far down the line on the Riley mysteries from 2021.
But enough of that. There’s a new sheriff in town, and Lebby says the Schooner will be in a much bigger hurry in 2022.
"The thing that is the constant is the tempo,” Lebby said. “That’s where it starts for us.”
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That means several things are required. A quick-thinking quarterback. Offensive linemen who often must make their own decisions without the center’s signals telling them exactly what to do. Receivers who are in a full sprint for much of their time on the field, even when a play is over.
And the offense has received the ultimate encouragement.
“We’re running a lot of plays in a short amount of time,” said center Andrew Raym. “Even our defense is telling us right now, it’s going to be a defense killer.”
Practices are important. Conditioning even moreso.
“Thinking when you’re tired isn’t always easy,” said veteran receiver Drake Stoops, who was a wee lad when his dad gave then-OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson the green light to go hurryup in 2008, a decision that won Sam Bradford a Heisman Trophy.
“Building up our stamina, competitive stamina, consistently to run routes at a fast pace without as much rest. Being able to get the call, alignment, assignment and be able to run full speed consistently. Builds up over time.”
Lebby figures some of his receivers are running more than they’ve ever run before. He says the Sooners are being “strained” mentally and physically this spring. And the linemen, who don’t have to run as far but by natural selection don’t run as fast, have to keep up, too.
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“First two days, I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty tough,” said Raym. “Legs are feeling like concrete during practice. But we’re doing a lot of conditioning outside of practice on our off-days. I think we’re going to be straight. Three or four more practices and we’ll be used to it.”
It helps that Lebby has a quarterback, transfer Dillon Gabriel, who was with Lebby at Central Florida in 2019. So Gabriel has an idea of what Lebby wants.
But this OU offense could be different from the 2019 Central Florida offense. Just as Riley’s Air Raid transformed over the years, the Baylor super-spread has taken on new mutations.
“We were going to be different than we were last year in Oxford,” Lebby said, referring to had he stayed at Ole Miss, “or two years ago in Oxford, or in Orlando. Again, to me, it’s still all about changing and getting better and changing and being different and finding ways to attack defense every single year.
“There’s going to be a bunch of differences that people notice as we get going, but that’s my job.”
But what people might notice the most is the tempo. The Sooner offense is back to being in a hurry.
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Gundy votes against geographic divisions
Mike Gundy votes against geography when it comes to the eventual Big 12 divisions. Gundy is all for divisions. He just thinks they should not be aligned geographically.
“I’ve looked at it,” Gundy said. “I think what they’re going to have to do is get rid of the geography.”
That jives with what OSU athletic director Chad Weiberg told me months ago, that he believes the majority of Big 12 schools want to keep as much of a presence in Texas as possible. That would mean separating the four Texas schools two and two.
Gundy told me this week he believes the Big 12 eventually could expand to 14 schools, but either way, he’s for divisional breakdowns based on parity, not geography.
Gundy’s anti-geography stance is not based on recruiting or alumni connections or the other things that make the Texas market so attractive to Big 12 schools. Gundy is just thinking equality.
“You want the divisions to be fair, whatever fair is,” Gundy said. “And the only way we can do it is go on history. It’s all we can do.
“So you go on history, and you try to project, how can you make two divisions to where they’re somewhat equal and fair? It’s never going to be perfect. But I think what you’re looking for is, you don’t want the fourth-place team in one division to be able to beat the first- and second-place team in the other. That’s not good.”
Agreed. Gundy was right when he said all you can do is go on history, but what does history tell us? With diverse and mostly-successful programs Cincinnati, Brigham Young, Central Florida and Houston joining the conference, how can you blend in expected-success with the legacy Big 12 programs? Very difficult.
I ran a quick poll of colleagues, gauging their ranking of the football status of the eventual Big 12 schools.
The collective went something like this: OSU, Cincinnati, Baylor, Brigham Young, Iowa State, Central Florida, Kansas State, Texas Christian, Houston, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas.
I would have UCF higher and probably Houston lower, but that’s sort of the point. We don’t really know, do we? Most people list OSU No. 1. I think Baylor. But heck, it could be Cincinnati. And BYU is a total wild card.
Using my informal poll, you could put the five Southwest schools – the Texas quartet and OSU – in a division with either BYU (to form a West) or UCF (to form a South), and you would have teams ranked 1-3-6-8-9-11 (UCF) or 1-3-4-8-9-11 (BYU). Pretty dang equitable.
Of course, the Big 12 could punt on divisional play. Just take the top two teams in football and stage a championship game, ala the current 10-team Big 12.
“Divisions is the way to go, in my opinion,” Gundy said. “I’ve had a couple of extensive conversations with the conference. Believe it or not, they call me now for info, because I’ve been around forever. But that was my suggestion. There’s still talk about not doing it.”
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Shaheen Holloway’s OSU connection
When St. Peter’s beat Kentucky, and then Murray State, to become the darling of March Madness, the Peacock coach’s name kept nagging at me.
Shaheen Holloway. Sounded familiar. Like I should know it.
And finally I figured it out. Holloway, who played at Seton Hall, missed one of the biggest games in Pirate history. The 2000 Sweet 16 game against OSU.
Holloway was a Seton Hall senior in 2000. A point guard who had been recruited by the likes of Duke. A four-year starter who averaged 13.2 points and 5.6 assists per game for his career.
And in March 2000, Holloway was an NCAA Tournament hero. His coast-to-coast layup gave Seton Hall a 72-71 victory over 10th-seeded Oregon in the first round. Then the Pirates faced second-seeded Temple in the second round. But in the first half of that game, Holloway drove to the basket in transition but stepped on the foot of Temple star Pepe Sanchez. Turns out, the gruesome ankle injury was the final play of Holloway’s college career.
Seton Hall persevered and stunned Temple in overtime, 67-65.
Five nights later, in Syracuse, Seton Hall played OSU in the East Regional semifinals.
The Cowboys survived 68-66. Desmond Mason had 16 hard-earned points. OSU big men Fredrik Jonzen and Brian Montanati each scored 15, battling Seton Hall shot-blocker Samuel Dalembert.
The OSU point guard who Holloway would have been matched against was Doug Gottlieb, who had a monster game – 12 assists and two turnovers.
The Pirates’ other backcourt players, Darius Lane and Ty Shine, made just 11 of 40 shots. Lane was 2-of-18 from 3-point range, which would be a ghastly total today and was from another galaxy 22 years ago.
"It was really heartbreaking," Chris Collins, then a Seton Hall assistant and now Northwestern’s head coach, told ESPN about Holloway. "He'd really carried that team. He was the leader of that team. To not be able to play in that game. I know how much that hurt him.”
Holloway recovered from that ankle injury and bounced around international basketball and the American minor leagues. He went into coaching in 2007 as an Iona assistant, then spent eight years as an assistant at his alma mater and has coached St. Peter’s for four seasons, where he has a record of 63-56 despite perhaps the most meager resources in the Metro Atlantic Conference.
Maryland just hired Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. Holloway is expected to succeed Willard at Seton Hall.
But first comes Friday night, 15th-seeded St. Peter’s against Purdue, the East Regional semifinals in Philadelphia. Twenty-two years after he deserved to be there, Shaheen Holloway has made the Sweet 16.
Thunder hasn’t always stunk at 3-point shooting
The Thunder is the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting team, with a percentage of .318. And this Thunder team is the worst 3-point shooting team in OKC history. Which is saying something.
This Thunder team has a few success stories. Mike Muscala made 42.9% on 3-pointers, before his season ended. Isaiah Roby has made an encouraging 41.5%. Czech rookie Vit Krejci, in 21 games, has made 41.2%. Rookie Tre Mann has made 36.1%.
But Luguentz Dort has made just 33.2%, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just 30%, Darius Bazley just 29.6%, Ty Jerome just 29%, Theo Maledon just 26.8%, Aleksej Pokusevski just 26.4% and rookie Josh Giddey just 26.3%.
The Thunder’s status as a poor 3-point shooting team seems eternal. But it is not. There was a time when OKC actually could make a shot.
Here are the 14 Thunder teams, ranked by ability to score from deep:
1. 2012-13: The Thunder’s best team, its only 60-win season, also was its best collection of shooters. OKC shot .377 on 3-pointers, third in the league. Supersub Kevin Martin shot .426. Thabo Sefolosha had his best season, making 41.% and took 3.2 deep shots a game. Kevin Durant made 41.6%. Even Russell Westbrook shot an acceptable (for him) 32.3%.
2. 2013-14: Another great Thunder team, and good shooters — .361 from deep, 14th in the NBA, one of only three OKC teams to finish in the upper half of the league. Caron Butler was a late-season addition and made 44.1% on 3-pointers (anyone remember that?). Durant shot .391, Derek Fisher .384 and Serge Ibaka .383.
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3. 2011-12: The NBA finalists shot .358 from deep, 11th in the league. Thabo made 43.7% from deep, on limited attempts (man, Sefolosha was a good player!). James Harden made 39% and Durant 38.7% . How times have changed. That team took 20 3-pointers a game. The current Thunder takes 37.5 per game.
4. 2019-20: The Chris Paul team made 35.5% from deep, solid but still only 17th in the NBA. Danilo Gallinari made 40.5%, Dennis Schröder a stunning 38.5% and CP3 36.5%. Even off the bench, Muscala made 37.8% and Abdel Nader 37.5%.
5. 2017-18: The Carmelo Anthony team made 35.4%, 24th in the NBA. Paul George made 40.1% (what a player PG-13 was and I assume still is, when healthy). Off the bench, Patrick Patterson shot .386 and Alex Abrines .380. Carmelo made 35.7% on high volume. And of course, by this time, Westbrook was high volume and sub-.300 — .298.
6. 2015-16: The star-crossed final Durant team shot .349, 17th in the NBA. Durant and Anthony Morrow each shot .387. Then it dipped quickly. Dion Waiters made 35.8 percent, followed by Ibaka at .326. Westbrook was at .296.
7. 2018-19: The final George (and Westbrook) team made 34.8%, 22nd in the league. Jerami Grant was a breakout 39.2% deep shooter. PG shot .386. Terrance Ferguson even made 36.6%. But Schröder was at .341, Markieff Morris at .339, Patterson at .336, Abrines at .323, Nader at .320 and Westbrook .290.
8. 2010-11: The first Western Conference finalist team was 19th in the NBA, at .347. Daequan Cook (who was a little ahead of his time) made 42.2%. Eric Maynor shot .385. But Durant (.350) and Harden (.349) were below what became their standard, though that was countered by Westbrook making .330. Green (.304) and Sefolosha (.275) were off, too.
9. 2008-09: The initial Thunder team made 34.6%, good for just 28th in the NBA in those days of far fewer shots. But second-year pros Durant (.422) and Green (.389) shot fantastically. But get this. Only eight Thunders took more than four 3-point shots the entire season. Of that group, Westbrook ranked fifth on the team, at .271. Man, the game has changed.
10. 2009-10: The Thunder’s first playoff team averaged just 15 3-point shots per game. Crazy. OKC made 34%, 25th in the league. Harden made 37.5%, as a rookie, and Durant 36.5. Maynor was solid, too, at 36.2. Everyone else, not so much. Green 33.3, Thabo 31.3, Westbrook 22.1.
11. 2014-15: The injury-marred season, in which tons of people played, but Durant was limited to 27 games. The Thunder shot .339, 23rd in the league. Morrow was great off the bench, with a percentage of .434. Durant made 40.3%, Ibaka 37.6 and even Kyle Singler 37%. But Waiters took 160 deep balls and shot .319. Westbrook took 288 and shot .299. Reggie Jackson, in his angry season, took 158 and shot .278.
12. 2020-21: The Thunder was 29th in the league, at .339. Six years earlier, OKC shot .339 and was 23rd. Teams are getting better. Kenrich Williams (.444), Jerome (.423) and Gilgeous-Alexander (.418) were great. Muscala (.370), Al Horford (.368) and even Dort (.343) were solid. But the Thunder had four players take at least 100 3-pointers and make less than 31 percent — Justin Jackson (.306), Roby (.294), Bazley (.290) and Pokusevski (.280).
13. 2016-17: The Westbrook-MVP year was a 3-point wasteland. The Thunder ranked last in the NBA, at .327. Westbrook (.343) actually outshot the team average by a healthy margin. Abrines (.381) and Grant (.377) were good. Doug McDermott (.362) and Victor Oladipo (.361) helped the percentage. But Domantas Sabonis (.321), Cameron Payne (.308) and Andre Roberson (.245) dragged down the production. Even Morrow was off, making just 29.4%.
14. 2021-22: The Thunder is shooting an abysmal .318. That’s eight percentage points from Detroit, which is next to last. The Thunder is on pace to be the NBA’s worst shooting team since the 2015-16 Lakers, who made 31.7% and had only five players above 30%.
Mailbag: Memphis as a Big 12 candidate
My Thursday ScissorTale item on possible Big 12 expansion drew response from a variety of precincts, primarily the University of Memphis.
Patrick: “I wish you would do more research before you post your articles. True, the U. of Memphis doesn't own its basketball and football arenas. This is because it is better from a fiscal standpoint to allow the city to build and maintain these facilities. Which frees up millions for other projects. Very few if any college-owned basketball arenas can match the FedEx Forum. The Tigers are playing in a top NBA level arena and pay $0.00 toward construction cost and upkeep. While the football stadium is an older stadium, it is structurally sound with great sightlines. It's being constantly being upgraded with amenities being added using revenues generated by a local tourism zone, with the (university) responsible for little or none of the operating cost and upkeep. The city has also built a large area surrounding the stadium for use in tailgating. Including electrical hookups and large green common area for pregame recreational activities. And the UofM still has access to the stadium 50 out of 52 weeks every year. Since the UofM is operating with revenue levels far below those of P5 schools, it is fiscally wise to allow the city and the Grizzlies to bear the responsibly for operating and upkeep of these arenas.
“As far as other facilities, I would put the new football and basketball practice facilities up against any Group of 5 schools and over half of the Power 5 schools. And we're not taking into account upcoming upgrades to softball, baseball and soccer facilities on the south campus. Or the planned athletic center where athletes find services and facilities for academic, training and social needs. By the time all expansion is completed the UofM will be able to match athletic facilities with many current members of the Big 12.
“(Cincinnati’s) Nippert (Stadium) may have lots of pretty bells and whistles, but it's 110 years old and undersized. (The Liberty Bowl) is half that age, is adding the bells and whistles and has capacity to hold Power 5 level crowds. Tigers may not ‘own’ it, but has final approval power on any changes and control of video boards.
“When recruits come in, they're more influenced by practice facilities than stadium. These facilities have Memphis second only to UC in (American Conference revenues) in football and top five nationally annually in basketball.”
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Tramel: I gave Patrick a lot of space, more than usual, to make his case, because I found his information quite interesting.
But I still don’t see Memphis as attractive to the Big 12, and the facilities are Reason A. If Memphis is starting a project that will get it on the Big 12 fringes, what will the Big 12 fringes be when those facilities are finished? The arms race is a moving target.
Memphis does not have its own football stadium or men’s basketball arena. That is not good. That is not good at all.
Here are the schools that have been invited to the Big 12 in the last decade or so, and their commitment to the big facilities.
Houston: new football stadium, completely renovated basketball arena.
Texas Christian: new football stadium, completely renovated basketball arena.
Brigham Young: Power-5 level football and basketball arenas already.
West Virginia: No new coliseums, but a rabid fan base that historically draws 55,000 for football games.
Cincinnati: Renovated football stadium, traditional basketball arena with a rabid fan base.
Central Florida: New football stadium.
There is a common denominator. The schools that have heavily invested in themselves have been rewarded.
That is not the Memphis story. Memphis’ case appears to be, we don’t own a football stadium or basketball arena, so there’s no upkeep costs. What kind of argument is that?
FedEx Forum is a fabulous facility. I’ve been there many times for NBA games. But FedEx Forum is a detriment to Memphis' cause. Its women's basketball team doesn't play there. That matters a lot and sends a message that no league wants. And scheduling for the conference is a total hassle if a school doesn't control its arena. No league minds coordinating schedules around its men's and women's teams. No league wants to coordinate schedules around a men's team and a 41-date NBA team.
The Liberty Bowl is an antiquated stadium with few redeeming qualities. A colleague compared it to a smaller Cotton Bowl, which is not a compliment. Cincinnati’s Nippert is older but has been renovated. Nippert is undersized, but that's not the issue it once was. Both TCU and Baylor built new stadiums in the last 10 years, and both are in the 40s in capacity.
Memphis' football attendance, at least judging from the numbers, is not terrible. There’s potential there. That would not be a detriment. The football interest is something to build on, and of course the basketball interest is top-rate.
I'll take Patrick’s word for the practice facilities. But I'm telling you, even with FedEx Forum, not playing in your own arena is a huge issue.
I actually like the city of Memphis. I think it's potentially a good Big 12 fit. But the basketball arena is a major problem, and the football venue is a virtual non-starter.
Right now, if the Big 12 expands, and Memphis gets in, it would be only because there was no other school to consider.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.