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Tramel's ScissorTales: Is ex-Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson in line to be NFL head coach?

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

Less than four years ago, Zac Robinson hadn’t spent a day as a football coach. Now he’s on the fast track to being a head coach in the National Football League. 

The former OSU star was elevated to Los Angeles Rams quarterback coach a couple of weeks ago, and Sean McVay’s upper Rams staff is the ticket to having your own team. 

Four of the other 31 NFL teams are coached by a McVay protégé, plucked directly from the Rams staff: the Packers’ Matt LaFleur, who was McVay’s offensive coordinator in 2017; the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, who was McVay’s quarterback coach in 2018; the Chargers’ Brandon Staley, who was McVay’s defensive coordinator in 2020; and the Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell, who was McVay’s offensive coordinator last season, when the Rams beat Taylor’s Bengals in a memorable Super Bowl. 

“The opportunity Sean has given me to truly run the quarterback room is awesome,” Robinson said on a Rams’ video conference the other day. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.” 

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Former Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson is now the quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams.

Robinson, from the Denver suburbs, became an OSU star in 2007-09. He bounced around the NFL for four years, mostly as a practice-squad quarterback, and never got into a game. 

Robinson became a quarterback trainer in the Dallas area and also became an analyst for Pro Football Focus, a burgeoning analytics company that is having a big impact on the league. 

McVay, himself a prodigy, having been hired as the Rams’ head coach at age 30, has hired a variety of young, inexperienced coaches, and it’s a method that has worked famously. In five years with the Rams, McVay is 55-26, with two Super Bowl appearances. 

McVay hired Robinson as assistant quarterbacks coach. Robinson moved to assistant wide receivers coach in 2020, then back to assistant quarterbacks coach in 2021. 

But when O’Connell got the Vikings job, McVay split his previous duties, hiring Robinson as quarterback coach and Liam Cohen, who had left the Rams for one year at the University of Kentucky, as offensive coordinator. 

Now Robinson, 35, is in the McVay assembly line that seems to be filling NFL head-coaching vacancies. Robinson also has the title of pass-game coordinator. 

“I've been able to be in meetings with Shane Waldron (now Seattle’s offensive coordinator) when he was a quarterback coach, and then seeing Kevin over the last handful of years, learning from those guys,” Robinson said. “Obviously, Sean is so heavily involved with the quarterback as well." 

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Oct 31, 2009; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Zac Robinson (11) throws a pass against the Texas Longhorns at Boone Pickens Stadium. Texas won the game 41-14. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson will be coaching a star quarterback almost as old as he is. Matthew Stafford is 34. They crossed paths in the 2007 season opener, when Stafford quarterbacked Georgia and Robinson was at OSU. But Bobby Reid was the Cowboy QB that game in Athens, Georgia, won 35-14 by the Bulldogs. Robinson became the starter a few weeks later. And when Robinson quarterbacked OSU to a 24-10 victory over Georgia in Stillwater in 2009, Stafford was an NFL rookie. 

So Stafford’s NFL pedigree trumps Robinson’s. But Robinson didn’t shy from questions about coaching such a veteran. 

When asked what the Rams quarterback room could improve upon in 2022, Robinson didn’t flinch. 

“First and foremost, it’s taking care of the football a little bit better,” Robinson said. “That’s what we’re definitely going to emphasize. Ending a play with the ball in our possession.” 

Stafford threw an NFL-high 17 interceptions last season; his interception rate of 2.8 was his highest since his rookie season in Detroit. 

“I think if we can cut down those a little bit, we’ll be a better offense and be more efficient overall,” Robinson said. “But watching our tape from last year and doing our self-scout this offseason, there’s so many little things that can be improved on that we’re going to emphasize with these guys. But overall, just taking care of the football a little bit better.” 

Robinson said his favorite year so far with the Rams, sans the Super Bowl success, was venturing out and working with the wide receivers in 2020. 

“That overall experience was huge, just to grow as a coach and see the different perspective," Robinson said. “Just in terms of being around a different group, always been a quarterback my whole life, always been around that position, but then getting a different perspective, seeing those guys in the run game, the route detail that it takes to execute snap in and snap out, that stuff was so valuable.” 

That wide receiver contingent included Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson. 

"There’s so much value in getting to a different position,” Robinson said. “Seeing that perspective … understanding, these guys can’t just run all day. As quarterbacks, we’re not running a ton. Having the appreciation just how much those guys are working.” 

So Robinson has been anointed. He’s a crown prince. Robinson is not assured of an NFL head-coaching job, but the way the league works, with copycat hirings, he’s definitely in the mix. 

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Embiid vs. Jokic for MVP? 

News broke that Denver’s Nikola Jokic will be named the NBA’s most valuable player, and while Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid originally seemed to be politicking for the honor, he took the high road this week. 

"I'm not mad," Embiid said. “That's two years in a row I put myself in that position. It didn't happen. It is almost like, at this point, it is whatever. Whatever happens, happens. 

“Obviously, congrats to Nikola. He deserved it. He had an amazing season. There's no right or wrong. There was a lot of candidates. It could have gone either way.” 

Embiid is 100 percent right. There is no right or wrong. I have no issue with Jokic winning. I would have had no issue with Embiid winning. And I tend to think Giannis Antetokounmpo likely was the most-deserving winner, because of his incredible defense. 

But we’ve gone down a wrong track. We tend to think of the MVP as more than just an award. It’s become a distinction that identifies winners and losers. Like Embiid somehow lost the MVP. 

That’s nonsense. That’s madness. There is one MVP per year. Not everyone can win it, no matter the greatness of multiple players. 

Jerry West never won NBA MVP. West was runner-up four times, losing to the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, thanks to a variety of special circumstances, Willis Reed. 

Elgin Baylor never was MVP. He was runner-up twice. 

John Stockton never was MVP. Never finished higher than seventh. 

Dwyane Wade never was MVP. He was third in 2009. 

Clyde Drexler never was MVP. He was runner-up in 1992 to Michael Jordan. Is Drexler’s career diminished because he was a contemporary of Jordan? 

Patrick Ewing never was MVP. He was fourth three times. 

Don’t look now, but the NBA is full of great players. And the NBA always has been full of great players. 

In 1962, Bill Russell was voted MVP. And I have no problem with that. Great, great player. Great, great team. Wilt Chamberlain was runner-up; Wilt averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double that season; the Big O placed third in the voting. Baylor averaged 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds; he placed fourth. West, averaging 30.8 points and 5.4 assists, placed fifth. 

There’s only one trophy. There are no right or wrong answers. 

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Saban joins Riley as accused of tampering 

Lincoln Riley isn’t the only coach who has drawn the ire of a colleague over potential tampering. 

Louisville coach Scott Satterfield suggested to 247sports that Alabama had tampered with wide receiver Tyler Harrell, before he entered the transfer portal. Harrell did indeed enter the portal on April 12; 10 days later, he committed to Alabama. 

Riley, who left OU for Southern Cal in November, angered Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi, who reportedly called Riley over wide receiver Jordan Addison, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner. Addison had yet to enter the portal but has since, with a variety of reports that he’s headed to USC. 

Alabama coach Nick Saban denied that the Crimson Tide had violated NCAA rules regarding tampering. 

"We don't tamper with anybody,” Saban told reporters at a golf event in Alabama. 

The latest drama shows the dysfunctional nature of college football in this new world of open transfer (without having to sit out a season) and name, image and likeness, with boosters able to put together financial incentives for recruits and transfers to select a particular school. 

Satterfield told 247 he couldn’t prove tampering with Harrell but suspects it. 

And why shouldn’t he? Of course someone tampered with Harrell. Of course someone tampered with Addison. 

But was that Riley? Was that Saban? If so, there’s no way they would have left evidence. A spoken word, a nod of the head, that’s all that’s needed, and frankly, not even that’s needed.  

Some of the tampering is coming from athletes themselves – that's certainly the likelihood with Addison, who grew up in Greater Washington, D.C., as did USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who followed Riley from OU to Los Angeles. 

Some come from the opposite direction, with a player’s family or representative contacting the school or even an NIL entity. 

Tampering is being alleged because it’s a rule that at least remains on the books, unlike, say, paying players. 

Tampering is a natural response when a program loses a good player. Pitt and Louisville are solid programs but don’t typically have an abundance of superstars. It stings when a special talent jumps to USC or Alabama. 

Saban is more believable than is Riley, who faces a rebuilding job in Los Angeles and needs help immediately. Alabama is perennially loaded, and even if the Tide happened to have a temporary shortfall at a certain position, few believe that would keep the Crimson Tide from its typical dominant season. 

Heck, it’s not like Harrell is the most productive player in college football. He was a sensation for big plays, but he caught only 18 passes last season, for 532 yards and six touchdowns. 

Saban admitted some irregularities are going on. He just maintained that it’s difficult to track. 

"You know, when you have a guy leave your program and go someplace else the day after the game, I don't have any evidence that anything happened and I'm not making any accusations, but it makes you wonder, I guess," Saban said. "But hopefully we have enough honesty and integrity out there amongst us professionally in our sport that people are going to abide by the rules." 

Well, now Saban has gone off the deep end. College football has had little honesty over the years and even less integrity. 

The new landscape will only make things worse. 

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Mailbag: OU softball’s historic status 

The OU softball season continues to fascinate readers. 

Edward: “One would need to go back to the John Wooden UCLA basketball team to find another college team in any sport who has dominated as OU softball has. I thought they might go undefeated this year but are 48-1 with most victories coming by run rule. What are their chances of not only winning another championship but going undefeated the rest of the season?” 

Tramel: I think OU has a very good chance of winning another Women’s College World Series, but I think it’s a small chance that the Sooners win out. I mean, the format is incredibly difficult to navigate – basically four straight double-elimination events. Regional. Super Regional. WCWS bracket. WCWS Championship Series. A year ago, OU lost to James Madison in the World Series bracket and to Florida State in the championship series. Hard to win out. 

And by the way, you don't have to go back to John Wooden to find dominant teams at this point in the season. There are tons of great teams that seemed unbeatable and yet somehow got beat. Nevada-Las Vegas basketball 1991-92. OU football 2003. Finishing matters. It matters a lot. 

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The List: Super Bowl odds 

Sportsbook Bovada has just released its preseason Super Bowl odds, and the favorite will surprise you. It’s not the Rams: 

1. Buffalo 13-2: Amazing that an American Conference team is the favorite, and it’s not the Chiefs. 

2. Tampa Bay 7-1: The NFC is a much easier road for Tom Brady.  

3. Kansas City 10-1: I don’t know. I think I’d pick Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over Josh Allen and Buffalo. 

3. LA Rams 10-1: I guess people believe it’s hard to repeat. 

5. LA Chargers 14-1: Can Staley’s revolutionary analytics pay off? 

5. San Francisco 14-1: Who’s going to quarterback the 49ers? Shouldn’t we know that before we put San Francisco this high? 

7. Denver 16-1: Lots of faith in Russell Wilson. I suppose it’s warranted. 

8. Cleveland 17-1: Huh? Will Deshaun Watson play? Will he be suspended? Will Jacoby Brissett be quarterbacking the Browns most of this season? I wouldn’t touch Cleveland. 

8. Dallas 17-1: The NFC’s relative lack of prowess makes this feasible. 

10. Cincinnati 18-1: Perhaps bettors aren’t believing in a Bengal repeat. 

11. Baltimore 22-1: Way too low. The Ravens are perennially competitive. 

11. Indianapolis 22-1: Man, the AFC has a lot of good teams. Matt Ryan makes the Colts legit. 

13. Arizona 25-1: Lots of drama around Kyler Murray. Lots and lots of drama. 

14. Miami 28-1: These are long odds, and they ought to be, despite the off-season hype. 

14. Philadelphia 28-1: These are long odds, and they ought to be, despite the off-season acquisitions. 

14. Tennessee 28-1: These are long odds, and I don’t understand it. The Titans were the AFC’s No. 1 seed four months ago. 

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17. Las Vegas 30-1: The Raiders are talented but are going on their fourth decade of dysfunction. 

18. New England 40-1: Is the American public losing its attraction to Bill Belichick? 

19. Minnesota 45-1: The Vikings haven’t won two playoff games in a season since 1987. 

19. New Orleans 45-1: The Saints are awfully high on themselves. I don’t see it. 

21: Pittsburgh 60-1: Silliest odds on the list. The Steelers made the playoffs last season and should be better this season. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is an upgrade over the retired Ben Roethlisberger. 

22. Washington 65-1: Somewhere in the rubble of the Commanders’ reputation is the makings of a good team. 

23. Atlanta 100-1: The post-Matt Ryan era begins. Doesn’t figure to be pretty for awhile. 

23. Carolina 100-1: Matt Rhule will be back in college soon. 

23. Chicago 100-1: I like the Bears. I like the old-line franchises. But Chicago is a mess. 

26. Jacksonville 100-1: 1,000-to-1 seems more like it. 

26. NY Jetropolitans 100-1: How did the Jets get to the point where they’re on the level of the Jaguars? 

26. NY Giants 100-1: How did the Giants get to the point where they’re on the level of the Jets? 

26. Seattle 100-1: The Seahawks aren’t trying to win, which always should send the odds soaring. 

31. Detroit 150-1: The Lions actually have more hope than your usual run-of-the-mill derelict franchise. 

32. Houston 200-1: The Texans don’t have more hope than your usual run-of-the-mill derelict franchise. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. 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.