Coaching Change Looms At OU

Oklahoma again approaches the end of the football season not with the anticipation of a bowl trip or conference title, but with the feeling a new coach will be running things next year.

John Blake's third year in charge has proved no better than his first two, which were awful. That has prompted widespread speculation Blake will be let go with two years remaining on his contract.

Oklahoma fans are so hungry for a return to glory that, after the Sooners lost to Texas a few weeks ago, it was widely reported a group of heavyweight backers were putting together a package to lure Barry Switzer back.

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  • Swittzer, who led the Sooners to three national titles before being forced out after probation and a player scandal in 1989, has said many times he has no desire to return at age 61.

    While the Switzer rumors have subsided, the speculation hasn't. Jim Donnan of Georgia, Tommy Bowden of Tulane, Mike Bellotti of Oregon, Gary Barnett of Northwestern and Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops are among those mentioned as possibilities to replace Blake.

    Athletic director Joe Castiglione refuses to discuss Blake's future during the season. The prevailing feeling last week was that if Blake was to have any chance f saving his job, the Sooners would need to beat rival Oklahoma State.

    They lost 41-26 while committing 19 penalties for 177 yards. They also lost despite 220 yards rushing by tailback De'Mond Parker, although Parker shouldn't have been surprised. He has topped 200 yards three times in the past three seasons, and Oklahoma is 0-3 in those games.

    A group of student leaders delivered a letter to Castiglione on Sunday saying, among other things, Blake shouldn't be coach any longer. Brad McMullan, president of the University of Oklahoma Student Association, said the students later had a change of heart.

    "Myself, the vice president and the staff are in complete support of John Blake," he said. "The decision on whether to stay should be his or President (David) Boren or the Regents or the athletic director."

    Boren has said all along any decision on coaching changes would be made at the end of the season, after Castiglione was able to make appropriate evaluations.

    He said Monday the coaches and players should be treated with respect.

    "While all of us realize that this has been a difficult season, our student-athletes are working hard to represent our university and they deserve our support," he said.

    Blake was hired in December 1995 to replace Howard Schnellenberger, who went 5-5-1 in his only year in Norman. Schnellenberger had replaced Gary Gibbs, who took over after Switzer and went 44-23-2 in six seasons. But he lost too often to Texas and Nebraska, wasn't popular with the media or fans, and was let go one year after leading the Sooners to a 9-3 finish.

    Gibbs' aloofness and Schnellenberger's old-school ways didn't endear them to their players. Blake is very popular with the players, who continue to back him.

    "I don't think the coach should catch all the blame," senior defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. "Coach has never thrown a block, never made a tackle. It's unfair for him to catch all the criticism. Sometimes you've got to look at the players, and hopefully we're not as bad as our record is."

    Blake, who played and coached at Oklahoma, came to the job after serving as defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He was 34 when he was hired and had never worked as a coordinator at any level.

    But Oklahoma felt the best way to revive the program was through recruiting, and Blake was a strong recruiter.

    He also was endorsed by Switzer. When Blake was introduced as coach, the news conference was attended by perhaps 100 former players.

    But while the Sooners have had solid recruiting classes, they have been in disarray on the field, particularly the offense.

    Blake said when he was hired he wanted a multiple offense, and he hired Texas Tech's Dick Winder to run it. But after two years of inconsistent results, Blake fired Winder and said the Sooners were returning to the option game.

    That has proved disastrous. The Sooners worked on the wishbone extensively during spring pracice and fall two-a-days, but now run out of the I-formation. Brandon Daniels, who was moved from defensive back to quarterback to run the option, is now the No. 3 choice at the position.

    The starting quarterback against Oklahoma State was Eric Moore. He had played the position for three years but moved to receiver in the spring because the coaches didn't feel they could win with him running the offense.

    Oklahoma has outgained six of seven opponents but is ranked 97th nationally in scoring, at 17 points a game. The 19 penalties last weekend raised the season total to 83.

    As a result, Oklahoma is 2-5, Blake is 9-21 and unlikely, it would appear, to get a chance to improve on that next season.

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