Tramel's ScissorTales: Mark Stoops-John Calipari feud at Kentucky warning for OU in SEC

·17 min read

Kentucky is a basketball school. There was a time when no one really argued otherwise.

That time is gone. And the foremost champion of Kentucky’s rising football status is none other than UK football coach Mark Stoops.

How saucy is Stoops over the Wildcats’ football fortunes? He’s willing to enter a public spat with basketball coach John Calipari.

Welcome to the Southeastern Conference, where if there’s no opponent to spar with, you look no further than your very own campus. Beware the SEC, Sooners. The collegial relationship among coaches of all sports on campus isn’t guaranteed when you enter the lion’s den of conferences.

When Calipari, in the Bahamas with a UK basketball tour, campaigned for a new practice facility/museum/Taj Mahal, he emphasized that Kentucky “is a basketball school.”

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Kentucky coach Mark Stoops celebrates with his players after routing Louisville last season. MATT STONE/Louisville Courier Journal
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops celebrates with his players after routing Louisville last season. MATT STONE/Louisville Courier Journal

In case you didn’t know by now, the Stoops of family of Youngstown, Ohio, can get a little feisty. And Mark Stoops did.

Twelve minutes after Calipari’s original comment hit Twitter, Stoops fired back: “Basketball school? I thought we competed in the SEC? #4straightpostseasonwins.”

Oh my. What a world, when the Kentucky football coach feels empowered to take on the Kentucky basketball coach.

Try that at Kansas and see where it gets you. Try that at Duke and you’ll be walking funny.

But in the Bluegrass, football is rising, basketball has slumped and fans are rallying behind the youngest of the Stoops brothers.

Mark Stoops figures to tie the Kentucky football coaching record for career victories when the Wildcats host Miami-Ohio on September 3. Stoops could break the record on September 10, when UK plays at Florida.

Of course, it’s not a monumental record. Stoops has 59 wins since arriving in Lexington for the 2013 season. Bear Bryant’s record of 60 was set in 1953. Sixty-nine years ago.

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But Stoops has produced 10-win seasons twice in the last four years (2018, 2021), the Wildcats have four straight bowl wins and Kentucky is ranked 21st in the coaches poll released this week. The Associated Press poll will be released Monday; the Wildcats have cracked the AP preseason poll just once since 1957, a No. 15 slot in 1978.

Meanwhile, Kentucky basketball is coming off a 9-16 record in 2020-21 and a first-round upset loss to St. Peter’s in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Of course, Stoops is grading on the curve. Kentucky basketball has eight NCAA championships, 17 Final Fours, 33 SEC championships and 2,355 victories.

“This is a basketball school,” Calipari said in Nassau, Bahamas. “Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. But this is a basketball school.”

Calipari is right. But what he doesn’t acknowledge is that any university that’s a basketball school would rather be a football school. Even if no one admits it.

If conference realignment has taught us anything, it’s the preeminence of football. Football drives the economic boat for administrators and the passion boat for fans.

Truth is, there are few basketball schools left. Let’s see. Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, Duke, I guess North Carolina, maybe UCLA. Maybe Arizona. Plus the Big East schools, which either don’t play football or plays in a lower division.

Stoops apparently is making Kentucky rethink its priorities. Time was, whatever Calipari wanted, Calipari got. But now he wants to replace UK’s 10-year-old practice facility with something else and senses pushback.

Maybe he feels too much of Kentucky’s resources are headed to the gridiron.

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Tensions between big-time coaches on the same campus occasionally bubble. Usually from successful basketball coaches who covet the adoration and resources afforded to football. Billy Tubbs and Kelvin Sampson struggled with that kind of resentment at OU; Lon Kruger did not. But Tubbs and Sampson never let their frustration rise to the surface.

Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart tried to walk the tightrope between football and basketball.

“We understand what Kentucky basketball means to this institution, what Kentucky football means to our department and this institution, and frankly to the people of this state," Barnhart told the Louisville Courier Journal. “The expectation level that it’s at a high level, so we’ll always keep examining those things."

Kentucky has a decent history of losing quality football coaches. Bear Bryant to Texas A&M. Blanton Collier to the Cleveland Browns. UK’s best gameplan has been hiring older coaches who might stick around to retirement, like Rich Brooks and Jerry Claiborne.

But Stoops has stayed; this is Year 10 for him at Kentucky, and he’s winning, and he’s building up constituents and he’s fueled a rising superiority complex among the gridiron camp.

Current cornerback Vito Tisdale tweeted “Y’all crapp,” at Calipari. “We run the bluegrass, yall boys went out first round to saint peters.”

Former UK punter Max Duffy tweeted, “Completely out of the blue question but has the Kentucky football team ever lost to St. Peters?"

That’s hitting below the belt. And the answer is no, the ‘Cats never have lost to St. Peter’s, which does not field a football team. But Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky in Stoops’ UK debut in 2013.

Doesn’t matter. They have short memories in the SEC, which is how national-championship winning football coaches get fired when said title is not too far from shore.

Another valuable lesson for the Sooners, who soon will be keeping such company.

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Tinker Owens glad he chose OU

Joe Washington once joked to Tinker Owens that he never dropped a ball.

No kidding, Owens said. “I’m afraid if I do, (Barry) Switzer won’t throw another pass.”

In the 1970s, receivers had to capitalize on every opportunity. Owens did just that.

We continue our series on Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame inductees by looking at the remarkable Sooner career of Owens, who played at OU from 1972-75 and had 62 catches.

Owens made the most of them.

Those 62 receptions accounted for 10 touchdowns and 1,424 yards, a whopping average of 23 yards a catch.

Put Owens in the 1990s, when Cale Gundy brought OU’s offense into the modern era, or the 2000s, when the Mike Leach Air Read produced eye-popping numbers, or the 2010s, when Lincoln Riley turned OU into a Heisman Trophy factory for quarterbacks, and Owens’ hands would have been calloused from catching so many pigskins.

But Owens played in the wishbone, which meant he rarely got more than two passes a game his way.

“It would have been a lot more fun as a receiver, to get more touches, but that wasn’t the way the wishbone works,” Owens said.

“I’ve always said I would have rather played in a wishbone offense and won games.”

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Owens certainly won. In his four seasons, the Sooners went 43-2-1.

“I played with great players, obviously,” Owens said. “That was good enough.”

Heck, Owens wasn’t Switzer’s only great wide receiver. In 1973, OU recruited Billy Brooks. For three years, Owens and Brooks shared the wide receiver duties in the wishbone, which allowed for just one split end. In the 1976 NFL Draft, Brooks (24 career OU catches) was a first-round pick, Owens a fourth-round pick.

Owens and Brooks were big-play receivers. Brooks averaged 25.0 yards per catch.

“It would have been a lot of fun, obviously, to be a true receiver,” Owens said. “But I had a good career at OU. Didn’t catch a lot of passes, good average, I guess.

“My job was more to block and be a decoy than catch the ball. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Owens recalls four pass patterns in the entire OU playbook. A go route, deep down the middle. A corner route. A slant. An out pattern.

Offensive coordinator Galen Hall dialed up some reverses for Brooks and Owens. Even a reverse pass. But mostly it was wishbone left and wishbone right.

Coming out of Miami High School in far northeastern Oklahoma, Owens was heavily considering Arkansas, even though his brother, Steve, was the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner for OU.

“I was going to sign with Arkansas,” Tinker Owens said. “They were passing at the time.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play a lot anyway. I didn’t know if I’d make first team, second team, third team or turd team.”

Owens was an all-state defensive back at Miami. That’s mostly what the Razorbacks recruited him as.

“Steve kind of swayed me at the end,” Owens said. “‘I’m going to kick your butt if you don’t go to OU.’”

Tinker Owens listened to his brother. He signed with OU and wouldn’t change a thing.

“Sure glad I chose Norman, Oklahoma, as my destination,” Owens said. “It was just a great experience.”

Even if the Sooners didn’t have many plays for the receivers.

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The List: Heisman Trophy odds

The Heisman Trophy odds are out, and the usual suspects are at the top. Ohio State, Alabama and OU quarterbacks. A Lincoln Riley quarterback.

Here’s the list, according to sportsbetting.ag:

1. 3-1 C.J. Stroud, Ohio State quarterback: Buckeyes are tied with OU and Notre Dame for the most Heisman winners, with seven each.

2. 7-2 Caleb Williams, Southern Cal quarterback: Focus on what you have, OU fans, not what you don’t have.

3. 5-1 Bryce Young, Alabama quarterback: Amazing. The incumbent Heisman winner, at a place like Bama, is only third on this list.

4. 25-1 Dillon Gabriel, OU quarterback: The Sooners have gone three straight seasons without a Heisman-winning QB. Oh the humanity.

4. 25-1 Tyler Van Dyke, Miami quarterback: The Hurricanes’ two Heisman winners both were QBs – Vinny Testaverde in 1986 and Gino Toretta in 1992.

4. 25-1 Devin Leary, North Carolina State quarterback: Do you know the confluence of events that would have to occur for an N.C. State quarterback to win the Heisman?

4. 25-1 Will Anderson Jr., Alabama quarterback: Anderson placed fifth in the 2021 Heisman voting.

8. 33-1 Bijan Robinson, Texas tailback: A big-play man for the Longhorns could easily become a contender.

8. 33-1 D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson quarterback: Uiagalelei had the second-best odds, 7-1, in the 2021 preseason Heisman odds.

8. 33-1 Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama tailback: The Crimson Tide did not have a Heisman winner before 2009 but is making up for lost time, with four.

11. 40-1 Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State wide receiver: In 2020, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith cracked the code for receivers to win the Heisman.

11. 40-1 TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State tailback: Going to be hard for a Buckeye other than Stroud to win.

12. 50-1 Anthony Richardson, Florida quarterback: Quite ballyhooed for a guy who was a backup last season to a mediocre QB (Emory Jones, since transferred to Arizona State).

12. 50-1 Hendon Hooker, Tennessee quarterback: Played quite well for Josh Heupel last season; 31 touchdown passes, three interceptions.

12. 50-1 Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss quarterback: Not particularly effective last season as a freshman starter at USC.

12. 50-1 Quinn Ewers, Texas quarterback: Hyped recruit who went to Ohio State as a freshman, cashed in big on name, image and likeness, then transferred back home.

12. 50-1 Will Levis, Kentucky quarterback: Hard to see Levis as a potential candidate. UK does not have a prolific offense.

17. 66-1 Braelon Allen, Wisconsin tailback: Ran for 1,268 yards as a Badger freshman.

17. 66-1 Brennan Armstrong, Virginia quarterback: Played well as a junior last year, with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

17. 66-1 J.T. Daniels, West Virginia quarterback: Daniels played reasonably well as a true freshman at USC in 2018 and as a pandemic QB quarterback at Georgia in 2020. Can he keep the AB rotation going?

17. 66-1 K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas quarterback: A breakout star last year, with excellent passing (21 touchdowns, four interceptions) and 664 rushing yards.

17. 66-1 Spencer Rattler, South Carolina quarterback: The 2021 preseason Heisman favorite. Man, what a year since then.

17. 66-1 Stetson Bennett, Georgia quarterback: Strange. The defending national champion quarterback has 66-to-1 odds to win the Heisman. Very strange.

23. 75-1 Spencer Sanders, OSU quarterback: The preseason all-Big 12 quarterback is only fourth on the Heisman odds list among Big 12 QBs.

23. 75-1 Bo Nix, Oregon quarterback: Transfer from Auburn was up and down with the Plainsmen.

23. 75-1 Devon Achane, Texas A&M tailback, & Max Johnson, Texas A&M quarterback: Seems odd for teammates to have the same odds. Quarterbacks almost always have the edge.

27. 100-1 Cameron Rising, Utah quarterback: Former Texas recruit (and OU commit) might be the best bet on this list. The Utes are a darkhorse for the College Football Playoff, and Rising was a breakout star last year.

27. 100-1 Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State: Another good bet. What if Vaughn unleashes a 2,000-yard season?

27. 100-1 Haynes King, Texas A&M quarterback: Two Aggies quarterbacks on the list?

27. 100-1 Jordan Addison, USC wide receiver: Biletnikoff Award winner at Pittsburgh has made waves at USC, for all the wrong reasons. If Addison has a huge year, Caleb Williams will have had a huge year and be in much better shape to win the Heisman.

27. 100-1 Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh quarterback: Transfer from USC was really good as a 2019 freshman but regressed each of the last two years.

27. 100-1 Will Rogers, Mississippi State quarterback: Mike Leach quarterbacks historically have not fared well in Heisman voting.

46. 150-1 Adrian Martinez, Kansas State quarterback: Transfer from Nebraska could be sneaky good.

46. 150-1 Blake Shapen, Baylor quarterback: Sixth on this list among Big 12 QBs.

46. 150-1 Collin Oliver, OSU defensive end: Excellent recognition for the Cowboy sophomore. Not many defensive players on this list.

46. 150-1 Jaren Hall, Brigham Young quarterback: Hall has another season of eligibility in 2023. Will he ever see the Big 12?

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Mailbag: More Cale Gundy

The Cale Gundy scandal remains at the forefront for OU fans, and many of them are not letting go of the social/political ramifications.

Don: “I am not all worked up about Gundy resigning as a longtime coach at OU. However, as a retired manger for a big corporation, I have been through many RCA (Root Cause Analysis) training sessions for over 30 years.  I realize Venables was in a tough situation, he had to make a decision that would help the team. But the most important thing when solving a problem is to determine what caused the problem, which is the root cause.  If you don't identify the root cause then it will happen again. The root cause of this issue is that a football player has the n-word on his iPad. That is what started the whole thing, which caused Gundy to say the n-word many times to make a point for the football player to pay attention. I am assuming the football player was Black, or otherwise the situation would have gotten much more complicated. I guess it is OK to have the n-word written on a football player’s iPad but cannot under any circumstances a coach say the same words that are written. What would have been an acceptable response by Gundy, to say the n-word one time, or not say it at all? Unfortunately, so far it appears that it is OK that a football player is allowed to have an iPad during meetings with the n-word on their screen? Venables said being transparent is important, but he has not said how he will address the root cause, only how he will punish someone that reacts to the root cause. The root cause was not addressed, but I hope it works out for Venables and hopefully he doesn't get worked up and say anything that will cost him his job. He is a good coach, but kind of high strung, so I am hopeful that he controls his temper, just like he expects everyone else to do.”

Tramel: If you want to be analytical, the root cause of this story was not the words on a screen. The root cause was the lack of attention by a player.

And the incessant focus by OU fans of the discipline for said player is fascinating. I have little doubt that the player was disciplined. Just like players by the dozens are disciplined every single day for the same infraction.

The wording on the screen is a volatile element of the story, sure. And for all I know, that was part of the discipline.

I had a basketball coach reach out to me and said he would make everyone on the team run sprints if he heard the word uttered even in the slang usage that is popular in the African-American culture. But he certainly didn’t dismiss anyone from the team.

If people can’t make that distinction, they are in the clutches of anger, ignorance and fear.

Sure, it would be much better if the word goes away forever, by people of every color. But a 19-year-old college kid is not the same as a 50-year-old coach making $600,000. The former is in the process of growing up. The latter is charged with helping that process.

Big difference. Big, big difference.

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Panhandle State returns 17 starters

Bob Majeski likes to encourage his Panhandle State football team.

“We always preach to ‘em, at some time, you’re not going to be playing college football anymore,” Majeski said. “So you better take advantage of it as long as you possibly can.”

Someone is enjoying the experience in Goodwell. The Aggies have 17 starters returning.

“I think they enjoy the experience, academically and athletically,” Majeski said.

Not that those 17 starters are guaranteed those jobs in 2022. Majeski’s staff has brought in 70 new players.

We conclude our series of state-college football previews, finishing with Panhandle State.

“We try to recruit really, really hard,” Majeski said. “I know that sounds like a cliché answer, but we just go do it.”

Panhandle has maintained a level of competitive balance in the NAIA. The Aggies went 4-7 last season after going 3-5 in 2019 (2020 was wiped out by the pandemic). But Panhandle was 6-5 in 2018 and 7-3 in 2017.

That’s a four-season record of 21-20.

“Right now, everybody’s very, very optimistic across the United States, as are we,” Majeski said. “The thing is, like everyone, we have to stay healthy. The young kids need to step up to the difference between high school and college football.”

Majeski said the Aggies will build around quarterback Brandon Stephens (Greenville, Texas), wide receiver Jaishone Brown (Jackson, Mississippi), linebacker Kameron Dickerson (Denver) and defensive back Ja’Quavion Daniels (Terrell, Texas).

“All across the board, it gets down to, every team has talent,” Majeski said. “Some version of it. The big thing for us is going to be No. 1 staying healthy, and No. 2, how quickly everyone becomes a team.”

2022 Panhandle State football schedule

Aug. 27 Friends 6 p.m.

Sept. 3 at Langston 6 p.m.

Sept. 10 at Texas Wesleyan 6 p.m.

Sept. 17 Texas College 6 p.m.

Sept. 24 at Lyon College 6 p.m.

Oct. 1 Louisiana Christian 4 p.m.

Oct. 8 Wayland Baptist 2 p.m.

Oct. 15 Southwestern Assemblies of God 2 p.m.

Oct. 29 at Arizona Christian 7 p.m.

Nov. 12 Ottawa-Arizona 2 p.m.

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. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Mark Stoops-John Calipari feud at Kentucky warning for OU in SEC