This is the best editorial for Oklahomans by Oklahomans.


justin brotton - Sunday, February 01, 2009

By Darl DeVault

The University of Oklahoma Football Team’s success culminated with a National Championship last month.

The University of Oklahoma Football Team’s trip to the national title game after a mid-season loss reflects a tradition steeped in hard work and the will to prepare. Preparation is everything, as OU’s first coach in the modern era, Bud Wilkinson, preached. That tradition has afforded the school its prominence as the most successful major college program in the country since WWII.

The Sooners traveled to play in the FedEx Bowl Championship Series (BCS) title game on Jan. 8 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Fla., where they played the No. 2 Florida Gators.

Sooner Head Coach Bob Stoops’ teams were 109-23 before the game in January, with a national title and 6 conference championships in 10 seasons. The 10 teams compiled a 60-2 home record under his guidance, the most wins in the nation during that period. Oklahoma extended its national-best home winning streak to 24 games. Last year was the fifth time a Stoops-led OU squad won 12 or more games.

The University of Oklahoma Football Team’s success last season reflects a tradition steeped in hard work and the will to prepare. Preparation is everything, as OU’s first coach in the modern era, Bud Wilkinson, preached. That tradition has afforded the school its unqualified prominence as the most successful modern-era, major college program in the country. In wins and winning ways, the Sooners have led the way in many changes in college football, and now stand astride the modern era as the best program.

Stoops’ staff handles every aspect of college athletics well. His decade at the helm has earned him the privilege of firmly putting his stamp on the Bob Stoops era. This success, following the Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer eras, thrills Oklahoma football fans as they have come to expect the excellence the team displays.

Last year’s Sooners became the highest-scoring team ever in major college football, surpassing Hawaii's NCAA-record 656 points set in 2006. Oklahoma averaged 54 points per game to lead the nation. The team’s 702 points included five straight games of more than 60 points, becoming the first in 89 years to accomplish that feat.

Their Heisman Trophy winner, 6-foot-4, 218 lb. QB Sam Bradford, led the nation with 48 touchdown passes. The redshirt sophomore led a senior-dominated team by throwing those TDs to break the 40-TD school record Jason White set in his Heisman season. Bradford’s best-in-nation passer rating (186.3) translated into 4,464 yards as he capably directed the Sooners' newly installed fast-paced, no-huddle offense. He was voted college football player of the year by The Associated Press to add to his Davey O'Brien Award as the best QB.

Bradford was the third athlete to win the Heisman without receiving the most first-place votes. He, Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung in ‘56 and Billy Sims in ’78 are the only athletes to pull that off.

”We are fortunate and blessed to have a quality guy like Sam, how he handles himself and how he has developed. I think coach (Josh) Heupel deserves a lot of credit, along with Sam’s hard work on the fundamentals,” Stoops said after his sophomore quarterback’s Heisman selection. “You just watch him – how good he is in the pocket, his footwork, never throws the ball off balance, his release – he has worked hard and coach Heupel has worked hard with him.”

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson won the Broyles Award in December as the top assistant coach in the country. Stoops said that Wilson has been important in Bradford’s development with his play calling. He pointed out how coach Wilson’s play calling helped by mixing things up and that Wilson, along with coach Heupel, did a great job with Bradford.

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Bradford was a three-year starter at QB for the Putnam City North Panthers. His dad Kent, a Sooner tackle from 1975-78, and his mother, Martha, encouraged their only child to play sports. He redshirted his freshman season at OU, working on the scout team for the Sooner defense.

Last year, Bradford carved up the competition with uncanny accuracy to win almost every award available to a college quarterback, including Academic All-American to go with his many other All-American selections.

Under the watchful eye of OU Quarterback Coach Josh Heupel, Bradford developed into the nation’s best pocket passer. He displays the patience to find the open receiver and the ability to throw the accurate pass, especially near the end zone. The sophomore passing sensation notched a school-record eleven 300-yard games, with a high point of scorching conference foe Kansas for 468 yards. Bradford was in a good rhythm by Oklahoma's 52-26 victory over Cincinnati last year. In the third quarter, he threw 12 strikes out of 13 attempts for two TDs and 168 yards.

Bradford threw to a stable of sure-handed receivers. Throwing short, intermediate, and long with equal precision, he was careful in his selection of open receivers, only throwing six interceptions all year. His primary receiver, wideout Juaquin Iglesias, picked up 1,092 yards last year. Other wide receivers, tight end Jermaine Gresham, and multiple running backs caught their fair share.

"Playing in the national championship is something we've talked about all three years that I've been here, and we've yet to do that," Bradford said soon after winning the Heisman. "So to have that opportunity... it's really exciting. Me and my teammates are really ready to get down there."

Oklahoma won seven straight games after losing to Texas to earn a berth in the national championship game. The 12-1 squad scored 45 points or more in each game after Texas, winning by a combined score of 419-205. The Sooners moved up one spot to No. 1 in the BCS by beating Missouri 62-21 in the Big 12 title game for its third-consecutive Big 12 Conference Championship.

OU has the best college football program in the modern/post-WWII era. The stats more than speak for themselves. The Sooners have amassed the highest combined regular-season and post-season winning percentage in NCAA Division I since 1946. The Sooners have the most wins, most national titles, and most weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and BCS in the modern era. Seniors on the 2004 team finished their careers playing in three BCS bowls. Last year’s seniors did that again.

Putting this success into historical perspective focuses OU’s uncanny ability to recruit talented athletes and prepare them by surrounding them with the best coaching. Early 20th century head coach Bennie Owen (Owen Field namesake), OU’s first of four 100-game winners, started a winning tradition. OU is the only major college to have four 100-victory coaches. Stoops joined Owen, Wilkinson and Switzer this year.

Former head coach Bud Wilkinson, who started coaching at the beginning of the modern era (post WWII), pioneered many successful regimens that are still in place today. One of the primary methods of good preparation for success is exhaustive recruiting to bring in the best talent each year. Wilkinson built a 31-game and historic NCAA record 47-game win streak. His teams went an equally amazing 72 conference games without a loss in the ‘50s. He laid the foundation of this dynasty by recruiting twice as effectively as other coaches of the day.

In those days, coaches only wanted to find the best at each position. Wilkinson wanted to find and recruit the best and second best at each position. Recruiting twice as productively as his contemporaries, the legendary coach expected to field a squad that would allow him to play his first and second team with little drop-off in talent and success.

During most of the games in Wilkinson’s era his first team started the game, only to turn the game over to his second team to play the second quarter. Out of the locker room his ‘starters’ began the second half, and because OU was usually ahead, the second team played the fourth quarter. Fresh legs every quarter and similar talent level produced many NCAA records.

"If you have the will to prepare, things will usually work out quite well, and the will to win will take care of itself," Wilkinson said during his career at OU.

That preparation paid off in building a dynasty of 13 consecutive conference championships and many individual awards for his athletes. After winning the 1950 national championship, Wilkinson recruited and coached running back Billy Vessels to the Heisman Trophy in 1952.

The late Bill Connors, former Tulsa World editor, said in 1998 that Vessels was the most complete athlete he ever saw play in person. Connors went on to explain that Vessels’ hard hitting on defense put two opposing players in the hospital when they played in Norman. They were unable to return to their schools with their team, making their way back early the next week.

Later, by the mid-‘50s, the national press were attuned to Wilkinson’s success but could not be counted on to understand his special platooning of his first and second team. This accounts for several odd vote totals in national awards.

The teams prospered in winning the ’55 and ’56 national titles, but sometimes athletes were shortchanged in individual awards. They did not get to play enough to compile statistics comparable to stars on other nationally ranked teams. A good example was how close Tommy McDonald came to winning the Heisman in ’56.

Close? As close as Tim Tebow came last year as the reigning Heisman winner. Tebow received 309 first place votes, to winner Bradford’s 300, but only took third. You have to go all the way back to McDonald’s third place in the ’56 Heisman voting to find a scenario where the most first place votes only meant third place.

Complicated, sure, but easily explained when you realize Wilkinson worked hard to recruit and prepare his first and second teams for equal playing time. This strategy propelled Oklahoma to 93 wins in the '50s, playing only 105 games. The Sooners' .895 winning percentage from 1950-59 is the highest of any decade.

Good recruiting is critical to college football preparation. Wilkinson traveled farther to recruit than many written accounts depict. He went to Albuquerque, New Mexico to land McDonald, and it paid off. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster is still the only player to ever lead the Sooners for a season in all four offensive categories. In '55 and '56 he was the top rusher on the country's best rushing team. In '55 he led in passing (throwing the halfback pass) and scoring. He was the first Sooner to score a TD in every game of a season, as OU led the nation in scoring with 36.5 points a game. He led in receiving in '56. He still leads OU running backs in all-purpose yardage with 9.31 yards per play.

His National Football League career was a huge success as well. The most receptions for a five-year span and a 12-year career allowed McDonald to be enshrined in 1998 in the NFL Hall of Fame as the only NFL player to win every game in college in a three-season career.

During Switzer’s era at OU, he was often described as a masterful recruiter. He brought Joe Washington, Sims and Marcus Dupree to campus. Having landed Troy Aikman to pass OU to success, Switzer’s exhaustive recruiting allowed the Sooners to never miss a beat when Aikman went down with a broken leg. Switzer turned around to the bench to find new recruit and Southern California State Champion QB Jamelle Holieway. Holieway won that state title running a wishbone offense.

This is how Switzer won his third national title in ’86, watching an offense he installed run to perfection by the true freshman. Holieway is still the only true freshman to quarterback an NCAA Div. 1 team to a national championship.

Switzer put his stamp on his era by winning three national championships and coaching two Heisman Trophy winners. He was Steve Owens’ position coach in ’69 and head coach for Sims’ win in ’78.

Lee Roy Selmon is Switzer’s NFL Hall of Famer, while Stoops coached several athletes who may reach the hall. Tommie Harris is playing at that level, while several others are among the NFL’s best at their position.

This will to prepare and take this year’s national championship game seriously was evident in interviews before the game. Many team members expressed a strong work ethic for practice and a team focused on an obtainable goal, the national championship. In early interviews, several players described taking a business trip to Orlando, rather than vacationing. 


justin brotton - Thursday, January 01, 2009

Paul Fairchild   

Thomas Boone Pickens is a train with a travel plan but no end destination in sight. He travels the tracks of his choosing, and at 80, he’s not putting on the brakes. Like other men his age, he looks back over his life, accomplishments, and failures with the wisdom of his years. However, for Boone Pickens, looking back is only a way to inform forward momentum. He’s not stopping.

“One of the questions I get most is, ‘Boone, when are you going to retire?’ What do you do when you retire? You do what you enjoy. I enjoy working and keeping active. In that sense, I am retired. And I’m having the time of my life.”

Pickens’ unconventional “retirement” includes more business ventures than most fresh MBA students dream about. He is the chief head-knocker in charge[PF1] at BP Capital, his wildly successful investment company. He recently founded Mesa Power, a company dedicated to alternative energies. Clean Energy Fuels, taken public by Pickens in 2007, continues to aggressively move natural gas into the mainstream transportation market. Pickens’ Mesa Water, founded only in 2006, is already a multi-billion dollar concern.

Pickens’ autobiography, The First Billion Is the Hardest, hit bookstores in September. It has been criticized for its bold, audacious [PF2] title. Caught up in the currents of the worst recession in decades, most Americans are not too worried about the “first billion.” They’re worried about the next hundred.

“When I wrote the book, the title, ‘The First Billion Is the Hardest,’ seemed great. I didn’t make my first billion until I turned 70. I’m proud of that. Some people say it hit the shelves at a bad time, in the midst of the greatest economic collapse in generations. Remember, it’s also a story about a lifetime of comebacks[PF3]. We all need one with this economy.”

Nevertheless, boldness and audacity may be exactly the life preservers Americans need in the times ahead. Pickens did not get where he is today by being a shrinking violet. Audacity and boldness are hallmarks of most of his deals. They are also the hallmarks of his latest cause célèbre, the Pickens Plan, a sweeping proposal for reducing America’s dependence on foreign petroleum and whipping the flagging economy into a 180-degree turn.

Announced in July 2007, the plan calls for the rapid introduction of natural gas into the transportation sector. Pickens wants to see that natural gas, currently used to power electricity plants, replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power farms.

“We’ve struck a chord with the American public. My central message is the need to reduce foreign oil use. It’s killing our economy and a major threat to our national security. Everywhere I go, this message gets a standing ovation. We have to have an energy plan, and my focus is on the first 100 days of the new administration. If it doesn’t happen then, I’ll be concerned and disappointed.”

His serious commitment to the plan bleeds into the language he uses to describe it. The plan’s supporters are not referred to as a “team.” They are, in his words, an “army.” To date, 1.3 million troops have signed up for the battle for the hearts and minds of legislators. People want change. Pickens is consolidating that sentiment and carrying it to Washington.

Pickens’ grass-roots campaign kept him in Washington[PF4] last month where he met with a number of legislators, as well as key members of President-elect Obama’s transition team.

“What I’m pitching to them is what I pitched to you. We’re going to have American wind and American natural gas, and we’re going to do it all with American know-how.”

Throughout his career, Pickens has never failed to put his money where his mouth is. Mesa Power[PF5] is a prime example. It’s not just a new business venture for Pickens – it’s a proof of concept of that American know-how.

There is an experimental quality – read “risk” – to Mesa Power. Mesa’s plans call for building America’s largest wind farm in Pampas, Texas[PF6], but construction slowed as credit tightened across the nation. So, the farm won’t turn into a bank[PF7] overnight, but it will provide a perfect proof of concept for an energy strategy that may pull America’s fat out of the petroleum-fueled fire.

As of this writing, diesel fuel prices in Tulsa are clocking in at about $2.32 per gallon. Regular-grade gasoline is running around $1.50. Those prices make the uphill climb for the Pickens Plan a bit steeper. A key component to its success is the favorable comparison of alternative energy prices against those of conventional fuels. But Pickens isn’t letting the lower fuel prices derail his plan.

However, merely comparing prices gives the Pickens Plan the short end of the stick. A second, equally strong cornerstone of the plan is the preservation of America’s national security. Oil is a finite resource, and America relies on foreign nations for it. Many of those nations have a less than favorable view of the United States. In a crisis, that reliance on oil may be akin to handing our car keys to a combatant – or worse, terrorists.

Take advantage of the prices now because the high prices seen last summer will make a comeback. And the proceeds from those high prices will still be shipped overseas.

The strength of the core arguments for the Pickens Plan are no doubt the engine that keeps it moving forward, low fuel prices or not. Pickens does not intend to put the brakes on it.

During the last few months of the election season, Obama’s campaign began to incorporate language straight from the Pickens Plan. The language, sentiments and math began to crop up in President-elect Obama’s speeches – a small but encouraging trend. However, in January, the time for talk will be over and the time for rubber to hit the road will begin. Nobody, including Pickens, expects the entire energy problem, nuances and all, to be solved immediately, but he is right to highlight the first 100 days of the new administration as critical.

“Obama has stated more than once that he wants to eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil within ten years. The only way you can do that is to replace it with domestic resources, and the only way it can get done is by expanding renewable energy – wind and solar – in power generation and our own natural gas as a transportation fuel, starting with heavy duty trucks first. Natural gas will be a bridge fuel, but it will get us off a significant portion of foreign oil. I laugh when people tell me government shouldn’t be picking winners as far as transportation fuels go. Get serious. I’m not asking government to pick winners – it’s the only choice we have.”

Pickens’ companies deliver for shareholders, but he is not just in business for himself and his shareholders anymore. Altruism has made its way to the top of Pickens’ to-do list. In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto, Boone flatly stated, “I’ve collected enough big paychecks in my time.”

Pickens’ devotion to America’s energy crisis is one facet of his altruism. Another is the extraordinary amount of funding given to various educational institutions. OSU, Pickens’ alma mater, has received in the neighborhood of $200 million. Pickens has also sponsored medical facilities in the Texas University system to the tune of $100 million.

Altruism is not just an indicator of character. It is also an indicator of financial success. Pickens’ business ventures, built on the audacity and boldness highlighted in his autobiography, have paid big dividends – dividends that he now uses to make a difference.

If it’s possible to retire from retirement, don’t expect to see it from Pickens. The train rolls on. There’s no slowing down – just picking up steam.

Burns Hargis: Coming Home to Fulfill a Destiny

justin brotton - Monday, December 01, 2008

David Althouse

When Burns Hargis took the reigns as President of Oklahoma State University on March 10, 2008, he was taking on a job for which he had been preparing his entire life, and he was returning to the very place that launched his dynamic career as a successful attorney, businessman, political commentator and public servant.

You might say that Hargis was fulfilling his career destiny, a destiny which began when he arrived on the campus of Oklahoma State University in 1963.

Hargis says he had never been a part of a tangible community of people until he arrived at Oklahoma State.

“I moved a lot growing up, so I had never been a part of a community to the extent I could really get involved,” Hargis said. “When I got to Oklahoma State I joined the Sigma Nu fraternity, and I was instructed by my fraternity that I would run for freshman class officer the first week I was here. I wasn’t interested in doing that, but I was told that was what I was going to do and I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Thanks to my pledge brothers, I won, and that really began everything for me here. It was all a wonderful experience. I discovered involvement is my passion, trying to work with others to make a difference. It all began at Oklahoma State.”

From then until he graduated in 1967, Hargis was involved in student government and campus activities, cultivating the skills of imagination and collaboration necessary for his success in a multitude of career endeavors.

After graduating from OSU, Hargis earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma, prefacing a 28-year career of practicing law, most recently with McAfee & Taft in Oklahoma City.

But it was those seeds of leadership planted at OSU in the early 1960s that would continually blossom for the Oklahoma leader, and that early foundation served Hargis well throughout a distinguished and dynamic career.

When Hargis says involvement is his passion, he isn’t kidding. His resume of service speaks volumes to that commitment.

He has served as chair of the Department of Human Services, vice-chairman of the Oklahoma State Election Board, and vice-chairman of the Constitutional Revision Committee.

He has served in leadership roles on the boards of Bank of Oklahoma, N.A., the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, State Fair of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, the Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Board of Regents for the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges of Oklahoma State University.

His career backs up the saying that dynamic and creative people are happiest when they are being dynamic and creative.

On top of all that, he found time to run for governor in 1990, serve as vice-chairman of Bank of Oklahoma, N.A., chairman of the Oklahoma Creativity Project, and co-host Oklahoma’s most popular political commentary television program ever, Flashpoint.

“I’ve always said that Mike Turpen and I both ran for governor and lost, but both of us got jobs on television as political experts!” Hargis said. “That was a great 15-year run.”

Point of reference is not an issue for Hargis. He has plenty of them, and they are beneficial in his new role as OSU president.

“There’s lots of fundraising involved for a university president, going out and telling your story,” Hargis said. “So, all those years I practiced law and tried to convince a jury will hopefully help me as I try to convince donors. A lot of this work would be hard to learn in a classroom. A lot of what I do, I’ve concluded, is very familiar to me.”

Hargis considers himself fortunate to have discovered his career passion while at OSU. He believes many students enter universities without a genuine notion of their true academic interests, declaring majors based on advice from family or friends, and ultimately venturing into post-college life without the passion and preparation necessary for career success.

The solution to this problem, Hargis believes, is to expose each student to more of the intellectual capital offered at OSU.

“We go into the business college or the journalism college, for example, and that’s pretty much where we stay, and yet there are things going on all over this campus that are exciting and important and you would never know it,” Hargis said. “When I was on campus as a student here I basically lived on the east side of the university. I hardly knew what went on over on the west side of our campus. What we need to do is broaden the experience of our students, and that goes beyond the classroom.”

Hargis emphasizes the future role of the university’s state-of-the-art entrepreneurship program in helping to facilitate this vision. “We are starting a major entrepreneurship program here at OSU,” Hargis said. “There are not very many of them in the United States, and we will be one of the premier centers of entrepreneurship in the country. We will kick that off next spring.”

The program, to be operated within the Spears School of Business, will be created thanks to the largest donation ever to a university entrepreneurship program from Texas oil and ranching alumni Amy and Malone Mitchell. The cumulative impact to OSU academics and athletics from the Mitchells’ $57.2 million donation, once fully matched dollar-for-dollar by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, as well as by T. Boone Pickens’ $100 million chair match commitment, is $123.2 million.

“It is extremely important for our students to be exposed to a lot of the disciplines and activities here,” Hargis said. “One example would be the entrepreneurial school. If you are in hotel and restaurant management, for example, it’s important to know how to start a business, raise capital, borrow money, deal with employees and more. My hope is that every student here will take an entrepreneurship minor and have studied abroad for at least one semester.”

These days, as Hargis looks out over the campus of OSU, his vision for the future of his alma mater is contagious, but he will be the first to emphasize that adequate funding will be required to help make that vision a reality.

“Funding is a major challenge for higher education,” Hargis said. “We can’t keep paying the increasing costs of higher education on the backs of tuition. We’re going to have more in the way of scholarship funding and we’re going to have to reorganize ourselves to be more cost efficient.”

The summer of 2008 witnessed OSU establish a forward-moving momentum for future funding starting with a $100 million academic gift from alum Boone Pickens. This historic gift was followed by $68 million from 900 other donors forty days before the change in the state’s dollar-for-dollar matching program for endowed chairs and professorships. With the matching, Pickens’ $100 million gift, coupled with the $68 million from other donors, will result in an ultimate impact of $336 million for OSU.

This fundraising momentum will carry over into 2009 when OSU launches a major capital campaign.

“The campaign will be major and audacious,” Hargis said. “We need a lot of resources. We have a lot of alums who have done very well and we need to go out and make our case to them, why we need more resources and what the benefits of those gifts will be, explain the return on the investment, and build a great land grant university.”

Oklahoma State University has garnered worldwide attention for record-breaking donations received for athletics. In 2003, Boone Pickens donated $70 million to the university, with $20 million of that designated as a kick start for expansion of the football stadium. In 2005, Pickens followed up with a $165 million donation also used toward the bedecking of the stadium and to begin building a one-of-a-kind athletic village. In 2007, OSU alum Sherman Smith donated $20 million toward the mammoth indoor athletic training center planned for construction within that athletic village.

Since Pickens’ $165 million gift in 2005, 26 individuals or companies have given $1 million or more in cash gifts, pledges, deferred gifts – or a combination of the three – to athletics, with the 26 gifts totaling approximately $85 million.

“Athletics is the front door of your university,” Hargis said. “It brings thousands of people to your campus. It brings backs alums and keeps them connected. Everyone gets interested in athletics, and the question arises if athletics is overemphasized. The thing that is so important about athletics is that it excites people. You can have a team, a family, a community around it.”

Hargis sites a recent study by George Mason University which concludes that the better a university’s athletic teams do in high-profile college sporting events, the more applications for enrollment they will see. According to the study, schools that make it to the Sweet 16 of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament see an average three percent boost in applications the following year, with the champion likely receiving a seven to eight percent increase. Universities that win a college football national championship also see a seven to eight percent increase.

“We had a similar increase in enrollment after our last Final Four appearance,” Hargis said. “Higher enrollment means more dollars. There is a direct correlation between success in athletics and success in academics.”

For Hargis, returning home to work for OSU’s success in academics, athletics and everything in between was an easy call.

“I spent 28 years looking out of tall buildings at people in business suits, in courtrooms looking at people in robes,” Hargis said. “Right now I’m sitting in my office at Oklahoma State and, looking through the window, I see a great Frisbee game going on. There’s a cricket game over by the library, and the band is practicing for Saturday’s game down on the other end. And there goes a guy on a skateboard! That’s the world I’m in now. It’s free-flowing and exciting and energetic on the campus with all of these young, vibrant lives. It’s kinetic.”

It’s also his destiny.

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