One-on-one with Merv Johnson

OU's Director of Football Operations talks about recruiting and takes a look back at the Sugar Bowl.

NORMAN, Okla. — Merv Johnson is one of the most respected men in college football. The longtime Sooner assistant head coach is now the Director of Football Operations and color voice on the Sooner Football Network. Coach Johnson gives a unique perspective inside the OU football program, and today he agreed to sit down with for their two minute drill.

JH: OU lost out on a national recruit this morning. I realize that OU makes the most out of their recruiting in Oklahoma and Texas, but do you feel OU needs to continue to recruit as well on a national basis?

MJ: "I think so, and if you go through the roster of our squad you will see the benefits of it. You just have to try to make some intelligent decisions when you go into the recruiting process with a young man. You weigh your chances with the level of his interest and that sort of thing, and if it is a long, long, long shot then there may be a point when you bow out. However, if the chances look good then we need to go for it. We still may not get the young man and you won't get them all, especially some of those that are so far away, but here at OU we will also get our share of those that don't mind getting away from home. We have had great success with those type players."

JH: The fact that OU is a national program and the fact that the state of Oklahoma is located where it is makes it almost necessary to recruit on a national basis, doesn't it?

MJ: "I think that is so true. Due to where we are located and with our situation, where we have achieved a great deal, I think we also have to go national because we are already recruiting Texas at an ultimate level. I won't say that Texas is over-recruited, but it is certainly worked very hard, and your chances may not be absolutely good down there. We have an opportunity to recruit from a lot of places and considering how talented some of these players are we have to take the opportunity to recruit them to see just how interested they really are."

JH: Recruiting is not like the old days in the Big 8 when you could walk up to Texas kids and brag to them that you would get them out of the state of Texas to see the world. The Big 12 has ruined that advantage for OU hasn't?

MJ: "That is exactly right. The Southwest Conference a few years prior to the change taking place had certainly lost a good deal of its luster. A school like Nebraska or Oklahoma from the Big 8 at that time, and others, could come in there and perhaps win a lot of those recruiting battles against the old Southwest Conference schools. The advent of the Big 12 changed that significantly and certainly I think schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and others down there, which were in that Southwest Conference, felt quite pleased that the change took place."

JH: Do you feel that LSU was able to spy on Oklahoma before the Sugar Bowl? Did you see that much recognition from LSU about OU was trying to do in the game?

MJ: "Well, I really did James, and I made the statement a couple of times during the broadcast and probably shouldn't have. It was how they almost overreacted to two or three things that the Sooners had not shown before until they got to practices down there in New Orleans. Of course, I am prejudiced and you are not going to win any battles fighting that war. Like I said, I would have been better off not saying it, but I felt that way at that time and I still do."

JH: What did you feel about Jason White's play and the fact that a lot of fans felt that back-up Paul Thompson should have been put into the game to replace Jason? Also, is quarterback a different position to evaluate as far as making a change during a game?

MJ: "Well, I think it is different because he is going to have his hands on the ball for every single play. If you have the jitters -- haven't been out there -- before then that quarterback could turn it over a couple of times and the game could be totally lost at that time. Then you can take most other positions and realize that they can't have such a quick adverse impact on the game. No, I didn't ever feel like there was a point where Paul should have been inserted in the game. I think that his playing time thus far has been pretty much without pressure and there was certainly a tremendous amount of pressure in the second half to try to get back into the game. I just never felt like there was a point putting Paul in the game would have been prudent to do. I certainly agree with the decision to keep Jason in the game and take your chances with him."

JH: In your opinion, what kind of prospect do the Sooners have in Paul Thompson?

MJ: "I like him a lot and I think he has really come on. I would rank him extremely high on all the intangibles and things you evaluate -- like work ethic and attention to detail as far as preparing for a game. He is willing to go the extra mile to study film and to come and do things on this own.

"Paul's total presence is outstanding, his voice at the line of scrimmage is good, he is mobile and I think he has a lot of things going for him. He really progressed during the season, when he was really truly able to be the No. 2 quarterback and to receive that share of the work. Up to that time, he had to split time in the spring for example with four guys. It is very difficult for a young guy to get better when he only gets 25 percent or less of the reps. However, the season corrected that a lot and he has come on quite well."

JH: When you were coaching you were the best offensive line coach in the country. What do you think of the play of the current offensive line?

MJ: "You may have overstated that first sentence there because I had some pretty good players to work with when I was here, and that makes everybody look good. I wish we had more depth there. The five or six guys that we feel pretty good about being in the game with are good players and some very good. Nobody else has stepped up to where we can add them to that group, and that is disappointing.

"I think, for the most part, they have played pretty well. I think the problems they have had in the running game are not necessarily attributed to the offensive line per say. The same can be said of protection sometimes. I think it is the scheme of offense and trying to combine the I-formation run-orientated offense to the shot-gun, one-back, no-back type of offense. Especially with a quarterback that you know is not going to win the game with his feet in most cases.

"I think the struggle exist there a little bit to run the ball and sometimes in our protection as well. I think this off-season we will analyze the last two ballgames and find out things where you didn't measure up where you hoped that you could, and maybe change the scheme a little bit to help the offensive linemen do their jobs a little bit better.

"I know that Jason will work hard on his mobility this off-season and if he can just get a tad better that will be a big help to the offense. The fact that he will have another year removed from knee surgery will mean that he will come back much stronger and probably enjoy going under center more, which will also help our run game, and believe it or not our pass protection as well.

"I guess I am saying that our offensive line didn't play as bad as many people think, and for the most part they played good enough to win. However, they can play better and will play better as our schemes improve on offense."

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