NORMAN — The first time Jeff Lebby caught grief at Owen Field Saturday night was silly.
Oklahoma ran the ball on third-and-7 from SMU’s 49-yard line early in the third quarter. Gavin Sawchuk gained a yard, OU ran out the punt team on and Sooner fans acted like they often do when they’re hot, cranky and impatient with a 14-3 lead against a team they believe OU should beat by 40.
After the game ended a little over an hour later, Lebby caught hell that had nothing to do with his coordinating OU’s offense but something far more important — his moral compass as a man. That made this reaction justifiable.
Parker Thune, who covers the Sooners for Rivals and hosts an afternoon show on KREF 1400-AM, snapped a picture of Lebby on the postgame field talking to Art Briles and shared it on the social media site formerly known as Twitter. Briles was the head football coach at Baylor during a sexual assault scandal the depths of which led to a 2017 lawsuit alleging 52 acts of rape perpetrated by 31 Baylor players.
Briles had been fired by then, destined to become a worst-case coaching prototype, a toxic symbol of win-at-any-cost. Where he went the Baylor stench followed. Where he goes to this day.
That was Owen Field Saturday night, where he wore a crimson OU shirt.
The no-big-deal crowd saw the picture and reacted by playing the family card, a copout based on the fact that Lebby is Briles’ son-in-law.
The sensible among OU’s reacting fans, and thank god there were many more of them, knew a wrong man in the wrong place when they saw him. They recognized that even if Briles had a right to attend Saturday’s game in support of his son-in-law, he had no business being so brazen as to put himself in the literal spotlight of the stadium’s high-intensity LEDs, thereby soiling OU’s 28-11 victory.
Nobody should have been surprised. Briles showed us his small mind years ago.
More disturbing is that Lebby showed us his.
He didn’t secure a promise his father-in-law would remain in the stadium’s shadows before the game? He didn’t wave his father-in-law back toward the shadows when Briles slinked out of them toward game’s end?
He didn’t for a moment consider how this might compromise not just a game but a program?
No. He didn’t.
When I asked Lebby during his postgame interview session if he had invited Briles down on the field, he responded: “Yeah, so he’s my father-in-law. That’s a grandfather to my two kids. So he was down there with my entire family after the game.”
When I suggested his fan base would have trouble squaring that, knowing by the swift social media reaction that it already had trouble squaring that, Lebby said: “Again, he’s with his entire family. That’s my father-in-law. That’s the grandfather to my two kids.”
Lebby knew there was heat. OU head coach Brent Venables, his boss, had been in the room 10 minutes before and said of Briles’ presence on the field: “I was made aware just before I came in here that he was, and I think that’s being dealt with, and already has been.”
Lebby’s method of dealing was to stand firm that it was a family matter. That only made him look feeble.
It made his boss’s boss furious.
“I was just as disappointed as many of our fans when I learned of the postgame situation tonight,” OU athletic director Joe Castigione said in a statement late Saturday night. “It shouldn’t have happened and it was my expectation it never would, based on boundaries we previously set. I’ve addressed it with the appropriate staff.”
Here was part of Castiglione’s statement when Lebby was announced as OU offensive coordinator in December of 2021: “At every turn throughout our review, we received assurance of the content of his character, his commitment to compliance and safety, and his desire to contribute to the development of winning programs in the manner we expect of all our staff. In speaking with Jeff, it is abundantly clear that he also knows and will embrace OU’s expectations of him both on and off the field.”
Uh-huh. A little advice, Jeff: Never make one of the most respected administrators in college athletics look like a fool.
“OU’s athletics programs have always demanded the best,” Lebby said in an accompanying statement two years ago, “and I will work every day to earn the trust they have placed in me to represent this institution.”
More telling, given what happened on Owen Field Saturday night, was this bit from Lebby’s 2-year-old statement: “My experiences at Baylor will inform my perspective for the rest of my life, on and off the field.”
Lebby became Briles’ son-in-law in the middle of Lebby’s eight-year tenure on Briles’ Baylor staff. A double-edged sword that nobody associated with OU could be comfortable with when Venables hired Lebby.
Venables, Castiglione, OU president Joe Harroz and those squirming among the fan base had to trust Lebby for his word. That he really was informed and could be a better man in the wake of the experience.
When Briles joined him on the field Saturday night, we got our answer. He wasn’t.
Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig.