Oklahoma DB Jefferson, WR Stills to declare for NFL draft

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Being on the wrong end of a Cotton Bowl blowout to Texas A&M was not how Oklahoma wanted to end the 2012-13 season. Still, wide receiver Kenny Stills (pictured) and safety Tony Jefferson had stellar seasons and helped the Sooners to another 10-win season.

On the flip side, those efforts were good enough for Jefferson and Stills to declare for the NFL draft early. Reports of their departures surfaced this weekend, but OU made it official on Monday.

“We appreciate the contributions that Tony and Kenny have made during their time at Oklahoma,” coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. “We wish them both the best as they pursue their opportunities in the NFL.”

Suffice to say, their presence will be missed in 2013.

Stills was the team’s leading receiver with 82 catches for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns. He finishes his three-year career in Norman with 2,594 receiving yards and 24 touchdown catches. Jefferson, meanwhile, was the team’s leading tackler with 119 total tackles. He also had a pair of interceptions, three pass breakups and five passes defended on the year.

Updated 8:00 p.m. ET: Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills have released statements on their decision to forego their final years of eligibility to try their luck in the NFL (courtesy of the Oklahoman)

From Stills:

To my Sooner Friends and Family,

I cannot begin to express how difficult it is to describe the emotions I have on this day as I announce that I will be entering the 2013 NFL draft. Becoming a player in the National Football League has been a lifelong dream and goal of mine that I feel I am now ready to make a reality. When I arrived in Norman three years ago, I could never have imagined the deep connection I would establish with such a warm community of people. Through the good and the bad, on such a large number of occasions, I have been humbled by the kindness of your hearts. As I get ready for the exciting next phase of my career, and recollect my time here in Norman, I feel it is important to express my appreciation to not only the fans, but also to all of the coaches and staff. I cannot thank you all enough for everything you have taught me and for the opportunities and support you have provided to me both on and off of the field. I will be forever grateful to The University of Oklahoma and can only hope my new colleagues will be as supportive and that the next stop on my journey is just as special.

From Jefferson:

My goodbye for now As I start my journey on to the next level Id like to thank the coaches, players, fans, and students at the University of Oklahoma. It’s been a dream that I didn’t even believe I was capable of dreaming. To attend an institution with such great people surrounding it makes me realize how blessed i was to come here. The coaches have had a huge impact in my life on and off the field i appreciate and owe it all to them for giving me the opportunity to showcase my abilities and not only making me a better player but essentially making me a better man. And to all the fans . I can’t express how much I love y’all . Y’all are committed and keep us players going when the growing gets tough. As this was one of the hardest decisions in my life I do have great faith in my future on and off the field because of all the love and support and guidance I have received at the university of Oklahoma. I will always live by the crimson cream , and continue to let every soul know , that there is only ONE Oklahoma ! Boomer sooner!

New three year deal at Auburn for Chad Morris winds up saving Arkansas money

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Arkansas has had to tap the well for buyout money quite a bit in recent years. The good news for the school however is that those checks will be a little smaller than first thought going forward.

That’s the result of ex-head coach Chad Morris’ new deal at Auburn. Terms were released to the media last week of the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and per AL.com, that will result in a three-year contract worth roughly $735,000 annually. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot for an SEC coordinator, you’d be right. It’s especially true given how much rival Alabama is prepared to pay their OC, Steve Sarkisian, given recent reports.

However, Morris isn’t just being paid by Auburn. Arkansas still owes him millions in buyout money. 

The figure was originally on the order of $10 million after he was fired midseason by the Hogs last year. That total was spread out over the next four years. However, Morris had an offset in his deal so the amount the Tigers are paying him will mitigate down that total from Fayetteville some. 

Morris will still wind up taking home nearly $2.5 million each of the next four years. Thanks to the AU deal however, the amount coming from UA will drop to nearly $1.7 million from now until 2022.

The new coordinator deal is also fully guaranteed between Morris and the Tigers. If he’s fired, the school owes him every penny. If he leaves for another job that isn’t a head coaching gig, he would owe everything left as a buyout.

Either way, Morris is both reunited with his old friend Gus Malzahn on the Plains and a very rich man. At least for folks at Arkansas, that arrangement will at least save them some money even if their ex-coach is at a division rival.

The Hogs also recently stopped paying former head coach’s Bret Bielema’s buyout last year as part of some legal wrangling. As a result, the nearly $22 million the program was set to be on the hook for in just the past three seasons is actually quite a bit less than first thought. 

That all might not help take the sting out of the lack of victories in Fayetteville but it certainly will help the ol’ check book if nothing else. 

Alabama losing special teams staffer to the New England Patriots

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The Alabama kicking game needs all the help it can get but will have to soldier on without a key member of the coaching staff.

According to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, assistant special teams coordinator Joe Houston is leaving Tuscaloosa for a position with the New England Patriots.

Houston certainly has become a fast-riser as a coach. He was kicking field goals for USC from 2007-10 and got into coaching just recently. He served as an assistant special teams coach at Iowa State prior to joining the Crimson Tide staff.

While Houston is highly regarded off the field, his slim small body of work at Alabama was a mixed bag. Kickers Joseph Bulovas and Will Reichard combined to made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts in 2019. That includes a critical miss in the Iron Bowl that knocked the team out of the Playoff chase.

The Tide should still be okay on special teams come 2020 though. Reichard was injured early and hopes to be healthy after signing as the top prep kicker in the country a year ago. Highly regarded special teams coordinator Jeff Banks also returns.

Houston’s move to Foxborough no doubt came with a recommendation from Saban to his old pal Bill Belichick. The latter also struggled with the kicking game last season. Hopefully for both, this latest move will boost both teams in the critical third phase of the game.

Colorado closing in on hiring… Karl Dorrell?

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The unexpected Colorado coaching search may have an unexpected conclusion.

In a move first reported by Yahoo! Sports, the Buffs are supposedly close on hiring Karl Dorrell as their next head coach. USA Today later confirmed the news. He replaces Mel Tucker, who left for Michigan State in early February.

Bringing Dorrell in is, needless to say, a surprise move. The school had flirted heavily with former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian before parting ways. As it turns out, Colorado was looking at the wrong former coach in Los Angeles.

Dorrell spent five seasons in Westwood as head coach at UCLA from 2003-2007. The tenure had a high point of going 10-2 in 2005 but otherwise floated around .500. It didn’t help either that Pete Carroll had things humming across town at the same time as Dorrell was trying to get things turned around at his alma mater.

Since his firing, Dorrell has mostly been in the NFL. He had a one season stint as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2014 but is otherwise been coaching in the pros. That includes two stints in Miami and others with the Houston Texans and New York Jets.

Less than 24 hours before his reported hire at Colorado, Dorrell was promoted to assistant head coach of the Dolphins by Brian Flores.

Though Dorrell reached a bowl game in all five of his seasons in Westwood, his meddling record saw him pushed out the door. His replacement then? Former Buffs coach Rick Neuheisel. The two memorably helped lead the Bruins to the 1984 Rose Bowl together at the school.

Now Dorrell once again has the goal of getting back to Pasadena. Just not where anybody expected it to happen.

SEC says no to Arkansas spring game in Little Rock

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Arkansas has long been one of the more unique programs in college football in playing their “home” games roughly 200 miles away from campus. As much as playing down the road in Little Rock has become a way of life for the Razorbacks though, it won’t be a part of fans first close up with new head coach Sam Pittman.

In a release this week, UA confirmed that their final practice of spring ball would be held Saturday, April 25 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. That was not originally the plan however, as the team was hoping to host the scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The reasoning? It had nothing to do with scheduling conflicts but rather the conference office.

“As part of our ONE Razorback initiative, our goal remains to engage fans throughout Arkansas and beyond,” Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the necessary waiver to accommodate the spring game at War Memorial Stadium as originally planned. However, we will continue to explore additional opportunities to enhance the numerous events already being held throughout the state to help bring the Razorbacks closer to our fans.”

SEC bylaws require the league to approve any off-campus spring practice. They didn’t despite Little Rock truly being the team’s home away from home for nearly a century.

The school just recently negotiated a new deal with War Memorial that runs through 2024. That was supposed to result in spring games being held at the venue in even years and a trio of conference games against regional rival Missouri in the Fall of every odd year.

It’s not known if the SEC’s decision was more of a one-off or if spring games in 2022 and 2024 will have to be scrapped.

The news is certainly a blow to those in the Southeast part of the state who were hoping to get a glimpse of the Hogs in their backyard instead of making the trip deeper into the Ozarks. Arkansas won’t have a presence at all in Little Rock this season as a result (for the first time since 1931) and will instead be fully confined to Razorback Stadium for all seven home games plus the spring scrimmage (for the first time ever).

It wasn’t too long ago where the Hogs were called in the state capital three or four times a year. That sadly is no longer the case now as a result of the league office putting a kibosh on things this spring.