Carlson: Why OU football hiring Jeff Lebby as offensive coordinator falls short of Sooners' high standards

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NORMAN — The other day during his introductory press conference, Brent Venables started ticking off the things that matter most to him.

“I’m passionate about people,” he said. “I am passionate about winning.”

Then, almost as quickly as the new OU football coach seemed to be getting going, he stopped himself and clarified.

“I’m passionate about winning the right way, never compromising those values.”

That is a sentiment that falls in lock step with sentiments Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione has long expressed. He wants his programs to be successful, but he wants the wins and the trophies and the titles to be earned the right way. Morals should be high. Principles should be lofty.

Safe to say, the Sooners seek to not only follow rules but also set standards.

But with that in mind, I have a question: does hiring Jeff Lebby meet OU’s high standards?

While no hires of football assistants have been made official by OU, Lebby has indicated on Twitter he is leaving his job as Ole Miss offensive coordinator. A tweet from a high school recruit Wednesday night also indicated Lebby has been out recruiting on OU’s behalf and offering Sooner scholarships.

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Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby gives a thumbs up before the season opener against Louisville on Sept. 6 in Atlanta.

Lebby was mentioned as a candidate for OU’s offensive coordinator position as soon as the dust began to settle after Lincoln Riley’s departure. Lebby is an OU alum who has been wildly successful the past couple seasons at Ole Miss. 

Sounds great, right? 

Except for this: Lebby was one of the coaches at Baylor during the sexual assault scandal.

How involved he was and how much he knew about the women who were raped and assaulted is unknown. At least one former Baylor student has reported she contacted Lebby directly after being slapped, kicked, choked and slammed against a wall by one of his running backs.

That player played each of the next two seasons for the Bears.

After Baylor fired then-head coach Art Briles — his daughter Staley is married to Lebby — Lebby became one of Briles’ most vocal supporters. Lebby was involved in getting T-shirts made with #CAB on the front, which stood for Coach Art Briles and was used to rally support on social media.

Some have even called Lebby a Briles apologist.

Why would OU hire someone with such close ties to such a disgraceful chapter in college sports? Why would it make him one of the highest-paid and highest-profile people on the campus?

We know why, of course. It’s the same reason he was hired at UCF, then at Ole Miss. The same reason why Briles’ son, Kendal, who was also on the Baylor staff during the scandal, keeps getting jobs.

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Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby coaches his players on gameday of the Rebels' season opener against Florida.

They are good football coaches.

Really good.

In fact, I have no doubt Lebby will have success at OU. 

But this is OU, one of the bluebloods of college football. It should be able to go and hire just about anyone. Andy Ludwig at Utah. Jeff Grimes at Baylor. Kevin Wilson (talk about getting the band back together) at Ohio State. Tony Elliott (Venables probably has his number) at Clemson. Joe Brady.

Heck, Brady is out of work right now, having been fired by the Carolina Panthers, but one of his last acts as a college football coach was nearly flipping Caleb Williams from OU to LSU, where Brady was then the passing game coordinator.

Yes, a guy with a strong connection to Williams who is immediately available isn’t being hired.

Neither are any of those other top-notch offensive minds who don’t have the stain of Baylor’s scandal.

It’s like going to the store to buy a fancy, new suit and choosing for one with a blotch. Maybe it isn’t compromising the fabric. Perhaps it won’t affect the stability of the seams or the stitching. But it is there. Why pay handsomely for something that isn’t pristine?

Why settle?

That’s the kind of thing a non-powerhouse program might feel the need to do.

Why is a program like OU doing it?

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19. Jeff Lebby, Ole Miss offensive coordinator, $1,200,000

I am certain university leaders have taken a long, hard look at hiring Lebby. They know well what happened with their Big 12 brethren at Baylor, so of course, people at the highest level would want Lebby vetted and scrutinized. They want to be sure. They want to be confident.

And I would guess they are.

But that doesn’t change Lebby’s past or his connection to what happened at Baylor.

Some may argue Lebby deserves a second chance, but he has gotten that and then some, first at an NAIA school in Florida, then at UCF, then at Ole Miss. If those schools thought it right to hire him, that's on them. 

But now, it's on OU, too.

This is an athletic department that espouses the highest standards. Operating with morality. Winning with integrity. Doing things the right way. Over the past few decades, those haven’t just been words; those have been actions.

Does hiring Jeff Lebby put those principles into action or make those words ring hollow?

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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