NORMAN — Hanging on a wall at an unseen junction of sparkling newness and ancient glory is an odd sign.
“Do not idle engine.”
The nondescript sign sits in no man’s land between the Oklahoma Sooners’ new Barry Switzer Center and the entrance to Owen Field, between one slickly backlit sign that reminds them as they leave the facility to “Play Like A Champion Today” and another that reminds them before stepping onto the field that they are “Now entering the heart of the Sooner Nation.”
Think about it. Inside, players are idle. There are state-of-the-art lockers and shiny trophies and a barber chair and a 54-degree cold-tub swimming pool with TVs, music, mood lighting and a waterfall. There are massage tables and stylized murals and jacuzzies and the allure of an NFL career.
But outside, in the hallowed coliseum, the gladiator games still will be fought as they were in yesteryear. It will still be football, fast and brutal and cheered on, full-throated, by 85,000 Sooner fans.
Do not idle engine, indeed.
The sign actually is an innocuous reminder to those driving service vehicles through the stadium underhalls to shut off their engines when stopped.
But OU athletic director Joe Castiglione sees the other meaning, too: as players step out of their brand new, comfortable, 132,000-square-foot confines and onto the field on game day, they’d do well to take themselves out of idle and mash the gas.
“I love that,” Castiglione said.
Castiglione and his assistants gave the OU press corps a guided tour on Sunday afternoon, and the consensus opinion is that the Sooners’ new facilities compare favorably to those of any major college football program in the nation.
“We had a master plan, everything from the players’ perspective, trying to think about what they would normally do, need, where they would go, access from one area to the other,” Castiglione said, “ … Trying to make it as easy, as accessible, as convenient as it should be.”
The facility broke ground in August 2015 and opened for business — at a cost of around $160 million — last May. In between, the Sooners lockered and worked out across Jenkins Avenue in some customized double-wide trailers. It wasn’t bad for temporary digs. But the new stuff is next level, both in amenities (90-inch TVs, swerving leather couches and a barber chair highlight the player lounge, where there’s either an AC outlet or USB port within arm’s reach) and in technology (the weight room and indoor practice turf span 30,000 square feet and include electronic sensors to accurately measure sprint times).
Still to come: the atrium, or Legends Lobby, which will “store the history of the Oklahoma football program,” Castiglione said.
Outside the locker room, Castiglione said almost every former player who has been through the facilities said something along the lines of, “I wish we had this when I was here.”
“I tell them, ‘We have this because you were here,’ ” Castiglione said, emphasizing that each generation of players has added to the foundation for future generations. Lincoln Riley’s first team will try to do their part to leave something for players who have yet to become Sooners.
The equipment room currently displays 98 of the 130 other FBS helmets, plus local Division II colleges, Russian and Sooner Stampede helmets from the early 1990s tour, and even a Lego OU helmet the Sooners got for playing in the 2015 playoff. There’s also an ultra-cool sign sitting on a shelf in equipment manager Brad Camp’s office that says, simply, “Equipment Room” — from the 1950s. But all that is just for show. It’s here where players gain access to the latest equipment tech, gloves, gear for hot or cold days and loads of shoes.
The lockers have storage space for cleats (they hang on rungs and there’s even a catch-all tray at the bottom to dump out grass and dirt), shoulder pads and other gear, plus a personal lockup for safe storage — all accessed by fingerprint technology or a personal access code. Each locker also has ventilation to the outside, keeping the 12,000-square-foot room smelling fresh. (Be sure to check out the photo gallery below to see the reminders that quarterback Baker Mayfield wrote to himself next to his locker.)
Across the hallway, the new weight room is full of steel and chrome and includes both contemporary and traditional equipment, and just on the other side of that is a high-tech, 70-yard, indoor workout facility that includes 2,000-pound steel frame underneath that links to lasers every 10 yards and measures players’ movements, including times in the 40-yard dash.
It’s college football’s newest and arguably fanciest facilities. And yes, OU got some ideas from other schools — mostly because the project’s architect has put up impressive new sports facilities globally.
But Castiglione is quick to remind where some of those schools got their latest ideas.
“Some people learned off of us,” he said, “and some of the innovations we completed 10 or 15 years ago.”
At OU, improvements never seem to stop. At OU, the engine is never idle.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.