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John E. Hoover: Sooners’ remarkable new facility shows there isn’t much that’s idle at Oklahoma

John E. Hoover: Sooners’ remarkable new facility shows there isn’t much that’s idle at Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s new Red Room, a 115-seat auditorium for team meetings, media interviews and more. It’s part of OU’s new $160 million Barry Switzer Center, of which the OU press corps got a guided tour on Sunday from Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione and his staff. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

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.

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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.

 

PHOTO GALLERY

The new athletic training room, with 11 exam tables, three massage tables, new rehab equipment and more. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione gives a press briefing before starting a tour of the Sooners’ new $160-million Barry Switzer Center. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Adjacent to the athletic training room is a hydrotherapy room, where student-athletes can rehab injuries under water. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Baker Mayfield and other Sooner quarterbacks report to this classroom every day for position meetings. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Inside the quarterbacks room is a mural that includes a national champion, Heisman Trophy winners, Big 12 champs … and Baker Mayfield. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Media gather at the front of the quarterback room, and a computer and projector sit at the back, illustrating how cozy the space is within the meeting rooms. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Between the meeting rooms and locker room/player lounge is the exit to the field, where players are reminded to “Play like a CHAMPION today.” (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Up the stairs, players exit these doors for the field. While they wait in their final moments before entering the stadium, they may see another subtle reminder — meant for someone else, but apropos to them: time to rev it up. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

This neon “OU” logo greets players as they walk off the field and head into their new digs. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

The last thing players see before they step onto Owen Field: “Now entering the heart of the Sooner Nation.” This is confirmed moments later by 85,000 OU fans. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

These new decorative gates lead into Memorial Stadium and will be thrust open on Sept. 2. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Photographers in the players lounge capture images of OU’s new stylized murals throughout the facility. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Check out those swerving leather couches and additional chairs. They’re comfortable, too. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

In the players lounge, current Sooners are reminded of true courage, service and sacrifice in the Bob Kalsu Award and its past winners. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Yes, Oklahoma’s new players lounge includes a barber’s chair. Just a little off the top? How about a fade? (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

There are protein drinks, sports drinks, water and unlimited healthy snacks in the players lounge. Oh, and electrical outlets and USB ports everywhere. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Another reminder for the current players: the Derrick Shepard Award, which goes to the program’s most inspirational walk-on, and its past winners.

The Don Key Award exemplifies the best qualities on the field and in the classroom of former Sooner Don Key, whose career was ended in 1981 by a cancer diagnosis. This list of former winners hangs in the players lounge and is another reminder for current Sooners about courage and dedication. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Down this long hallway is a series of impressive murals recalling the most glorious of OU football achievements: Heismans, All-Americans,conference titles and national champions. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

As if the five “heroic sized” statues outside the stadium are not reminder enough, these murals depict the Sooners’ Heisman legacy. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

On the other side of that glass is the latest in weight room technology, and just outside that is a state-of-the-art indoor workout facility that includes an electronic floor that monitors players movements. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

To the left and right of this bank of monitors (which currently plays Sooner football highlights on a loop but can be programmed to play anything) are the entrances to the locker room. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

On the other side of the wall of six monitors is a reminder of who’s next. Here, it’s UTEP, 19 days, 21 hours, 58 minutes and 31 seconds away. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

A wide look at the Sooners’ locker room. Notice the neon “OU” logo on the ceiling. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

This short walkway connects the players lounge and the locker room. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Each locker has a cushioned seating area. Underneath is a storage drawer, with a secure space for valuables. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Shoe caddies next to each locker slide back into the recessed, ventilated opening, carrying any foul smells skyward. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

In the top space of each locker, just above the helmets, are an enclosed, ventilated storage space for shoulder pads. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

On one side of the entrance, “SOONER,” with a jersey and the spoils of the OU-Texas game, the Golden Hat. On the other side, “MAGIC,” with championship rings and bowl watches. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s locker. He’s next to a wall, on which he writes himself personal messages. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Among Baker Mayfield’s “reminders” is one telling him to “Get your team to Atlanta … & finish,” another telling him to “Be the best player in the country,” and nother telling him to “Make your family proud.” (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

No, that log cross section isn’t some ancient oak planted by Bennie Owen. It just reminds the players of their “Bring the wood” alternate uniform theme. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Inside this trophy case are the Sugar Bowl trophy and a whole bunch of bling: championship rings and bowl watches from across the decades. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

This hallway mural reminds contemporary Sooners of the magnitude of the program for which they play. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Make first-team All-American under Bob Stoops or Lincoln Riley? Then your name and number will be depicted here. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

That’s a lot of bowl hardware for one football coach. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Is it a small swimming pool? Maybe. It’s actually a large cold tub, helping mitigate sore muscles by reducing lactic acid from grueling workouts. That’s a waterfall to the back, big TVs on the left, and you can also set the mood with music and custom lighting. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Between the locker room and cold tub is a “grooming” room, with lots of sinks, mirrors, hair dryers and such. Gotta look good for TV interviews. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Stay in the cold tub too long and players can turn blue. Or, they can just turn on the blue lights … or the pink ones, or the red ones … (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Captains will be posted here, and each game, players will be honored for MVP achievements in both game and practice. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Players put their dirty laundry in these lockers. On the other side, attendants pull them out, wash and dry them, and put them back for the next day’s workout. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

The equipment room showcases helmets of 98 of the 130 FBS teams — and a bunch of actual equipment, too. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

On this row are an OU gameday helmet, helmets from across the Big 12, and OU’s alternates: a white, a “Bring the wood” and a Lego. OK, the Lego helmet was a gift from the building block giant for OU’s trip to the 2015 College Football Playoff. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

That “equipment room” sign on a shelf in equipment manager Brad Camp’s office dates back to Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners. How cool is that? (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

That hat is a bit of a throwback to Barry Switzer’s ballcap from the 1984 Red River Rivalry, but the rest of those toys are all 2017. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Even the author’s alma mater — Division II East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma — has a display in the OU equipment room. (PHOTO: Brad Camp)

From the archway into the new Barry Switzer Center, it’s just a short walk up some steps to the practice field — a 60-yard field running east-west and a regulation-size field running north-south. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Looking skyward from the practice field. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

Inside the Red Room. On one side of the wall, “BOOMER” … (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

… And on the other side, “SOONER.” The previous Red Room depicted former Sooners in game action. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

In between, 115 seats for team meetings, media interviews and more. (PHOTO: John E. Hoover)

 

Columns

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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