Cowboys hope to put end to consecutive losing seasons

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- There are signs of progress within the Oklahoma State football program.

Renovation of Gallagher-Iba Arena will mean new coaches' offices and luxury boxes for football games. A new playing surface has been installed and plans are in the works to upgrade the stadium. The next step: Winning more games.

Bob Simmons had a bowl team in 1997, but since then the Cowboys have had consecutive 5-6 seasons. And unlike 1998, when a handful of plays meant the difference between winning and losing, the Cowboys last season were beaten soundly, including 44-7 to Oklahoma.

With new coordinators on each side of the ball, Simmons retains the confidence he has shown since taking over in 1995. "I think the program is going in the right direction," he said. "I think personally it's just a matter of time. I'm veryfaithful that we can be successful here, very much so."

It would help to keep quarterback Tony Lindsay healthy. Lindsay was a rising star as a freshman in 1997, leading the Cowboys to an 8-4 finish. But his play slipped a bit as a sophomore, and last year he played in just six games due to a knee injury.

Subpar play from the offensive line, along with the inconsistency at quarterback, allowed defenses to load up against the running game and it worked. The Cowboys gained 153 rushing yards per game, their lowest average since 1993.

After taking a stunning 21-0 lead against Kansas State, the game in which Lindsay returned from his injury, the Cowboys lost 44-21. They went nearly seven quarters without a touchdown.

Oklahoma State showed a tendency in 1999 to give up big plays on third down, while doing a poor job of converting their own third-down opportunities. They also turned the ball over too often with 17 interceptions and 11 lost fumbles.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan left after the season for a job in the NFL, something Simmons said he knew would eventually happen when he hired Ryan. Offensive coordinator Ron Calcagni, on the other hand, was shown the door.

Simmons said the offense's greatest shortcoming a year ago was its inability to make adjustments, although he didn't point the finger solely at Calcagni. "I've got to take responsibility for all that," he said.

His critics contend that Simmons, a former defensive coordinator, has meddled with the offense and has naturally been too conservative. Simmons says he has always wanted an offense that can be multiple, and that his philosophy has not changed with the hiring of Del Miller as offensive coordinator. "The formations will still be the same, but obviously there'll be a little bit more put on trying to put points on the board," Simmons said.

The new offense, kept under wraps during most of the spring practices, was greeted enthusiastically by Lindsay and others. Lindsay threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for two scores, in the final scrimmage of the spring. "I think that's what our kids are excited about, a little bit more of, if you want to call it, a wide-open approach," Simmons said. "There's no way that you can be one-dimensional in this conference and be successful."

Reggie White, a junior, had a great spring and gives the Cowboys big-play ability at tailback. Simmons also likes his receivers' combination of size and speed, although many lack seasoning.

The offensive line remains a concern, as does a lack of experience behind Lindsay at quarterback. The defense lost six starters. But ends Juqua Thomas and Kevin Williams, interior linemen Zac Akin and Zac Warner, linebacker Dwayne Levels, and secondary players Chris Massey and Alvin Porter provide promise for a solid defense.

If all goes well, then a winning season is possible. If not, the grumbling heard during the past two years is sure to grow louder, although Simmons doesn't seem fazed. "I call it a fearless faith, and that's what you've got to have," he said. "I'm going to coach in a manner to try to have it be productive. But I'm not going to go around afraid of my shadow."