OU football: Jalen Hurts has become robotic — just like Nick Saban programmed him
PASADENA, Calif. — Jalen Hurts’ weekly press conference was slogging along Monday.
Questions were longer than answers. Answers were often cliché.
Long gone are the in-depth responses the Oklahoma quarterback gave when he arrived in Norman. His first press conference had an opening statement almost three minutes long. His entire time at the microphone earlier this week barely crawled over the six-minute mark.
As things were winding down, my buddy Berry Tramel attempted to liven up the proceedings.
“You’ve now got more incompletions than touchdown passes, seven to six,” he asked Hurts. “Can you get that back on the high side, that ratio?”
I was sitting next to Berry chuckling.
Hurts, on the other hand, was looking at Berry as if he’d asked for the Sooners’ playbook so the pages could be sold to defensive coordinators around the Big 12.
“Just trying to go out there and execute,” Hurts said. “It could be better.”
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There was no sarcasm in his voice, no smile on his face.
At a time Sooner fans are walking around with giant grins because of what they’ve seen so far from this team — and what they expect to continue seeing Saturday at UCLA — the face of the franchise is stoic. He hardly shows any emotion at all in public.
“Yeah, he has a different mindset,” Sooner receiver Charleston Rambo concurred, adding Hurts is “pretty serious a lot. But at the same time, he jokes around with us a lot outside media.
“Ya’ll don’t know that.”
Yeah, no kidding.
I blame Nick Saban.
Hurts spent three years under Saban at Alabama, two of them as the starting quarterback. Hurts was programmed to be like Saban.
Maybe it was intentional — Alabama surely does media training on how to act, what to say and what to avoid in interviews — but there’s every chance it was just osmosis. Saban sprinkles his one-line life lessons through everything. Practices. Meetings. Speeches. Players hear them all the time, and eventually, they take root.
We’ve heard a couple Sabanisms from Hurts already, most notably “rat poison” a week ago. Saban famously used that reference a couple years ago after a narrow win over Texas A&M; he didn’t think Alabama played all that well.
“All that stuff you write about how good we are, all that stuff they hear on ESPN, it’s like poison,” Saban told reporters. “It’s like taking poison.
“Like rat poison.”
When Hurts got to OU, there were signs he might not be a Saban clone. Remember the spring game when Hurts was part of that post-touchdown group photo? Remember how he joked about not being able to do that at Alabama?
“I probably would have gotten a chewing for that one,” Hurts said tongue in cheek.
Ah, the good ol’ days.
The thing is, you can tell the dry wit remains. Monday as Hurts was walking away from the microphone, Eddie Radosevich made one last run at Hurts. Eddie, who wields a camera for Rivals and has thrown a few wacky curveballs over the years, cracked that he’d be willing to work out with Hurts if there was another post-game lift session.
Hurts didn’t break stride or even look up.
“I don’t know if you can hang,” he said.
Jalen Hurts doesn’t need to be something he isn’t with the media or the fans. We aren’t owed any witty comments or humorous one-liners.
But I hope Hurts knows he can be that person, the easy-going, fun-loving guy we’ve seen glimpses of. He can demand excellence of himself and his team and still crack an occasional smile. He can be unsatisfied with a 508-yard performance and still laugh in public every now and again.
More than anything, I hope Jalen Hurts is who he wants to be — not who Nick Saban programmed him to be.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.