OU football: In Joe Jon Finley, former Sooners say it's 'easy to want to play for a guy like that'
NORMAN — It didn’t take long for the young coach to make an impression on newly arrived Taylor McNamara.
As then-tight ends/offensive tackles coach Bruce Kittle went through a series of plays in a 2012 positional meeting, pointing out specifics to many of the experienced players in the room, it would’ve been easy for McNamara to feel a bit left out.
But the first-year graduate assistant, who had just months earlier had been in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, wasn’t about to let that happen.
As the plays cycled through, Joe Jon Finley leaned over to McNamara repeatedly.
“If you get that right hand inside here, you’re going to be able to control him,” Finley said at one point. “You’ve got to get it. You’ve gotta grab the breastplate and you’re going to be able to control him.”
Those interactions and ones like it for the next two seasons left McNamara bowled over by Finley, the former Sooners standout.
Finley was hired Tuesday as the Sooners’ associate head coach for offense as well as their tight ends and H-backs coach. He’ll also help with OU’s special teams.
Finley replaces Shane Beamer, who left in December to be South Carolina’s head coach.
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Many of the players who spent time around Finley during the start of his collegiate coaching career in 2012-13 with the Sooners speak glowingly of Finley and his coaching potential.
“It makes it easier to trust a guy and play for a guy that you kind of know that he has your back. That’s kind of how it felt playing for Joe Jon,” former Sooners walk-on Joe Palange said.
“In a world that pushes people to be disingenuous and not care about people and not treat people right, Joe Jon’s the kind of guy that actually treats people with respect. It’s easy to want to play for a guy like that.”
Since leaving the Sooners, Finley has gone from Los Fresnos High, near the southern tip of Texas, to Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss before coming back to his alma mater last week.
“I definitely think OU should enjoy what he’s going to bring to the program while they can,” former Sooner receiver Grant Bothun said. “Because he’s going to be one of those guys that’s going to be competing for championships and winning big-time football games and I would be willing to bet everything I own on that.
“Great hire for them. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for everyone involved.”
Bothun has known Finley longer than any other Sooner players who were around during Finley’s time as a graduate assistant.
Bothun’s older brother, Garrett, was with the Sooners during Finley’s playing days. They were close friends and Finley was in Garrett’s wedding.
Grant spent time working out with Finley back then, but it was when Grant was with the Sooners that Finley’s dedication came into focus.
In the spring of 2014, before Finley left Norman to return to high school coaching for a season, Bothun was fighting for playing time when he had a bad practice.
As they walked to the practice field the next day, Finley — like he was with McNamara — was in Bothun’s ear.
“C’mon G, we’re going to have a great day today,” Finley said. “We’re going to have a better day today.”
Instead of focusing on the things that didn’t go right the day before, Finley narrowed in on the things Bothun could do better to make an impact.
The difference is a small but important one, those players said.
“He has a way about him of connecting with you and getting you to believe in yourself and in motivating you,” McNamara said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I believe in you man. You can be great if you do these things, if you get better technique wise, you could be a great player. That’s motivation.”