NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma fired coach Jeff Capel on Monday after he followed a trip to the NCAA tournament's regional finals with the program's first back-to-back losing seasons since 1967.
Capel was 96-69 in five seasons with the Sooners, but just 27-36 over the past two after Blake Griffin entered the NBA draft early and became the No. 1 overall pick.
"This isn't about our current team or the record of this past season. This is, again, looking at the entire program and our ability to be successful going forward," athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "I weighed all the factors, and I reached the conclusion that a change was in the best interest of the University of Oklahoma.
"It was not an easy decision to reach, mind you, but it certainly is the one I made and made with conviction."
Castiglione said his decision was based not on one factor but on the "totality" of the program, which landed under NCAA investigation again just as its probation was about to end, encountered a severe attendance drop and frequently lost players to early departures.
Capel had five years left on the contract that was extended after he made it within a win of the 2009 Final Four, with Griffin leading the way. He was making $1.5 million per year, and had annual raises and stay bonuses built into the contract. His buyout will be in excess of $2 million.
A clause in Capel's contract allows the university to avoid a buyout payment if he was fired for cause, but Castiglione said that's "not something that we anticipate being an issue."
But the program's fall after Griffin departed has been even quicker than its rise after he first put on a crimson uniform.
Despite having three McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, the Sooners finished the 2009-10 season with nine straight losses — the second-longest losing streak in school history — to plummet out of the Top 25 and end up with a 13-18 record.
Five underclassmen left the program, including McDonald's All-Americans Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Keith "Tiny" Gallon. Capel restocked with largely unheralded players and Oklahoma went 14-18 this season, with few signs of the quick return to NCAA tournament success of just two seasons ago.
"We had higher hopes for our program to build off that momentum," Castiglione said. "We understand how sports can be with the departure of people with great talent and experience and new student-athletes that are coming in to take over and grow, and the time that it's necessary for them to grow, but the program still continues on and still moves momentum forward.
"Unfortunately, that didn't occur."
Capel inherited a program saddled with restrictions after major NCAA rules violations involving hundreds of impermissible recruiting phone calls by predecessor Kelvin Sampson. Just as that probation was running out last year, the NCAA started investigating the Sooners again because of a loan Gallon has said he took from Florida financial adviser Jeffrey Hausinger to pay for transcripts that allowed him to get into Oklahoma.
Documents obtained from the university showed that Oronde Taliaferro, a Capel assistant who resigned last year, frequently exchanged phone calls and text messages with Hausinger and was even invited to stay at Hausinger's home in Tampa, Fla.
A joint investigation by Oklahoma and the NCAA began a year ago, but has not yet yielded any charges.
"We're responding to any kind of questions we may receive from them," Castiglione said.
He added that he's "not aware of any" questions currently pending.
"At this stage, it's their timetable, not ours," Castiglione said. "We'd like for it to be completed, of course, but we don't have any way to predict."
Capel, a former Duke guard who was an up-and-coming coach at Virginia Commonwealth, was hired by Castiglione in 2006 after Sampson left to take over at Indiana. The Sooners missed out on the postseason in his first year at the helm, but then made it back to the NCAA tournament with Griffin the next two seasons.
He got a $300,000 raise after the first postseason run and a $450,000 bump after the second, plus a slew of incentives aimed at keeping him in Norman long term.
"I know people like to look in the rearview mirror and speculate or second-guess. It happens," Castiglione said of Capel's hiring. "I had every reason to believe that the choice then was going to be the best for the University of Oklahoma, and the only thing I regret now is it didn't work out."
Castiglione provided no specifics on what he was looking for in Capel's replacement, leaving the door open for him to hire another young coach, an assistant or even a coach from a women's team.
"We understand some of the things that are at play right now and affecting our ability to reach a coach or have a conversation with a candidate — the NCAA tournament, as an example," Castiglione said. "We don't want to compromise our ability to find the best coach for our program by setting up or restricting ourselves through a timetable."