Oklahoma football: Pair of former Sooners set to debut in XFL return

Oklahoma football makes its annual trek to Dallas every fall for its Red River rivalry with the Texas Longhorns.

Several former Sooners now make the Dallas metroplex their winter and spring home along with coach Bob Stoops and the Dallas Renegades of the new XFL professional football league.

The new league kicks off its inaugural season this weekend. The Renegades open the season at home at Globe Life Stadium (former home of the MLB Texas Rangers) against the St. Louis BattleHawks. By game time on Sunday, it will have been almost three and half years — or exactly 1,133 days — since Stoops last coached a game.

A pair of other familiar Sooner faces will be on the opposite sideline on Sunday. Former OU tight ends and special teams coach Jonathan Hayes is head coach of the BattleHawks, and his offensive coordinator is Chuck Long, was in the same position at Oklahoma from 2002 to 2005 before becoming head coach at San Diego State. Both Hayes and Long were assistants on Stoops’ coaching staff at Oklahoma.

Stoops is both the head coach and general manager of the Renegades, members of the eight-team XFL, launched by Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fame with the promise that the new league would focus more on football than the league’s previous iteration (the eXtreme Football League), including shortening the length of games to under three hours.

Stoops, the winningest coach in Sooner football history, voluntarily stepped down from the position in June 2017 after 18 seasons. At the time, Stoops left the impression that he had coached his last game. But there were many who believed he would ultimately eat those words.

The widely popular Oklahoma head coach was asked recently by USA Today staff writer Jori Epstein what it has been like being away from coaching the past three years:

“It was awful,” Stoops was quick to respond with a chuckle. “The first year was incredibly awful. The second year was awful. And the third year was just really bad.”

The first player to sign with the Renegades was former Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who played for Stoops at OU from 2008 to 2012. The career passing leader at Oklahoma, Jones was a fourth round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Jones was with the Steelers for five seasons, primarily as the backup for starting QB Ben Roethlisberger. He also spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, who released him in May 2019. He thought his professional football career might be at an end, when the opportunity to join the XFL and his college coach in Dallas and be close to his home in Ft. Worth.

Jones is the career passing leader at Oklahoma with 16,646 passing yards and 123 touchdowns. His availability for the XFL season opener with St. Louis is questionable, however, because of a knee injury he suffered recently in practice.

Beyond Stoops and his quarterback, Jones, though, there are a couple other former Sooners who are back with their former coach and on the Renegades’ roster.

Wide receiver Jeff Badet was at OU for just one season, in 2017, after transferring from Kentucky, and defensive end Frank Alexander played for the Sooners from 2008 to 2011 and was a teammate of Jones.

Other Oklahoma players on XFL rosters include cornerback Demontre Hurst and linebacker Emmanuel Beal (Tampa Bay Vipers) and wide receiver Jordan Smallwood (Los Angeles Wildcats).

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