It doesn’t happen at Oklahoma. Former stars don’t criticize the Oklahoma coaching staff in public.
It didn’t happen until Malcolm Kelly went on a rant following his Pro Day workout inside Oklahoma’s Everest Indoor Training Facility in early April 2008.
“People always tell you to trust in what they say and they’re not going to steer you wrong. But no,” Kelly said to a large group of reporters after his workout that day.
A reporter quickly followed up that statement by asking if Kelly felt let down by the coaching staff at Oklahoma, for being forced to run on a surface (field turf) he told OU’s strength staff he didn’t want to run on.
“I wouldn’t say the whole OU coaching staff, I wouldn’t say that, but certain people I would say that,” Kelly answered. “You play somewhere for three years and you give them all you got every summer, every winter and all you ask for is an hour and a half to have it like you want to have it and people got a problem with it.”
The questions continued for one of Oklahoma’s best receivers of the Stoops era, a player who was about to be selected as a high first-round draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Will you ever train at Oklahoma again?
“What would I have to train here for?” answered Kelly in disgust. “Nah. No. I’m done trying to train in here.”
That was four and a half years ago. Kelly was played that audio just this week and asked for his response to what he heard, what he remembered.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad that’s how it sounded,” said Kelly. “As mad as I was, I really kept my cool.”
This pro day incident overshadows everything about Malcolm Kelly’s career at Oklahoma.
But it shouldn’t.
It was the silent soldier choosing to end his silence. Looking back at it now, Kelly isn’t bitter. He’s not blaming Oklahoma for anything after that day.
Kelly is thankful for the NFL career he had, even though it ended shortly due to constant injury.
In fact, injury is why Kelly chose to leave Norman after his junior season, he knew his body and he knew his time was short.
“I’ve never said this before, but the biggest thing for me was that I knew I had health problems,” explained Kelly about his decision to leave OU early. “Coming into college, I tore my ACL once in middle school. Then I got to college and a lot of people say your career is over after you’ve had a microfracture surgery and I had microfracture surgery after my sophomore year.
“I knew my family history as far as my health went. My thinking process was that, I knew people had me rated high and I knew when it came time for guys to poke around on me at the combine I knew my grade was going to drop down because of my health.
“But I refused to come back to school and get hurt in training camp, and then have three knee surgeries and then have no chance whatsoever. It was a tough decision and I told coach Stoops about those reasons behind my decision.”
To paint Kelly with the broad brush of his pro day was never fair. He was one of the team’s biggest and brightest personalities. Kelly even says other players gave him a hard time for his closer than normal relationship to head coach Bob Stoops.
“You can ask any one of the OU coaches, you can ask any one of the training staff, you can even ask some of the players,” said Kelly. “They used to say I was coach Stoops’ boy. They used to say I was his little son. We had that type of relationship.
“When coach Stoops used to want stuff done and wanted to talk to players about stuff off the field, they would come to me. That’s the type of relationship we had. When that all transpired that day, I was like a raging bull. That’s the only way I can explain it.”
Kelly now says he shoulders some of the blame for the way things went down during his pro day.
“I’m going to say this too for the first time. I might have dropped the ball myself,” he said. “What I should have done is told the scouts and everybody that if you want to watch me run, come in the back room and watch me where I planned on running it.”
“I came in a week early on purpose to come in and talk to whoever I needed to talk to - whoever was going to be running the pro day - to make sure that this is where I’m going to run at when I come in and run.
“When I walked in there the morning of the pro day and I see the cones lined up exactly where I came in a week early to make sure they weren’t going to be, automatically my mind is in a whole different place. I’m fiery red, I’m pissed, I’m angry past the point of discussion at this point of time.”
Kelly says he hesitated in asking scouts to come watch him run in the Mosier Indoor facility because he was worried scouts would think he had an attitude and needed special treatment.
But now that’s behind him and he just wants to get back to being a Sooner again.
Not that he ever stopped.
“I still talk to coach Gundy and coach Heupel all the time,” said Kelly. “I talk to coach Sumlin all the time, well, he’s a lot busier now.”
But one guy Kelly hasn’t talked to since his pro day is the one guy everyone wants him to call. The guy who used to treat Malcolm like his “little son”, Bob Stoops.
“You know man, I’m gonna be honest. I’ve been telling myself I need to call coach Stoops,” said Kelly. “I haven’t talked to coach Stoops in five years. However long it’s been since I left. Coach Stoops, when I was there, we were really close. We really had a close relationship.
“I’m not worried about him being mad at me. I guess the biggest thing is how does this conversation start? That’s what it is,” he laughed.
Kelly has started a successful well service back home near Longview, Texas, and it’s kept him busy. But now that things are slowing down, he wants to embrace being a Sooner again.
He hasn’t been back for a home game since he left Oklahoma, even though his former teammate Juaquin Iglesias has recently been hounding him to come back to Norman with him.
“Juaquin actually tried to get me to come back to the Notre Dame game but I had stuff going on here,” he said. “That’s my second home. I loved the time I spent down there and you form relationships and bonds with guys that last a lifetime.”
Kelly is Sooner family. Sometimes families go through rough patches. Kelly is ready for that rough patch to be over.
It’s likely that call to Stoops will happen soon. Maybe Sooner fans who are still holding a grudge over that pro day outburst will let go of those hard feelings as well.
KELLY AS A SOONER
What Kelly should be remembered for is his performance as an Oklahoma receiver. Kelly was truly a big-play receiver at Oklahoma. Even though most of Oklahoma’s reception records are largely held by Ryan Broyles and Juaquin Iglesias, Kelly still sneaks in as the No. 5 overall leader in receiving yards for a career with 2,285.
He also sits at 4th on the list of all-time records for touchdown receptions in a career with 21 between 2005-2007.
Kelly put up his numbers after missing both Fiesta Bowl games in 2006 and 2007. He also did it under three different quarterbacks (Bomar, Thompson and Bradford) and offenses based more on play action passes behind the running of Adrian Peterson and Allen Patrick.
Missing those bowl games against Boise State and West Virginia is still a sore spot for Kelly after all these years.
“If I’m a receiver or any kind of player, when you want to shine the most, you want to shine the most in a big game,” said Kelly of missing those games. “Why on earth would you want to go in a bowl game and want to sit on the sideline.”
Kelly actually tried to play in the West Virginia Fiesta Bowl in 2007 but quickly realized he couldn’t go.
“I went out there. I shouldn’t have because I knew before that game what my leg felt like,” he remembered. “I knew if I pushed that thing it would be a bad situation. I went out there anyway.”
That injury ended up being much worse than doctors thought initially. Instead of a thigh bruise, it ended up being a tear in his thigh muscle.
Part of Kelly’s frustration on his pro day was that he had so much riding on coming back from that injury.
“By the time I did get treatment, I only worked out for 2 ½ to 3 weeks before that pro day. That was the only time I ran that entire offseason.”
OTHER CONTROVERSY FOR KELLY
Kelly was a part of some memorable moments at Oklahoma. They weren’t always great moments either.
He experienced the 2005 loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock and he was a big part of that Oregon loss in Eugene when Allen Patrick recovered the onside kick try that was awarded to Oregon.
Just like Stoops, the Oregon game bothers Kelly the most in those years.
“That Oregon game, when you just clearly rob somebody,” he recalled. “ I keep forgetting that was on the front line jumping for the onside kick. This stuff was visible. You could see the guy clearly hit me before the 10 yards. That was the worst thing about that game. They were talking noise about how they really won that game.”
But the most shocking moment of Kelly’s career? Way more shocking than his pro day outburst, was the day Rhett Bomar was kicked out of the Oklahoma football program just before the start of training camp in 2006.
I had actually called Kelly that morning, while he was still in Longview, as rumors started to pour in.
“When you called me and told me that I picked up the phone and started calling other people and asking if they’d heard anything and no one had even heard anything,” Kelly remembered. “It was crazy. I really couldn’t believe it. After that I started thinking, ‘If Rhett’s not going to be the quarterback what are we going to do?’ We practiced with that guy the whole spring and I really didn’t know what to expect. The whole situation was crazy.”
Kelly said before the call, he knew of a big team meeting that was supposed to happen. It was mainly a welcome to training camp meeting, but it quickly became a crushing development.
“I think by the time everybody got back to Norman the story was out there that Rhett and J.D. got kicked off the team,” Kelly said. “When Bob sat there and told us exactly what it was, I just remember after the meeting we were like, ‘Man!’ I really can’t say what we were saying.”