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Jackie Shipp Q&A
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OU defensive line coach talks about his crew, his world and 2008 season
As a player at the University of Oklahoma, Jackie Shipp was a two-time All-Big Eight performer at linebacker. He finished his collegiate career (1980-83) with 489 tackles, which ranks second on OU’s all-time list, and still owns the most stops in a single season with 189 in 1981.
Shipp was known as a player who brought toughness and a lot of passion to the field, qualities that helped him enjoy a successful NFL career.
These days, the 46-year-old Shipp tries to instill toughness and passion into the young players at his alma mater. The Oklahoma native, who enters his 10th season as an assistant coach at OU this fall, recently sat down with Sooner Spectator to talk about his profession, the 2008 Sooners and football, in general.
Sooner Spectator: Entering your 10th season as an assistant coach at your alma mater, do you look at this job and position as the perfect situation for Jackie Shipp?
Jackie Shipp: I think you could say it is a great job or maybe the perfect job for me. To be honest, how many of us get to come back and coach at the same school where we played, especially at a place like the University of Oklahoma? This is one of the top college football programs in the country, with such a great tradition. I’m very blessed to be in a situation where we win championships, but also where I am around good people and get the chance to coach great players. Is it a great opportunity? Yes. Is it a great feeling? Yes. Am I fortunate? Yes, I am very fortunate.
SS: What initially attracted you to the University of Oklahoma back in 1980 as a player?
Shipp: I think first of all it was the opportunity to come to a place where you win and play for championships. That’s pretty appealing to a 17-year-old recruit. Then there is the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the country and for some of the greatest coaches around. On top of that, OU is a great academic school. OU is a place that offers every resource possible to reach your goals both as an athlete and a student. The University of Oklahoma is a place where you have a chance to reach the top, whether you are a player or a coach.
SS: Do you have a proudest moment from your playing career?
Shipp: Oh, I had a bunch. I get asked that a lot and it’s hard to single out one moment. Maybe if you asked me back when I was playing I could answer it better, but I was fortunate to have a great number of memorable moments as a player.
SS: You had a 23-tackle performance against Texas in 1982. What do you remember about that game?
Shipp: I remember we beat Texas. Beyond that, if you want to know the truth, I think it was the fact I dropped an interception that could have been a touchdown if I had held onto the ball. It hit me right in the hands on their end of the field and I dropped it. That’s what I remember.
SS: What was your experience like at Alabama as an assistant coach for Mike DuBose in 1998?
Shipp: It was great. I enjoyed Alabama. If it wasn’t for the opportunity to come back and coach at the University of Oklahoma, I would have stayed at Alabama. Of course you are talking about two schools that are very similar, at least where their football programs are concerned. When you start talking about the great traditions of college football — great players, great coaches and great support for your team — Oklahoma and Alabama are right up there.
SS: What was it that made you want to get into coaching?
Shipp: After I retired from pro ball, I went to finish my degree. I think at the time I owned a nightclub and I was working at a radio station. Taking classes to finish up, I was a little bored. And I was talking to a friend of mine, Willie Anderson, who used to be at Oklahoma State, and we talked about the possibilities in coaching. After that, I volunteered at the Langston University.
I remember I was coaching linebackers and there was one week where we worked every practice on stopping this one certain play. And it was amazing at the beginning of that game, the first series, our opponent ran that play three straight times and we stopped it all three times. The kid I had been working with ran off the field so happy, so excited and so proud of himself — and I saw how he felt about himself and turned to a guy by the name of Roy Barnett (now coaching at Santa Monica Junior College) and I said ‘You know what? I’m a coach.’ It was very satisfying to see that kid work so hard to accomplish something and then go out and achieve his goal.
SS: What is it when you look at the kids you are coaching today that really excites you?
Shipp: Honestly, they are just like your own kids. You are excited about the potential they have. You are excited to see them have success. You have your up and down days just like you have with your own son or daughter, but you keep pushing them to be the best they can be. When you see them work to achieve their goals they have set for themselves and then actually achieve them, that’s when you really get excited. That’s what keeps you coming back.
SS: As a player, you had a great nose for the football. You are second on the all-time tackles list at OU. Is that all instinct or is it something you can teach players?
Shipp: I think instinct is something you are born with. You often hear someone say ‘That guy had great instinct on that play.’ Sometimes you see a kid make a play and wonder how he did it, and there really isn’t an answer. He just did it. You can teach a kid to improve in a lot of ways, but instinct is something you are probably blessed with. As a coach, you hope all of your players were born with some of that.
SS: Looking at Gerald McCoy, DeMarcus Granger, Cory Bennett and Adrian Taylor — is that the best defensive foursome in the Big 12?
Shipp: Those guys have a chance to be really good. I remember the group we had that included Tommie Harris, Dusty Dvoracek, Lynn McGruder and Kory Klein. Those guys were good. We’ve had some really good players here. This group of guys has a chance to be in that company, but it still has some work to do as a whole.
Gerald McCoy has had a great camp this fall, but in my mind, Gerald McCoy can be even better. Gerald McCoy is a guy who can set the bar. DeMarcus really needs to be more consistent. That’s an area he really needs to improve on. Cory Bennett has made some improvement every day and Adrian Taylor is a young man who is getting better all the time. When they get their minds set that they are going to push it every play, then we are going to have something pretty special.
SS: What about the young guys — Stacy McGee and Casey Walker?
Shipp: Two talented guys but you have to keep in they are young. It’s not very easy being a true freshman coming into this situation trying to play D-line. You have to a pretty special player to come in and play right away like Tommie Harris did. They don’t much better than that. The same thing about Dusty. McGee and Walker have a chance to be very good football players — but they have a little time to adjust and learn and improve.
SS: How critical is it for you and defensive ends coach Chris Wilson to be on the same page every moment?
Shipp: You have to be. In a way, we are teaching the same thing. When you are talking pass rush and talking footwork and hands, you need to be on the same page. Chris is in the box on game days and I’m on the field, so it’s important we prepare our guys and get them to gel together as the season progresses. We have to communicate and work well together every day.
SS: What is it about coaching that keeps your fire burning?
Shipp: We’ve had some pretty long days in camp and I’ve had some times where you start drinking a little coffee and a little tea. But it is amazing once you step out onto the field how you start jumping up and down. It’s your competitive nature, especially when you are seeing the guys do what you want them to do. I still get excited about seeing kids have success. That’s important to me. The term coach is really a slang word for teacher. I love teaching kids. I get a great enjoyment out of seeing our players succeed, and as long as I feel that way, I’ll be involved in coaching.
(Editor's Note: This Question and Answer segment appears in the August 2008 issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877 or on-line at www.soonerspectator.com)