Sooners trying to regroup after Cochell resignation

Oklahoma players and coaches spent Sunday trying to regroup following a weekend media blitz surrounding coach Larry Cochell's resignation after using a racial slur.

"It has been a firestorm," said Sunny Golloway, a Cochell assistant who was named interim coach Sunday. "My phone does not stop ringing. I have to turn off the TV, the radio, my phone just to think.

"My first concern is for the student-athletes. Yesterday, we had a good practice and tried to find a rallying point. They want to finish strong."

Cochell resigned Sunday, five days after reportedly using a racial slur in two separate off-air conversations with ESPN commentators. His announcement ended his 15-year stint at Oklahoma and came after school president David Boren, athletics director Joe Castiglione and four black members of the OU faculty and staff met to discuss his future.

"No one takes any pleasure in what has happened," Boren, a former U.S. senator, said in a statement. "A good and caring man has made a terrible mistake for which he must assume responsibility."

The Oklahoma players and coaches first became aware of the situation Friday about 25 minutes before Oklahoma's game against Nebraska, Golloway said. Cochell explained what had happened and immediately left to serve what was then termed as an immediate suspension.

"We went out and tried to play," Golloway said. "You saw the results."

Oklahoma lost the final two games of the series 8-1 and 7-1 after beating Nebraska 5-1 in Thursday's opener.

Cochell's comments came in separate pregame interviews with ESPN's Gary Thorne and Kyle Peterson before Oklahoma's April 26 game at Wichita State. He praised freshman outfielder Joe Dunigan, who is black, before saying to Thorne, "there's no n----- in him." Cochell, who is white, later spoke of Dunigan to Peterson, saying "There are honkies and white people. There are n------ and black people. Dunigan is a good black kid."

Josh Krulewitz, ESPN director of media relations, said Thorne and Peterson weren't aware they each had heard similar comments from Cochell until they shared a car on the way to Thursday's game at Oklahoma. They passed the information to their on-site producer, and it made its way through ESPN's chain of command to the management level.

"It was clear it was a news story, one that we wanted to handle appropriately and sensitively," Krulewitz said.

ESPN prepared the story for its 6 p.m. ET Friday edition of SportsCenter, and called to alert Oklahoma officials an hour before it aired. Oklahoma's game began at 7 p.m. ET.

"It wouldn't matter what sport it was for," Krulewitz said. "The story was not something manufactured. It came from conversations the coach offered to us.

"When news breaks outside of the field, our fans look to us to report it. It's news, and our fans trust us to give that to them."

Cochell apologized in a statement Friday and again in his resignation letter Sunday. Dunigan, whom Golloway described as a "quiet kid who keeps to himself," was flooded with so many calls and media requests that he stopped answering his phone. His father, Joe Dunigan Jr., told a newspaper that they forgave Cochell.

"He has apologized," Dunigan Jr. told the Oklahoman from his Chicago home. "Those words are powerful and derisive. They were inappropriate and offensive. But he is a man who has done so many good things in his life.

"He has treated us like family. We have broken bread with him. I know he is a Christian man. We all say things that we don't mean, and I hope people down there don't color him as a racist because he made a mistake."

Charles Caufield, the father of Oklahoma's other black player, Chuckie Caufield, expressed similar feelings in the Oklahoman story, as did other black athletes who played for Cochell at Oklahoma.

USC coach Mike Gillespie, former Arizona coach Jerry Kindal and Florida State coach Mike Martin were among several key figures in the college baseball community to offer Cochell support.

"I know for a fact that Larry was paying Joe a compliment," Golloway said. "In Larry's words, he made a terrible mistake."

Cochell, 64, went 534-354-1 at Oklahoma, and 1,330-812-3 in his unique and successful 39-year career. His 1994 Oklahoma team beat Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Georgia Tech to win the College World Series, and he is one of three coaches to lead three separate schools to Omaha, also making trips with Oral Roberts (1978) and Cal State Fullerton (1988, '90). He also coached at Emporia (Kan.) State, Creighton, Cal State Los Angeles and (for one season) Northwestern, and his teams made 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, including nine in 14 seasons with the Sooners.

Oklahoma stands 23-20 overall, and a 7-11 Big 12 record puts the Sooners seventh in the league. OU plays Wichita State at home Tuesday. Golloway, who was an assistant on the '94 club and who returned to the Sooners as an assistant after a successful eight-year stint as Oral Roberts' head coach, could take over on a permanent basis, but his focus is on 2005.

"I fully expect us to want to report about what a full turnaround this will be for the 2005 Sooners," Golloway said. "This is stuff you end up writing about, how we go on from here."

Around the Nation

• Congratulations to North Carolina A&T, which swept through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament over the weekend to earn the first automatic berth to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, and the first NCAA bid in school history. The Aggies, who won the regular-season crown with a 12-6 league record (27-24 overall), ended the six-year run of Bethune-Cookman.

Brigham Young junior third baseman Brandon Taylor tied an NCAA record by hitting for his second cycle of the season in a 17-2 win against Air Force. Taylor collected a single, two doubles, a triple and a home run to tie former BYU player Spencer Oborn, who posted back-to-back cycles against Air Force in 1998. That makes the one-week span between Taylor's two big games seem like much longer. Taylor homered twice more in the series, and his 17 home runs lead the Mountain West Conference.

Air Force won the second game of the series, breaking a string of 47 straight conference losses dating to a 2003 win against BYU.

Utah second baseman Doug Beck went 6-for-7, hit for the cycle and drove in nine runs in Sunday's 20-13 win against New Mexico.

USC sophomore right-hander Ian Kennedy doesn't think he's worthy of being compared to former Trojans ace Mark Prior, but he keeps giving people reasons to draw similarities. He struck out 14 batters over eight innings Friday night, allowing three hits as USC shut out Arizona for the second time this year. The Trojans hadn't blanked the Wildcats since Prior tossed a complete-game three-hitter with 15 strikeouts four years ago.

• Friday's featured pitching matchup between right-handers Jacob Marceaux of McNeese State and Matt Green of Louisiana-Monroe lived up to its billing, at least in strikeouts. Marceaux struck out a season-high 12 batters and allowed three earned runs on seven hits, while Green fanned 11 but allowed 11 hits and six earned runs. Each worked a complete game, and McNeese State won 6-4.

Texas A&M junior right-hander Robert Ray struck out nine Oklahoma State batters over 7 2/3 innings Friday to help the Aggies win the series and keep their Big 12 Conference tournament hopes alive. After losing his weekend rotation spot earlier in the year, Ray has earned it back by holding opponents to three earned runs (two coming this week) in his last 27 2/3 innings, with a 26-7 strikeout-walk ratio.

Illinois-Chicago sophomore center fielder Larry Gempp Jr. hit three home runs and collected seven RBI in a 20-5 win against Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

UNC Wilmington senior Tim Preston tied a school record by clubbing three solo home runs in a 13-4 win against James Madison.

Kentucky sophomore second baseman John Shelby, the son of the former major league outfielder, hit three home runs in an 11-8 win against Arkansas. The Wildcats won the series.

South Dakota State forfeited a game to North Dakota State over the weekend after choosing not to play following a 43-minute snow delay.

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