Blake Griffin defends coach Jeff Capel
Joe Castiglione called his decision to fire Oklahoma Sooners coach Jeff Capel "a change of direction."
And while Capel said in a statement he considers OU a "first class institution and an excellent place to coach," former Sooners standout Blake Griffin thought Capel's firing was more like a slap to the face.
He took over the program after Kelvin Sampson and all of those sanctions and he put his faith in everyone. This is what he gets?” -- Blake Griffin
The former Oklahoma star who is now playing for the Los Angeles Clippers said the university's decision to fire his coach was "unfair" and that the school was "piling it on."
"What bothers me the most is that everyone is saying he did all of this when Blake Griffin was there," Griffin said. "Well to me, you say he deserves no credit when a certain player is there and then, when things go bad, throw all the blame on him. To me, they're piling it on. He took over the program after Kelvin Sampson and all of those sanctions and he put his faith in everyone. This is what he gets? Within two years we're in the tournament and now two years later he's fired? It's completely unfair."
Griffin, who said he received a text from Capel shortly after the university's decision, felt so strongly about Oklahoma's decision that he reached out to ESPN.com on Tuesday afternoon.
The No. 1 draft pick two years ago and the top rated player coming out of high school, Griffin's decision to attend Oklahoma was something of a stunner. It helped that his older brother, Taylor, already was there and that the Griffins are Oklahoma natives.
Still the program was mired in the mess that Sampson left behind and Capel was just in his second season.
Jeff Capel misses Blake Griffin
Everything was fine for ex-coach Jeff Capel when Blake Griffin was in town ... but it's been a mess in Norman ever since.
Jeff Capel At Oklahoma Last 3 Seasons
• Made Elite 8 in 2009 (30-6 overall)
• 13-18 and 14-18 overall in last 2 seasons (9-23 combined in Big 12)
• Five underclassmen and two assistant coaches left program after 2010 season
• Former assistant under investigation for allegedly committing a major rules violation by helping former center Tiny Gallon obtain $3K loan
Griffin took the leap of faith, anyway, jumping mostly because of Capel.
By the end of his sophomore season, Griffin was the national player of the year and the Sooners, once in the NCAA dust, were in the Elite Eight.
"As soon as he got the job he started recruiting me and we were in it together," Griffin said. "When I committed to Oklahoma, it wasn't a popular thing to do at the time but I went because of Coach Capel. We all take pride in what we did there and what we built and for them to turn their backs on him so quickly, it really disappoints me."
Griffin isn't naive. He knows that since he left, it has been lean times and troubled times at OU. Despite recruiting as many as four McDonald's All-Americans, Capel and the Sooners were 27-36 in the last two seasons and attendance has steadily flagged.
Worse, the NCAA came back to campus, investigating a loan between a financial adviser and former player Keith "Tiny" Gallon.
"I understand you have to win and I understand the coaching carousel," Griffin said. "And I know about the NCAA but he has said he knew nothing about it and I believe him. Besides, look around at some other coaches and what has happened. They're still coaching. In comparison to Oklahoma, you can't even compare it."
Griffin, who said he's only spoken briefly with Capel since the firing, isn't one to grab his saber and rattle cages.
He hasn't called Castiglione nor does he intend to.
I don't claim to know everything when it comes to basketball, but I do know a great coach. He's a great coach and I think Oklahoma has made a mistake.” -- Blake Griffin
While the decision angers him, it won't sully his relationship with the school. He said his feelings for Oklahoma are rooted in his relationships with his former teammates and the experience he had there.
He was, however, affected enough that he felt compelled to speak and is certain he is not alone in his frustration.
Griffin said he exchanged text messages with his brother, who is playing overseas and that Taylor is equally mystified and is sure his other teammates feel the same.
"I just want people to know the respect I have for Coach Capel and to let people know that I feel like they're giving him a really unfair boot," Griffin said. "I don't claim to know everything when it comes to basketball, but I do know a great coach. He's a great coach and I think Oklahoma has made a mistake."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow Dana O'Neil on Twitter: @dgoneil1
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