Heupel back on the OU sideline

NORMAN, Okla. -- The mural still sits there, the most vibrant, striking, football office reminder of the remarkable 2000 season.

In it, there's quarterback Josh Heupel, falling backwards, a sea of Florida State defenders ready to converge, releasing a sure-to-be-caught bomb to one of his Sooner teammates. Almost everyday he walks past the picture, but rarely does he take a look.

"Honestly, I try not too," Heupel said. "It's kinda strange."

So are a lot of others things for the former Heisman Trophy runner-up. Heupel, who spent the better part of 1999-2001 doing everything he could to beat Texas, win the Big 12 and send Oklahoma to the national championship, now works for the Sooners as a graduate assistant.

The goals are still the same, but the glory is entirely different.

His desk is in a plain, simple, shared office down the hall from the video guys. His job is the thankless one that starts earlier than everyone else's and ends later. It comes without any recognition, yet it's the place where everybody starts. Bob Stoops. Chuck Long. Brent Venables. Kevin Wilson. All former graduate assistants.

"It's the natural progression that happens to everybody," Stoops said. "Josh -- he's been great. He has everything it takes -- the leadership, the understanding, the ability to communicate. And he always gets the respect of the players."

If Heupel had his way, he wouldn't be here. At least not yet. Heupel was a sixth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in the 2001 NFL draft, but injured his wrist in the first preseason game. After several rehab attempts, including one with the Green Bay Packers and another with NFL Europe, he never regained his form. And never played another down in the NFL. Shortly before last season, Stoops offered the football coach's son a chance to join the Sooners. Heupel accepted, signing on as the offensive graduate assistant.

He now takes six hours of classes each semester (mostly online classes in the fall), but spends the overwhelming majority of his time scouting opponent's tendencies. Each week, in between his required array of meetings, practices and planning, Heupel watches tape on the following week's opponent, working as the Sooners first line of scouting defense.

Texas, for example, he watched last week, charting down and distance for every play from the line of scrimmage, looking for any defensive tendencies he could find. When do they usually blitz? Where do they blitz from? What are their typical coverages? How do they disguise coverages? What's different from last year?

He inputs his findings into a computer, which generated the scouting report that was handed to coaches and players on Monday.

It's during the game, when the Sooners exploit something he discovered, that the payoff comes.

"When a play is called from the sideline that you helped scout, you have just as much, if not more enthusiasm and enjoyment, as you did making a play on the field," Heupel said. "As a quarterback, when you make your checks and throw the touchdown, that's the best of both worlds. But this is pretty close."

In season, a typical workday is about 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. And there aren't days off. That comes in the offseason.

"Coaches will tell you, there's not a whole lot of personal time with this job," Heupel said. "I pretty much live out of this office."

On the field, the former All-American quarterback spends most of his time with the offensive line. Yes, offensive line. It's the one position he knew nothing about after college, but has seemed to fit in well.

"My dad was a defensive coach and as a quarterback I spent a lot of time with the skill guys on offense. But never the line," Heupel said. "One of my first days here the guys were giving me a hard time, teasing me that they never saw me spend a day in college with the linemen. How was I going to coach them?"

By learning.

"He never played offensive line, but I would trust him with my guys as much as anyone," said Wilson, the co-offensive coordinator and O-line coach. "Sure, he doesn't know what it feels like, but he's soaked up everything else. And I'll tell you -- he's going to be a better coach than he was a player."

In addition to scouting opponents and coaching the line, Heupel spends each Sunday grading the Sooner offense on their previous game. He also runs the scout team and occasionally helps out with quarterbacks, sharing tidbits he learned during his years in Norman.

How different is his new life? Heupel, who grew tired of the media onslaught during the Heisman campaign of his senior year, now hunts for stories about his offensive line so he can send them to recruits.

"He stands for everything I like to think our program is about," Stoops said. "Competitiveness, toughness, the ability to win. I like the fact that he's in front of our players everyday. That can only help our team."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.