The Littrells’ remarkable OU football saga continues

The Littrells’ remarkable OU football saga continues

Thursday night brings the latest chapter in the Littrell family’’s remarkable Sooner saga: Seth’s first game as the OU offensive coordinator, in the Alamo Bowl against Arizona. Jim Littrell marvels that his Sooner story keeps growing, a half-century after he lined up in a backfield with Joe Washington and Steve Davis.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 26, 2023, 5:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 26, 2023, 5:00pm CST

SAN ANTONIO — Jim Littrell wouldn’t let his son play tackle football until the sixth grade. So Seth Littrell was 12 before his parents noticed the stunning similarity.

It’s one thing to look like your dad or to sound like your dad. But to stand like your dad?

“The first time I saw him get in the huddle, he was standing there with his arms on one of the guys and he had his feet crossed, which was the exact way I used to stand in the day,” Jim Littrell said. “And my wife, she looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

But there’s a limit to any like-father/like-son resemblances. Even the Littrells, whose paths were remarkably and historically congruent: starting OU fullbacks from Muskogee on unbeaten, national-championship Sooner teams.

And here’s where the roads forked. When Jim finished his OU playing days, he returned to Muskogee and entered the family auto dealership business. When Seth finished his playing days, he jumped into coaching. 

And Thursday night brings the latest chapter in the Littrell family’’s remarkable Sooner saga: Seth’s first game as the OU offensive coordinator, in the Alamo Bowl against Arizona.

Jim Littrell marvels that his Sooner story keeps growing, a half-century after he lined up in a backfield with Joe Washington and Steve Davis.

I mean, it’s one thing for a son to succeed with the very same script as his father, with the biggest variance being they were fullbacks from different offenses, one from the wishbone, the other from the Air Raid. It’s quite another for the story to not stop there. Jim Littrell has to be pinching himself.

“Everyone once in a while, when I let myself think about it,” Jim admitted. “It’s pretty exciting. It really truly is.

“Everybody has dreams, and you always kind of put ’em down in your mind and kind of think about ‘em from time to time. Never know if they’ll happen or not. But so far so good. We’re blessed. Lot of good things have happened to us that we probably don’t deserve.”

Seth knows a little bit about dreams. As a kid, he lived the excitement of having a father who was part of Camelot. Those Barry Switzer teams of the mid-1970s featuring Davis and the Selmon brothers and Rod Shoate and Randy Hughes and Jimbo Elrod and Tinker Owens and Grant Burget and Wayne Hoffman and Terry Webb and Mike Vaughan. And those were just the players from eastern Oklahoma.

Seth remembers taking down his dad’s game balls from the ’70s and throwing them around their Muskogee home. Of being in the OU locker room after games of the 1980s, meeting the likes of Brian Bosworth and Charles Thompson. Of praying with his mom, Judy, for his dream of playing for the Sooners.

“Lots of prayers before bed,” Seth says today. “She’d tell me stories about the future; ‘Win one just like your daddy.’ Crazy how those prayers, they came true.”

Seth eventually widened his goals: 1) Play for the Sooners and win a national title; 2) Coach for the Sooners and win a national title.

“It is cool, obviously,” said Jim. “Yeah, I have pride in that. Pride’s one of those type of words … you know what it’s like when your kids do things, you have pride in what they are. I’m not to the point where I’m prideful. Seth worked for everything he got.

“Same thing when I came to OU. I played with guys that were all-Americans, great players. ‘I’m going to do the best I can to get on the field.’ It worked out. I was proud that I found a way.”

Jim Littrell grew up an OU fan — Muskogee produced all-time greats like Eddie Crowder, Max Boydston, Bo Bolinger and Burris brothers Buddy, Kurt and Bob. But Littrell also was thinking Arkansas while being recruited.

Littrell visited OU, and Sooner coach Chuck Fairbanks was straightforward in his pitch.

“‘Let me ask you a question,’” Littrell said Fairbanks pitched. “‘Since you’ve been alive, where have you always wanted to play?’

“And I said, ‘Well, coach, I guess, probably I’d have had to say OU.’ And he said, ‘OK, that’s good. Then that’s where you ought to come.’

“And I thought, ‘OK, you’re right.’ It worked out for us at the time. None of us ever knew what was gonna come down. If we did, we’d have been running to Norman to try to sign up. But like I said, it was a magical time.”

Jim Littrell became the 1974 starting fullback after 1973 breakout star Waymon Clark was booted from the team. In his first start, Littrell rushed for 125 yards on 17 carries against Baylor, 155 yards on 18 carries against Missouri and 147 yards on 26 carries against Nebraska. Littrell finished with  837 yards on 124 carries. Injuries limited Littrell to 388 yards in 1975, but his knighthood was secured.

Jim Littrell thought about coaching, but he and Judy already were three years married and were ready to settle down. So they returned to Muskogee, and Jim joined his family’s car business. Seth came along in 1978 and daughter Lindsey not long after that.

Soon enough, those father/son similarities extended to the football field, and in 1997 Seth signed with the Sooners.

“We’re very similar in a lot of different ways,” Seth said. “Pretty laid back until it’s time to lock in. Very similar personality-wise. Never try to get too high. Never get too low. Stay positive. Keep grounded.

“It’s funny, we’re both a little introverted. Love talking to people, but there’s a time I like to turn it off as well, needing that time to charge my batteries. He’s very insular as well.”

Seth was not a ballyhooed recruit but started a couple of games at tailback as a true freshman in the turbulent 1997 season, even rushing for 88 yards on 21 carries at top-ranked Nebraska. OU football at the time was cockeyed under John Blake; in 1998, the Sooners temporarily switched to the wishbone, and Littrell was named the starting fullback.

But the wishbone didn’t last, and neither did Blake. In December 1998, Bob Stoops was hired as head coach, and suddenly Littrell was an Air Raid fullback.

The Sooners won the 2000 national championship, and Littrell in two short years had made so many high-level coaching contacts, his options were many.

Littrell spent three years at Kansas as a graduate assistant for Mark Mangino; four years at Texas Tech as a running backs coach for Mike Leach; three years at Arizona for Mike Stoops, the last as offensive coordinator; two years at Indiana as offensive coordinator for Kevin Wilson; two years as offensive coordinator at North Carolina for Larry Fedora; and finally seven years as head coach at North Texas.

Not an easy job. The last head coach to leave UNT with a winning record was Hayden Fry, in 1978. Littrell went 44-44 over seven years and was fired. But no hard feelings.

“Seth was fortunate at North Texas,” Jim Littrell said. “They’re good people down there. We loved it. They treated him right. He had given all he could.”

Brent Venables brought in Littrell as a staff analyst for the 2023 season, and now Littrell is offensive coordinator.

“Absolutely, it’s a blessing,” Seth said. “We know God’s plan is always perfect. The same prayers my mom’s been praying over my entire life, they’re coming true.”

Every coach who comes to Norman hails the tradition. But OU’s new offensive coordinator already has lived the tradition, not just as a player, but as an 8-year-old boy meeting Brian Bosworth and throwing around OU-Nebraska game balls.

“The bonuses are you know the ins and outs of the program,” Seth said. “You know the tradition, you know the importance of competing and winning championships. That’s a big standard. Big goals each and every year, I take that very seriously.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to help us win championships. Just knowing the history and having lived it and gone through it … I think it’ll force me to work even harder. I’m not going to put my head on the pillow  to go to sleep that I haven’t done everything to get back to a national championship.”

And over in eastern Oklahoma, Seth’s biggest fan is confident in his son.

“He’s got big shoes to fill, but he’s a big boy, and he’s ready to go fill ‘em,” said Jim Littrell, who knows a thing or two about Seth filling big shoes. “I think he’ll get ‘er done.”

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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