Football is taken pretty seriously in the state of Oklahoma, and when Sooners and Cowboys fans are in close proximity to each other, words are likely to be exchanged.
New Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Monken, a former coach at Oklahoma State University, learned quickly in his first meeting with quarterback Baker Mayfield, a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Oklahoma, that old rivalries die hard.
“It does absolutely stink that he’s from Oklahoma,” Monken said with a wry smile during his introductory press conference at team headquarters Thursday. “That was probably the negative that almost stopped me from taking the job.”
It did not take long for the former Cowboys coach and Sooners standout to trade barbs about their old schools.
“First thing I said was, ‘You know, in 2011, we won the Big XII and beat Oklahoma,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but you had like a 38-year old quarterback,’ so it didn’t take him long to bite back,” Monken said. “I said, ‘Really, you’re just a Red Raider. You’re a Red Raider that was a transplant.’ He didn’t like that very well either, so we’ll be just fine.”
Although there was some good-natured ribbing going back and forth between coach and player, Monken knows well the kind of talent he is inheriting as Browns offensive coordinator.
Mayfield threw more touchdowns passes than any other rookie in the 99-year history of the NFL.
Mayfield broke the NFL record co-held by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and multi-time Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl signal-caller Russell Wilson with his 27th touchdown throw of the season with 3:24 to play in regulation of a 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC North Division clash at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 30.
Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and the 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions after taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“On film, it’s easy to see his skill set, his ability to make plays outside the pocket, what he brings to the team in terms of mental toughness, the leadership part,” Monken said. “He inspires others to play around him. He holds himself and others to a high standard, which is where you’ve got to start at quarterback, so I’m excited to get started. It’s an exciting time.”
Although Mayfield does not get official credit for the victory over the Jets because he came on in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor, the first-year quarterback guided the Browns to seven wins and the greatest single-year turnaround in franchise history.
Under the direction of new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, who was the interim offensive coordinator for the second half of the 2018 regular season, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Mayfield averaged 281.75 yards and 2.375 touchdowns per game with Kitchens calling the plays.
“What I’ve heard about Baker is similar to Jameis (Winston),” Monken said. “He loves football. He’s very intelligent. He’s passionate about it. He owns it. Those are all the things that I hear about Baker, a guy that loves football, loves to compete, loves to be around the building and owns his mistakes, which is a great start.”