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Disciplining stars is something Switzer has seemingly found difficult to do. For instance, starting Split End Buster Rhymes, recruited as an all-world running back in 1982, was caught with another player in possession of a third player's stereo that they'd swiped from the third guy's room. Inexplicably, Switzer allowed Rhymes to remain on the squad as a disciplinary redshirt. Then last December Rhymes was caught cheating on a botany test—"I really got stuck," he says—and was tossed out of school for one semester. It's not necessary to put people in jail and toss out the keys for such indiscretions, but at some point a no-nonsense stand must be made. Dupree, with all his excuses and ailments—some real, some imagined—has left Switzer twisting in the wind and looking foolish.
Ditto the university, for Dupree had stopped being a college student. Jin Brown, academic counselor for the athletic department, told SI's Jill Lieber last week, "I've talked to all of Marcus' teachers the last few days. He just hasn't gone to school. What has he done classwise this year? Zip. Nothing. He probably would have flunked every course." Dupree regularly cut American History 1493, failed the first test in the course, dropped it and picked up Skills for College Success, which he attended once. And in a remarkable lapse of judgment, he failed to attend most of the classes in Philosophy 1203, which is taught in part by University President William S. Banowsky. Says Brown, "When we give a kid an athletic scholarship, it's to represent us in games. Because he doesn't cut it scholastically, how can you hold him out of games?"
If that sort of educational philosophy is open to question, Brown's further observation on Dupree is not: "Marcus is too immature to make a rational decision, especially right now." It's this immaturity that friends repeatedly cite as being Dupree's key shortcoming. Says Oklahoma basketball All-America Wayman Tisdale, a buddy who knows star pressure well, "You grow more from the bad times than the good. Marcus is too immature to realize that." Adds Sooner Defensive Tackle Rick Bryan, who is also an All-America, "Marcus doesn't handle the pressure very well. When you are under pressure, you don't run home."
Despite this being his second year away from Philadelphia, Dupree says that he was homesick and that he didn't realize how much he missed his mother, Cella. She, however, encouraged him to stay at school, although on Saturday she said, "Whatever Marcus wants is what I want." When Dupree would say he was coming home to visit, Cella would try to dissuade him by saying, "Why, Marcus? Ain't nothin' changed." Moreover, Dupree knew he was falling far short of his expectations, and everyone else's. And as his troubles deepened, he talked to no one. That was true to form; he has always been reticent. Brown thinks Dupree's penchant for keeping everything inside himself is "the whole problem." His roommate, Quarterback Danny Bradley, says, "He never indicated to me that he would do this. I don't know why he isn't here. If they [the coaches] showed more concern for Marcus as a person, instead of worrying about him running over people every week, the situation might be different."
Almost all of Dupree's friends and coaches believe that when he went home after the Texas game, he had no intention of staying there. Switzer talked with him by phone on the ensuing Monday and told him in no uncertain terms to get on a 1 p.m. flight out of Jackson and to get back to Norman pronto. Dupree now says he couldn't get a ride to the airport. On Tuesday he went to the airport but just before boarding the plane had a change of heart. He remained around Jackson and then went to visit a high school classmate, Alvin Kidd, at Mississippi College. On Wednesday Dupree called Sooner Assistant Coach Scott Hill and Fullback Spencer Tillman. Dupree told Hill he planned to return to Oklahoma. From Tillman he wanted to know whether his car, a 1982 Oldsmobile Toronado, was all right.
By Thursday, Dupree was in Hattiesburg with Fairley. About 10 p.m. that night Dupree had a brief interview in a parking lot with three reporters, to whom he said, "I'm not going back to Oklahoma." He also lamented his inability to please Switzer. On Friday, Dupree visited with Southern Mississippi Coach Jim Carmody and telephoned Mississippi State Coach Emory Bellard. Later that day Sooner Assistant Coach Lucious Selmon, who had recruited Dupree out of the grasp of Texas, showed up. Says Selmon, "I think he's at the crossroads, a fork, becoming a mature man or trying to hold on to his mother's guidance." Their three-hour conversation took place largely at Carries Luncheonette—Dupree ordered his favorite, fried chicken—and Selmon made some serious headway. "He said he wasn't happy in Norman," says Selmon. "He never once told me that before."
As for Switzer's harping, Selmon said diplomatically, "Marcus doesn't take criticism too well." On parting at the Hattiesburg airport, Selmon told Dupree, "Give it a lot of thought." Dupree said he would, but when he slid back into the car driven by Fairley, Dupree said, "I'm still not goin' back there." Selmon, however, maintained at week's end that the chances were 3 to 1 that Dupree would return to Oklahoma.
Sooner Assistant Head Coach Merv Johnson says of Dupree, "He enjoys all the benefits of football, all the adulation. He just doesn't enjoy football. He's got to want to do it. It's like going to work every morning. Unless he comes to that feeling, that he wants to go to work every morning, what's the point?"
In the midst of all the recriminations, it seemed odd that only a few months ago Dupree was musing, "I try to make life simple, mind my own business, keep my mouth shut and make life fun." Last week, he was, sadly, 0 for 4 on those counts. The folks at Oklahoma do understand that.