WAXHAW, N.C. – Even as he puttered his way through an Indiana snowstorm with his son Austin’s belongings in the back of a truck, Brian Kendall was filled with relief.
Driving from Oklahoma to West Virginia in mid-January is nobody’s idea of a Zen moment. Big trucks were kicking up plenty of salt and muck on the interstate, and Kendall had no practical way of removing it because his windshield washing solution was frozen solid.
“I had to pour bottled water onto the windshield and hit the wipers,” Kendall noted, bringing to mind a much colder version of Ace Ventura.
As harrowing as all that may have been, it beat the events of the previous week. After patiently waiting three years behind superstar quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, Austin Kendall’s opportunity to start for the Sooners was finally on the horizon. Then, quite suddenly, it was gone.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley informed the Kendalls that the Sooners would pursue Alabama graduate transfer Jalen Hurts.
“When Lincoln mentioned to me he was looking at the ‘kid from Alabama,’ I was like ‘Here we go again,’ Brian Kendall said. “Austin could outplay him in camp, but a 24-2 record or whatever it is? You push that out there and see what happens.”
The Kendalls had prepared a contingency. Austin earned his degree in December with the idea of being able to participate in spring practice at a new school if the Sooners brought in a transfer QB. As that scenario played out, Austin knew exactly where he wanted to go – to play for new coach Neal Brown at West Virginia.
Among the reasons the Mountaineers stuck out: Kendall was recruited by Brown when he was Kentucky’s offensive coordinator.
“We’ve known Neal forever. We’ve kept in contact with him all these years even though he ended up at Troy,” Brian Kendall said.
He was comfortable that West Virginia’s offense was similar to Oklahoma’s, and “they clearly need help in the quarterback room when there’s only two quarterbacks. They need depth. And then the fact everybody’s on a clean slate. Nobody has the upper hand.”
That wasn’t the case at many other schools that reached out to Austin once his name was entered into the NCAA transfer portal.
“At all the other schools kids have been in the program two or three years or he’d have to beat an incumbent,” Brian said. “Those are all uphill battles.”
As it turned out, the biggest battle had to be fought against the school from which Austin had earned his degree.
Blocked by OU
On Jan. 11, Austin received an e-mail from the NCAA informing there had been a change to his status in the transfer portal. According to notes added by Oklahoma’s compliance department, he was barred from transferring within the Big 12 or to any school on the schedule for the final two years of his career.
When Austin asked Riley for permission to come to West Virginia, he was turned down.
“They were pretty adamant. He verbally told Austin no,” Brian Kendall said. “He felt bad for Austin, but he was thinking about it from a school perspective.”
At that point, the Kendalls amped up the effort on their contingency plans. After all, they hardly looked like contingencies at that point. WVU was a long shot.
“Neal wanted to get us on campus earlier in the week,” Brian said. “I didn’t want to waste his time.”
It was too late for Austin to enroll at home-state schools N.C. State and Duke, where spring semester enrollment deadlines had passed. “He could have sat out this spring, but what’s the point of all that hard work in the classroom if you’re going to sit out?” Brian said. “Then you are behind the 8-ball.”
While hoping to break the impasse, the Kendalls visited a pair of SEC programs – Auburn and one other school they wish to keep unnamed. Austin even filed paperwork to enroll at the mystery school as it seemed unlikely that Lincoln and OU athletics director Joe Castiglione would relent.
“I was very worried about it,” Brian said. “I respect Lincoln, and Joe’s been there a long time. They have had so much success that they might have thought ‘We’ll weather the storm and we won’t fold.’”
On Jan. 16, Austin still didn’t know where he would attend graduate school, but he did know it wouldn’t be at Oklahoma. That morning he went to the Sooners’ facility to say his farewells.
Within hours news leaked that Oklahoma was blocking his transfer within the Big 12.
“It felt like a high-stakes poker game with $1 million on the line,” Brian said. “Who was going to fold? I know what I was feeling. I can’t imagine what Austin was going through.
“A couple schools were like ‘You have to enroll by today,’ and I think they were bluffing, quite frankly.”
Oklahoma held all the cards until social media pressure took hold. Riley and the Sooners took a beating from all corners of the internet. It seemed disingenuous for a school taking in a third consecutive transfer quarterback to have say on the future of a player who had come to the program out of high school.
“I told Lincoln I sent my kid clear across the country at 17 years old. And yes, you molded him into a better player and a better man,” Brian said. “But he had commented to me in a text ‘If there’s anything I can do to help.’ Well…”
Finally, around 5:30 p.m. Central time, Riley called Austin. Oklahoma caved to what Riley would later call “the human element.” Kendall was free to go where he wanted.
Now that the crisis is over, Brian Kendall says any hard feelings are water under the bridge. When West Virginia visits Norman, Okla., on Oct. 19, the Kendalls will be going with gratitude rather than vengeance.
“It’s apparent that Austin’s football IQ is way higher than it was three years ago, and I credit that to Lincoln,” Brian said. “Of the three or four schools we were serious with in this process, Austin really impressed them with his football knowledge and what he wants to do on the field.”
After watching their son sit behind back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, the Kendalls are excited to see Austin finally get a chance to start next season. They’re also excited to have him playing within driving distance of their Charlotte-area home.
“Everything kept pointing to West Virginia,” Brian said. “And we can drive every weekend. How about that? In three years, the only games we could drive to were West Virginia games. Just think of the money we’ll save on that alone.”