Teamwork Brings Venables Back to OU
A familiar face returns to OU to lead the Sooners into a new era and a new conference.
erupted as the private jet began its descent from the night sky into a glow of
television lights on the tarmac of Max Westhemier Airport. Like giddy children
waiting for Santa, hundreds of true believers stood on tiptoe and craned their
necks to get a better view. When the plane landed and a familiar figure in an
Oklahoma ballcap came into view, the OU marching band struck up the fight song,
fireworks exploded in the darkness and euphoric fans nearly did, too. After 10
years, Brent Venables had come home to deliver the
Sooner Nation from uncertainty.
During his 12 years as OU’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach, the Sooners ranked among the top 16 nationally in total defense eight times (including each year from 2000-06) and among the top 20 in scoring defense eight times. Venables helped coach the Sooners to a national championship in 2000 and was named one of the nation’s top five assistant college coaches in 2006.
For the past decade, he has been racking up similar accolades in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Clemson University. Under Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney, the Tigers have celebrated two national championships—both against SEC rival Alabama. Each of his last eight Clemson defenses have ranked in the top 15 nationally in yards allowed and first in sacks. He has coached the Tigers to conference titles each year from 2015-20 and claimed the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach in 2016.
For Venables to leave Clemson, he said, would take something “really special.” And for the former associate Sooner coach, that is exactly what happened.
“This is an incredibly special opportunity,” says Venables. “Julie and I and our family are extremely grateful for the belief in us — and certainly in me — to be the next head coach at Oklahoma, one of the winningest and most tradition-rich programs in college football history … The OU logo has never been stronger.”
The timing was incredible for OU, too. Only a week before Venables’ arrival OU had bid an unplanned adieu to former head coach Lincoln Riley when he announced pre-Alamo Bowl that he was leaving for the University of Southern California. Some fans had entered the 2021 season expecting an elevator ride to a national championship only to have the cable break. Yet, at the football practice facility on Dec. 6, in front of his team, the media and the OU community at large was a guy who had not only broken the fall, but was grinning from ear to ear, telling everyone listening that he was beyond thrilled to be there and that the best was yet to come.
While Venables is certainly the man of the hour, not enough credit can be given to the three-man team that sprang into action Nov. 28. The triumvirate included OU President Joseph Harroz Jr., who knows what he has in his athletic director; AD Joe Castiglione, who keeps an evolving list of prospective coaches at the ready; and former OU head football coach Bob Stoops, who walked off the golf course in the middle of a round to accept the position of interim head coach for as long as he was needed.
Stoops calmed the Sooner Nation, hit the recruiting trail and coached the Sooners to victory over the University of Oregon in the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl. The only time he took off was for his Dec. 7 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
Stoops’ dedication to the Sooners was rewarded with a special moment on the sidelines when he got to congratulate his son Drake, who caught a touchdown pass in the bowl game, helping the Sooners beat the Ducks 47-32, and increasing his record as the “winningest coach in OU football” from 190 to 191.
Asked about the selection of Venables for his former job, Stoops said, “Brent's the absolute perfect fit for OU,” citing his experience at eight national championships, knowledge of the SEC and most importantly, love for OU.
And if anyone knows Venables’ deliverables, it’s Stoops. The pair first met in the late 1980s when Stoops was co-defensive coordinator for head coach Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Stoops paid a recruiting visit to a then-teenaged Venables—an impressive linebacker at Salina South High School. After playing two years for Garden State Community College, Venables became a self-described “crawl-on” for Kansas State, where he reconnected with Stoops, first as a player and then colleague when he started coaching as a graduate assistant in 1993. The two remained close even after Stoops left K-State for the University of Florida in 1996.
Venables would remain with the Wildcats until 1998 when he got a call from his old friend and mentor, who had just been named head coach of the Sooners.
From 1999-2011, Venables served Stoops as co-defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and eventually associate head coach, helping the Sooners win a national championship in 2000. Now he is bringing that winning spirit back to Oklahoma.
“I don’t know when I’ve felt as thrilled and excited,” said Venables after meeting with the team for the first time. “OU has one of the winningest and storied tradition-rich programs in the history of football.”
When asked about taking Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC, Venables said, “You’ve got your guy.
“We want to be the model program, not just the winning, but the model for others to follow. Every decision that we have to make will be about what’s best for the players.”
He said his number one goal is to graduate his players and equip them with the life skills they need from achieving their NFL dreams to becoming CEOs.
“And if that isn’t enough,” he added, “I want them to win a championship, but it’s in that order.”
Venables gridiron goals include an “exciting, fast explosive and diverse offense and a physical punishing, relentless suffocating defense.”
He said the most important thing to his family—wife Julie;sons Jake and Tyler, who play football for Clemson; and daughters Delaney and Addison, was the supportive and dedicated leadership at the University of Oklahoma.
“The people in the profession know Joe Castiglione, Joe Harroz, the Board of Regents, the leadership in this university. First of all, it’s first class. . . this university can have any coach in the country and any coach in the country would love. . .to be here in my shoes.
“So, again, just grateful to be here, and really looking forward to the opportunities.”
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