Sooners get their man after speedy search

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN– After a week of rumor, speculation and internet chatter, the University of Oklahoma got their man. They didn’t have to look too far to find him. Brent Venables was named the 23rd head football coach in the program’s history.  

The official announcement came Sunday evening. By the time Venables landed in Norman at 9:30 p.m. he was greeted by hundreds of Oklahoma fans who welcomed him back to the OU family. 

Venables, 50, coaching resume has 12 seasons at Oklahoma as an associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator alongside Mike Stoops. 

“It’s been just an amazing journey here these last few days,” Venables said Monday at an introductory press conference. “If you would’ve asked me 10 years ago, as I walked out of my office for the last time, if I thought I’d be here 10 years later as a head football coach, I would’ve told you that you need to check yourself into a mental institution.” 

Venables left the Sooners in 2011 and took the coordinator job at Clemson, which is in the ACC. There he built a tradition of defenses that attack and play with an attitude. In the process, he won a pair of national championships and became one of the top coordinators in the country.  

The Sooners saw his defense up close in the semifinals of the 2015 College Football Playoffs. The Tigers held Baker Mayfield and a potent Oklahoma offense to 378 total yards in a 37-17 OU defeat. 

Venables said his time at Clemson was special, but the lure of coming back to Oklahoma was too big to pass on.  

“This is Oklahoma, and Oklahoma is a special place,” Venables said. “There’s a lot of incredible coaches out there, and that’s where I’ve gained as much respect for the coaching profession as I have. There were a lot of options and lots of choices. I’m just grateful to be here. I’m really looking forward to the opportunities.” 

It was exactly a week between the time Lincoln Riley announced he was leaving to take the USC job and Oklahoma hired Venables. With the state of the Sooners recruiting classes and current players entering the transferring portal, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said they knew that it had to be a quick process. 

The hiring of Venables has been lauded throughout the Sooner nation. His credentials and resume are a perfect fit for almost any elite program. 

Yet, the process in which Venables was selected may need to be questioned. During Monday’s presser Castiglione did not mention what other coaches were interviewed for the position and no NCAA rule forces institutions to make that information public.  

Yet, most of the coaching names that repeatedly came up in the media were all associated with programs in the Power 5 conferences and coaches who had prior relationships with the Sooners.  

Along with Venables and Jeff Lebby, they include Cincinnati Head Coach Luke Fickell. Georgia Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning and Baylor Head Coach Dave Aranda. 

It doesn’t appear from the outside looking in that the leadership at Oklahoma was looking too far outside the box for someone new and different. The Sooners went with a man they knew had an intimate and long relationship with.  

In an era when groups have clamored for more diversity and inclusion in the NCAA coaching ranks, it doesn’t appear any coaches of color made the cut. If OU interviewed any black or minority coaches, it hasn’t been put out in the public sphere as of yet.  

Oklahoma currently has one minority head coach in its athletic program (Tim Langford, Track & Field). Oklahoma State also has one.  

Regardless, the Sooners believe Venables is the right man to stabilize the Sooners as they prepare to make a move to the SEC. His brand of football and attitude seems tailor-made for the conference, which contains Alabama, Georgia and LSU.  

“We were in a SEC footprint in South Carolina and recruiting into the SEC. All of the teams understand what they have. It’s always about the player,” Venables said. “That’s where it’s going to start. We’ll be evaluating the players, finding what our needs are, addressing those needs as quickly as we can, and building the foundation for them, both from a philosophy standpoint, structure standpoint, and then the development that goes with that.” 

Photo: OU Athletics

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