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Brent Venables: Can new Sooners HC continue OU’s success?

Brent Venables: Can new Sooners HC continue OU’s success?
Brent Venables will be in his first year as a head coach after spending 26 seasons as an assistant. (Credit: SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK)

NORMAN, Okla. (BVM) – The University of Oklahoma football program has a long lineage of successful head coaches. Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops have all had impressive runs during their Oklahoma tenures.

Over the last few years, former Stoops assistant Lincoln Riley also continued the Sooners’ winning ways, making multiple appearances in the College Football Playoff. But now, there is a new head coach looking to add his name to this impressive list: Brent Venables.

Brent Venables’ coaching background

Venables is a former college football player, beginning his career at Garden City Community College and playing his final two seasons at Kansas State. He joined coach Bill Snyder’s Wildcats as a graduate assistant in 1993, and was promoted to linebackers coach in 1996.

In 1999, Venables made his first stop at Oklahoma, serving as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the program’s new head coach in Stoops who he had worked with at K-State. In just his second season with the Sooners, Venables became a national champion as part of a 13-0 Oklahoma squad.

As Stoops’ younger brother, Mike, eventually left for a head-coaching gig at Arizona, Venables took over full control of the defense, and was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award in 2006, given out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Brent Venables Bob Stoops Oklahoma football
Brent Venables, left, joined Bob Stoops, right, as an assistant at Oklahoma in 1999. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Venables remained in Norman as associate head coach and defensive coordinator through 2011. In 2012, with Mike Stoops returning to Oklahoma, Venables joined Dabo Swinney’s staff as defensive coordinator at Clemson, despite some head-coaching interest. 

In 2016, Venables would win the Frank Broyles Award. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2018 as part of a dominant run of Clemson football that saw the Tigers win national championships in 2016 and 2018. Venables remained with Clemson through the 2021 season.

But late in the year, with the Oklahoma head-coaching position opening up as Lincoln Riley left for USC, Venables returned to his long-time stomping grounds, becoming the 23rd head coach of the Sooners’ program.

Venables’ personal life and achievements

Venables’ family includes his wife, Julie, and four children: Laney, Addie, Jake and Tyler. Jake is a former linebacker who played under his dad at Clemson, while Tyler is currently a junior safety for the Tigers.

Back in 2017, it was reported that Venables was one of the highest paid assistants in college football, making a salary somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.7 million. Venables’ six-year contract as head coach at Oklahoma will earn him around $7 million a year, and $6.4 million in 2022.

While Venables won the Frank Broyles Award in 2016, he has also helped his players earn plenty of recognition as all-conference team members, all-conference players of the year and Butkus Award finalists. Venables was never part of a losing team in his 26 years as an assistant coach, reaching 30 bowl games and helping his team to 10 or more wins in 21 seasons. He’s 13-2 in conference championship games, and has coached in eight national championships, winning three.

Oklahoma’s 2022 outlook with Venables

With the experience and impressive resume Venables brings to the table, Oklahoma should be in a good place to continue its success. 

However, Venables’ tenure in Norman has not started without controversy.

In early August, former Sooners quarterback and long-time Oklahoma assistant Cale Gundy – brother of Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy – resigned after allegedly reading a “racially-charged word” off of a player’s iPad during a film session. As Venables tries to instill a culture of accountability, he released this statement following Gundy’s resignation.

“It’s with sadness that I accept Coach Gundy’s resignation,” Venables said. “He’s dedicated more than half of his life to Oklahoma football and has served our program and university well. We’re thankful for that commitment. We also acknowledge that in stepping aside, he’s placed the program and the welfare of our student-athletes first.

“In coaching and in life, we’re all accountable for our actions and the resulting outcomes. The culture we’re building in our program is based on mutual respect. Our staff is here to develop successful student-athletes, but also young men of character. As the leaders of this program, it’s essential that we hold ourselves to the highest standards as we model for our players the type of men we want them to become.”

Brent Venables Dabo Swinney Clemson Tigers football
Brent Venables, right, joined Dabo Swinney, left, at Clemson in 2012 and remained with the Tigers through the 2021 season. (Credit: BART BOATWRIGHT/Staff / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Venables eventually released an additional statement further clarifying Gundy’s resignation, and has also received backing from one of his mentors in Stoops.

“Coach Gundy resigned from the program because he knows what he did was wrong,” Venables said. “He chose to read aloud to his players, not once but multiple times, a racially charged word that is objectionable to everyone, and does not reflect the attitude and values of our university or our football program. This is not acceptable. Period. Coach Gundy did the right thing in resigning. He knows our goals for excellence and that coaches have special responsibilities to set an example.”

Fallout and backlash from the situation aside, Venables and his program will now focus on what they can do on the field during the 2022 season. The Sooners were recently ranked No. 9 in the season’s first coaches poll, and have plenty of talent to compete yet again. 

It starts with Venables assembling a tremendous coaching staff. While Ted Roof was brought in to coordinate the defense, Venables will work alongside plenty of Oklahoma alumni including offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley, safeties coach Brandon Hall and running backs coach DeMarco Murray.

Coming off an 11-2 season, Venables will look to strengthen the Sooners’ defense first and foremost. The defensive line should be solidified by Jalen Redmond, Reggie Grimes and Tulane transfer Jeffrey Johnson. The linebackers unit should also be solid, led by DaShaun White, Danny Statesman and Marcus Stripling. Oklahoma will also hope transfers like Trey Morrison and CJ Coldon can bolster its secondary.

On offense, the Sooners lost both Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler at the quarterback position, but brought in former University of Central Florida standout Dillon Gabriel, who Venables believes will lead his team the right way.

“Dillon Gabriel is a winner,” Venables said at Big 12 Media Days in July. “You can’t say it any better than that. He’s thrown for 8,000 yards, completed over 60% of his passes, incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio, just a great leader. He’s our quarterback. Certainly anything can happen as we move forward through fall camp. It’s always about daily competition. But I feel great that I can lay my head down at night knowing not just what he has done on the football field, but the quality of the person he is.”

Brent Venables Oklahoma Sooners football
Brent Venables will have plenty of talent on his roster in 2022 as the Sooners aim to win a Big 12 title. (Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Lead receiver Marvin Mims returns for the Sooners, and they should get a boost with Theo Wease back in the fold after missing last season with a foot injury. Stoops’ son, Drake, also returns for his final year.

The offensive line could face challenges, but will be anchored by stud left tackle Anton Harrison, and behind them will be veteran running backs Eric Gray and Marcus Major. 

The Big 12 features some very good teams such as Oklahoma State and Baylor, both of whom Oklahoma gets in Norman during the month of November. They will also host Texas this year in the Red River Rivalry on Oct. 8. The Sooners’ non-conference schedule is relatively light outside of a road game against former Big 12 foe Nebraska. Oklahoma will kick off the 2022 season against UTEP on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2:30 p.m. CT. 

The future with Venables at the helm

After 26 years as an assistant, Venables is finally getting his chance to run a program. So far, he has seemed to instill a hard-nosed culture at Oklahoma, and the team seems poised to compete for another Big 12 championship, and perhaps a College Football Playoff berth in 2022.

Going forward, the Sooners should have continued success under Venables. This may be his first head-coaching job, but the experience he has and the coaches he has worked with have him ready to lead.

“I feel very prepared for this moment,” Venables said at Big 12 Media Days. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been associated and been a part of programs where, to me, there’s three Hall of Fame coaches that have influenced me in Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, and I know without question that he will be a Hall of Fame coach in Dabo Swinney at Clemson. I’ve been really fortunate to be around a lot of great people, tremendous football players that have helped me get here to this moment, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

By 2025, Oklahoma will join Texas in making the jump to a competitive SEC. It could prove a challenge for the Sooners and their 51-year-old coach, but they are already making sure they are ready by bringing in some talented recruits. 

Currently, Oklahoma has a top-10 recruiting class for 2023 headlined by four-stars like quarterback Jackson Arnold, defensive ends Derrick LeBlanc and Adepoju Adebawore, wide receiver Jaquaize Pettaway and offensive lineman Cayden Green.

It’s always a mystery how a first-time head coach will fare, but with Venables, Oklahoma seems to be in good hands. After 26 seasons, he has finally earned the chance to prove himself, and doing so in Norman seems to be the perfect scenario.

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