Oklahoma football: Sooners turn back clock in looking to the future

New OU football coach Brent Venables said the Sooners' job was the perfect fit for him to leave Clemson.tramel
New OU football coach Brent Venables said the Sooners' job was the perfect fit for him to leave Clemson.tramel /

Athletic director Joe Castiglione followed a long Oklahoma football tradition in the hiring of new head coach Brent Venables.

Save for one-and-done Howard Schnellenberger in 1995, you have to go back more than 70 years to find the last time Oklahoma hired someone with head-coaching experience to lead the program. Jim Tatum had been a head coach at North Carolina for one season before becoming the Sooners’ head coach in 1946.

Tatum brought Bud Wilkinson to Oklahoma as an assistant and then departed the following year to become head coach at Maryland. Wilkinson was elevated to head coach for the 1947 season and the rest of the story is still being written.

Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Bob Stoops…they all came from the assistant or coordinator ranks before taking their first job as a head coach. And that first head-coaching job for each was at Oklahoma.

Venables’ path to head coach at OU followed that same path, with a 10-year stint as defensive coordinator at Clemson in between a prior 13-run as an Oklahoma assistant.

The triumvirate of Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops — the latter of which, by the way, originally hired Venables as an Oklahoma assistant in 1999 — represents three of the four winningest head coaches in OU football history, each with more than 100 wins.

Venables already has something in common with those legendary Sooner coaches, as OU president Joe Harroz astutely pointed out in his opening remarks at the new head coach’s public introduction ceremony on Monday.

"“All the great coaches,” he said, pausing for a second for effect, “who it seems all (first) names start with a ‘B.’“Bud Wilkinson…Barry Switzer…Bob Stoops. And now Brent Venables.”"

Bob Stoops could not be at Monday’s welcoming ceremony and introduction of the new head coach because he was in Las Vegas, where he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, sent a message to president Harroz and asked him to deliver it on Monday:

“You tell them, we got our guy.”

In all candor, that’s one of the best things about the Venables hire. He’s an Oklahoma guy.

“He’s a great motivator. He’s a great leader,” said former OU defensive back Antonio Perkins, who played for Venables from 2000 to 2004, in an interview with Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. “There’s no question that he’s one of the guys that fit this program. He’s been here and he has the history.

“He’s a committed guy,” Perkins said. “He’s one a championship here, building a great championship defense. I would love to see him win a championship here as a head coach.”

Venables values loyalty and relationships over everything else. Even after leaving the Oklahoma program in 2011, he said, he maintained a deep love for and interest in Oklahoma football and that he kept tabs on the Sooners even from afar.

When he left Norman, he thought he’s probably never return to the place where he and his wife, Julie, made their home for 13 years and where all of his kids were born. And he certainly never imagined he’d be coming back as the Oklahoma head coach.

Venables had plenty of opportunities to become a head coach during the time he was at Clemson but he turned all of them down, including just a year ago the chance to be the Auburn head coach, because it just didn’t seem like the right fit.

When a program like Oklahoma comes calling, though, one of the winningest and most tradition-rich programs in college football history, he said, you don’t get those kind of opportunities very often, if at all.

Venables has coached at only three schools — his alma mater Kansas State, Oklahoma and Clemson — in his nearly 30 years of college coaching.

“Just look at my career,” Venables said at his official introduction on Monday, with all of OU national championship banners proudly displayed on the wall behind him. “If I’ve been something, I’ve been loyal. I haven’t been a coach that jumped all over. I think that speaks for itself.”

“He is home for good,” Castiglione told the crowd that had assembled at the indoor training center for the welcome and introduction of new head coach.

Sooner fans, along with the cheerleaders, members of the Pride of Oklahoma marching band, provided a rousing welcome when the plane carrying Venables and the OU leadership team landed at the Norman airport on Sunday, and the celebration was equally as moving on Monday, all designed to make the new head coach feel welcome and appreciated.

Mission accomplished. But as it turned out, it wasn’t just  Venables who was inspired and energized by all the proceedings, but also Sooner fans, who also are fired up and excited for the future, a feeling 180 degrees different what what they felt just the week before.