Oklahoma football: If Brent Venables is sold on Ted Roof as DC, we should be, too

Dec 7, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners fans during the second half against the Baylor Bears in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners fans during the second half against the Baylor Bears in the 2019 Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The immediate reaction among Oklahoma football fans to the hiring of Brent Venables, one of their own, as the next head coach of the Sooners was that the much-maligned OU defense of recent seasons was sure to get better fast.

Unlike his predecessor, though, Venables made it clear from the day he was hired that he wouldn’t be pulling double duty in calling defensive signals while also serving as head coach. Not that he couldn’t, but that he wouldn’t.

In his first week on the job, the former OU assistant and defensive coordinator for 13 seasons hired both an offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator.

New offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby comes to Norman with a background and record of accomplishments that is strikingly similar to what Riley possessed when Bob Stoops extracted the then-33-year-old offensive wonderkind out of East Carolina. The Lebby hire generated a lot of excitement and helped allay some of the concerns that the traditional offensive firepower that has been a hallmark of Sooner teams throughout its history was going to take a backseat to a defensive mindset.

The hiring of Ted Roof as defensive coordinator, however, has not garnered the same kind of excitement, largely because he is relatively unknown outside of college football coaching circles.

While Roof may not be well known to the average college fan, he is extremely well known and thought of within the coaching ranks.

The first thing to consider for Oklahoma football fans is that Roof was the choice of Venables, who clearly knows a thing or two about recruiting for and coaching outstanding college defenses and knew exactly what he was looking for in a defensive coordinator.

Roof comes with a wealth of experience having coached defenses at multiple Power Five programs. During his 35 years in college coaching, Roof has led defenses at Georgia Tech, Duke, Minnesota, Auburn, UCF, Penn State, Appalachian State and Vanderbilt. Last season, he served as a defensive analyst working with Venables at Clemson, which is where the new OU head coach really got to know him and see him in action.

Roof was the defensive coordinator at Auburn during the Tigers’ 2010 national championship season, and in the national title game with Oregon, the Auburn defense held the Ducks to 19 points, 30 points below their season average.

At Georgia Tech in 2013, the Yellowjacket defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in points and yards allowed, and his 2015 Georgia Tech defense was the most improved in the country in third-down conversion defense (from 114th nationally to 43rd) and was sixth in the nation in first-downs allowed.

Roof’s 2019 Appalachian State defense led the country in defensive touchdowns.

Between 2008 and 2020, Roof’s defensive units limited opponents to 110 yards or fewer rushing yards 57 times. His teams were a combined 48-9 in those games.

The new Oklahoma defensive coordinator has also served as a head coach. He was the head man at Duke for four seasons from 2004 through 2007. Although his Duke teams won just four games in four seasons, his aggressive Blue Devil defense was consistently a team strength.

Roof didn’t fare that well as a head coach, but he was hired at Oklahoma as defensive coordinator, not as head coach, and let’s be honest, what he has to teach and develop at Oklahoma is not what he had in the Duke football program.

Here’s a historical comparison that speaks to the quality of what the Sooners are getting in Ted Roof. Sooner fans will not forget the 40-6 thrashing Oklahoma got handed by Clemson in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl. That same season, Roof was the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, which defeated Clemson 28-6. It was the fewest points scored by Clemson all that season.

In a recent article, Berry Tramel, sports columnist for The Oklahoman, pointed out that since Venables left OU after the 2011 season, only one time (in 2015) have the Sooners led the Big 12 in defense.

“Under Mike Stoops and Alex Grinch, defense seemed to be one sack forward and two touchdowns back,” Tramel wrote.

That’s what Roof has been brought in to correct. You gotta believe he has seen the good, bad and ugly of college defenses, as well as the evolutionary nature of the business regarding talent, technique and styles of play, in his over three decades as a college coach.

Venables says his new defensive coordinator is “one of the most experienced coordinators and one of the best teachers in all of college football, and he is going to make us stronger and tougher on that side of the ball.” Sounds like something straight out of Venables’ playbook.

If we’re pleased with the Venables hire as the new head coach — and I believe the vast majority of us are — then we need to trust the head coach’s judgement in his choice for the defensive coordinator position.