Oklahoma football: Where does Brent Venables rank among new head-coaching hires?

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and new football head coach Brent Venables clap during Venables' introduction on Dec. 6 in Norman.jump secondary
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and new football head coach Brent Venables clap during Venables' introduction on Dec. 6 in Norman.jump secondary /

Twenty-eight teams will begin the next college football season with a new head coach, and the Oklahoma football program is surprisingly one of those.

The Sooners won their first nine game of the 2021 regular season but dropped two of the final three to finish 10-2. Lincoln Riley never lost more than two games in any of the five seasons he was head coach and never finished lower than first place in the Big 12 until this season.

Head coaches at Oklahoma don’t up and leave on their own to take other coaching jobs. Believe me, there have been plenty of attempts to hire away the successful coaches in the Sooners’ illustrious history (e.g., Bob Stoops. Barry Switzer), but when you have a great thing going, why change things up? Lincoln Riley apparently thought otherwise.

Maybe Riley saw the writing on the wall and felt he could have a better future in a different environment, or perhaps he was concerned about how much success he could achieve when Oklahoma moved to the SEC, as some have suggested.

Never mind. The curtain has dropped on the Riley era at Oklahoma, and it rose again exactly one week later with one of the Sooners’ own, Brent Venables, taking center stage, occupying the same space held just a week earlier by the man whose 55 wins at OU were the most by a Sooner head coach in his first five seasons.

The Brent Venables era of OU football has begun, and it appears to have been well received in the early going by both current players, the vast majority of the recruits who had previously committed to OU and former Sooners who played under Venables as the defensive coordinator at OU under Stoops.,

Paul Myerberg of USA Today recently ranked all 28 of the newly hired head coaches based on fit, chance for immediate success as well as long-term success. He rated Venables as the eighth best hire based on this criteria. That may sound a bit disrespectful and disappoint many Sooner fans, particularly considering the outstanding defensive record he achieved at Clemson.

YardBarker.com this past Friday positioned Venables as the sixth-best head-coaching hire, which is probably more to the liking of OU football fans

Myerberg ranks Mario Cristobal (from Oregon to Miami) and Riley as Nos. 1 and 2. Both have prior head-coaching experience, so that makes some sense, although seeing how high Riley is valued is like another punch to the stomach for Sooner fans.

Brian Kelly, who left Notre Dame for LSU, is also correctly positioned ahead of Venables in the USA Today ranking, but so also are Sonny Dykes (from SMU to TCU) and Joe Moorhead (formerly offensive coordinator at Penn State and, most recently, Oregon). That makes for a better argument in support of ranking Venables higher.

That’s the way the staff at YardBarker saw things, as well, ranking Dykes 17th and Cumbie 24th.

In all fairness, between 6th and 8th among the new head coaches is probably the right positioning for the Venables hire. It is true that Venables was one of if not the highest paid assistant coaches in college football at Clemson and he will make a reported $6.4 million in his first season as the Oklahoma head coach. But he has never been a head coach before.

We assume the Sooner defense will be much better than it has been. How well the offense will perform will be a matter of getting the right offensive coordinator in place and associating recruiting. But strong offensive performance has long been a hallmark of Oklahoma football, so until proven otherwise we will assume that will take care of itself going forward.

The Sooners have lost several key players on defense to the NFL Draft and a trio of players at skill positions in the offense to the transfer portal, but if they are able to retain quarterback Caleb Williams and other key pieces of the offense they are counting on for next season, Venables should get off to a good start in his inaugural season as a head coach.

How well Oklahoma is able to perform in his first couple of seasons under Brent Venables will give us a much better window of what the future may hold as well as how good the hiring of Venables was.

I’m placing my confidence in athletic director Joe Castiglione, whose two previous OU football head-coaching hires (Stoops and Riley) turned out pretty well. I’m betting this one will, too.