Oklahoma football: Sooners will not skip a beat with Brent Venables

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 4: The Sooner Schooner circles the field after a touchdown by the Oklahoma Sooners against the Tulane Green Wave in the second quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners won 40-35. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 4: The Sooner Schooner circles the field after a touchdown by the Oklahoma Sooners against the Tulane Green Wave in the second quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners won 40-35. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

There is transition within the Oklahoma football program as the Sooners have replaced head coach Lincoln Riley, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, and several defensive assistants who bolted for southern California the day after a defeat in Bedlam.

Oklahoma found their man in Brent Venables. Venables served as defensive coordinator for 13 seasons under Hall of Fame coach Bob Stoops and wasted little time getting started in his return to Norman. finishing with top-10 recruiting class, finding transfers who can contribute immediately, and hiring an elite coaching staff.

Sooners’ on-field staff is better now, than it was before

Venables hired Troy defensive coordinator Brandon Hall, as safeties coach. Hall also has a special teams background as well. He served as a student, and graduate assistant under Stoops at OU and twice served one-year stints in a defensive quality control position.

Hall has defensive coordinator credentials, so to bring him in as a position coach is quite a move.

Venables brought defensive tackles coach Todd Bates with him from Clemson. Bates has an elite resume as a recruiter and in player development. He was named recruiter of the year in 2019, and every player he coached at Clemson made at least one All-Conference team.

Bates’ impact was immediate, bringing in Jeffrey Johnson, a highly sought-after DT transfer from Tulane. While Oklahoma retained all but one member of its offensive coaching staff, it was critical to replace Lincoln Riley’s role calling plays and orchestrating the offense.

The Sooners hired Jeff Lebby, a disciple of Art Brile’s veer-and-shoot offensive scheme.  Over two years with Ole Miss and one season at UCF, Lebby’s offenses have finished in the top-six nationally in total offense each year. Interestingly, Lebby’s offenses ended the season ahead of the Sooners each time.

Lebby also has a Sooner connection. He was a student assistant under Bob Stoops, and a former player. Bringing in Dillon Gabriel is already a big feather in Lebby’s cap this offseason. His familiarity with the scheme also allows OU to hit the ground running with Gabriel at quarterback.

Oklahoma’s new support staff is elite

The Sooners retained Drew Hill, long time director of player personnel. Hill has been part of building Oklahoma’s social media presence, worked directly with NFL scouts, and assisted in off-season workout structure.

Oklahoma, added Thad Turnipseed, then hired JR Sandlin. Sandlin spent eight seasons at Jacksonville State as TE coach. He held various roles as a support staffer at Notre Dame, Tennessee and Alabama, where he built quite the resume as a recruiter.

Turnipseed’s resume is iron-clad. He was instrumental in efforts to upgrade facilities at both Alabama, and Clemson.

The Sooners brought back long-time strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt, considered one of the best in the business. Schmidt parted ways with Oklahoma in 2018, going to Texas A&M. He was succeeded at OU by Bennie Wylie, who followed Riley to USC.

Oklahoma’s strength program struggled tremendously in Schmidt’s absence in both strength and in discipline. Brent Venables was able to convince Schmidt to return to Norman.

Oklahoma has also opened its pocketbook and has begun to hire several analysts. These behind-the-scenes staffers are major contributors in program design and success.

Sooners will employ a more sensible and effectual defensive scheme

Alex Grinch employed a unique defensive system, which was a three-man defensive front with one-gap responsibility. The line would shift, stunt and do other disruptive tactics to try to create havoc.

Grinch made big strides in improving Oklahoma’s defensive performance. But he was more about scheme than fitting to his players skills and abilities. For example, edge rusher Nik Bonnito playing in pass coverage often and stunting your stud defensive tackles Perrion Winfrey, and Jalen Redmond.

Winfrey went on “The Oklahoma Breakdown” podcast with Gabe Ikard and Teddy Lehman this week stating:

"” I also feel like we weren’t playing to our strengths. We had me, Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas and Jalen Redmond all on the same D-line.“There’s no reason why we’re not attacking people 24/7. There’s no reason why we have to run stunts in games.”"

Grinch would also sub out his best players far more often than necessary, as Winfrey put it:

"“The only other thing that was pissing us off was the rotations,” Winfrey said. “When I want to get out of the game, let me tap my head and come out. You don’t have to take us out every three plays."

“We were trying to tell them, ‘I need to get into a rhythm. I’m going in for three plays and then I won’t see the field for like two drives.’ Then, I’m going back in, my legs cold, hips tight. Let us get hot. That’s how I play the game. Once I get hot, ain’t no cooling me down.”

Under Venables you can expect multiple fronts but mostly, a four-man attack that will allow players to “just play”.
Oklahoma, is one of the premier programs in college football. While many programs would be hurt by a coaching transition like this, Oklahoma has instead used it as a springboard. Pundits may be talking doom and gloom now for clicks, but come mid-October they’ll be publishing their drafts about Venables and Oklahoma not skipping a beat. Just you wait and see.