Oklahoma football: How have 1st-year Sooner coaches done against chief rivals?

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops talk prior to the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012.Gundy Stoops
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops talk prior to the Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012.Gundy Stoops /

Don’t let anyone fool you. Not all Oklahoma football wins are created equal.

When you become the head coach at Oklahoma, one of the most storied and successful programs in college football history, the expectation is inherent that you are going to win the majority of your football games.

But there are certain games on the schedule every season that are weighted more heavily than others. And for the Oklahoma Sooners, games with longtime rivals Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska fall into that “more important” category.

Sooner head coaches are measured as much, if not more, for how they do against these chief rivals as they are for the team’s overall performance every season.

John Blake, for example was dismissed after three seasons (1996-98) as much for his 2-6 record against UT, OSU and Nebraska as he was for the team’s 12-22 overall record in the former Sooner player’s three years as head coach.

For multiple reasons, Howard Schnellenberger lasted just one season as head coach at Oklahoma, but among them was his 0-2-1 record against the Sooners’ big rivals. OU’s final two games in 1995, the last season for the Big Eight Conference and Schnellenberger’s one and only season at Oklahoma ended in a 12-0 loss to Oklahoma State and a 37-0 drubbing by No. 1 Nebraska.

This isn’t Brent Venables’ first rodeo against the Sooners’ big three rivals

This will be Brent Venables first season as Oklahoma head coach and his first go-around in that position in the Red River Showdown with the Longhorns, in Bedlam against the in-state Cowboys and at Nebraska in the second half of a home-and-home series with the Cornhuskers. Although he is more than familiar with those three teams having served on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff at OU.

Venables joined Bob Stoops’ coaching staff when the latter took the head coach’s job at OU in 1999. Venables was with the Sooners for 13 seasons, both coaching the linebackers and as defensive coordinator.

During his time on the Oklahoma coaching staff, the Sooners were 24-10 against Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. OU fared best against Oklahoma State during that time, going 10-3 against the Cowboys. The Sooners were 6-2 against Nebraska but just 8-5 in the Red River rivalry with Texas.

This is a new time and a new coaching era at Oklahoma, but the high expectations will never change, and that especially goes for when the Sooners go to battle against one of their big rivals. Oklahoma will play all three of its longtime rivals in 2022. The Red River Showdown with Texas, of course, will take place the second weekend in October, as per usual, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Before the Texas game, however, the Sooners will travel to Nebraska in Week 3 of the season to square off against the Cornhuskers. And this season, the annual Bedlam game with Oklahoma State will be played in Norman on Nov. 19.

So, ow did Venables’ OU coaching predecessors do in their careers against the Sooners’ contests against their big rivals?

Sooner coaching legends vs. OU’s big three rivals

Of the Big Three OU coaching legacy — Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops (perhaps Venables will join the three B’s someday as a fourth “B” and member of the Mount Rushmore of Oklahoma coaching legends) — Wilkinson had the best winning percentage in games with Texas, OSU and Nebraska, going 40-11, a .784 winning percentage, in 17 seasons at Oklahoma. Wilkinson never lost a game against Oklahoma State in 17 meetings and was 14-3 against Nebraska.

Texas, undeniably Oklahoma’s biggest rival, was another matter, however, during the Wilkinson years. The Sooners did have a winning record over the Longhorns during the Wilkinson era (1947-1963) but only by a narrow 9-8 margin. At one point in the series, Wilkinson was up nine games to two, but OU lost to the Longhorns in each of the final six seasons of his coaching tenure in Norman.

Switzer’s teams fashioned a .750 winning percentage over OU’s chief rivals. As in the Wilkinson years, Oklahoma was at its best in the Bedlam rivalry with a 15-1 advantage under Switzer. The Sooners were 9-5-2 against Texas in the Switzer years, the best of the three OU coaching legends. Switzer’s teams also did well against Nebraska, winning 11 of 16 meetings against Tom Osborn and the Huskers.

Because of the Big 12’s unbalanced schedule and Nebraska’s exit from the conference after the 2010 season, Stoops’ Sooner teams played Nebraska just six times total, winning four. Stoops went 14-4 against Oklahoma State and was 11-7 in the Red River rivalry with Texas. Overall, Stoops was 29-13, .690, in games with OU’s three big rivals.

Looking at those same rivalries in the first season for each of the Big Three as OU head coach, Switzer was the only one of the three who got through his first season unscathed in the three rivalry games. In fact, Switzer’s 1973 Oklahoma team finished with a 10-0-1 record, including wins over Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska, each by 27 or more points.

Switzer would not lose to any of the three rivalry teams until his fourth season at the helm, when OU came up on the short end of a 31-24 score at home to Oklahoma State in 1976.

Wilkinson beat both Nebraska and Oklahoma State, but not easily, in his head-coaching debut at Oklahoma, but the Sooners were handed a 34-13 licking by No. 3-ranked Texas in his third game as head coach.

Stoops split games with Texas and Oklahoma State in his first season in 1999. The Sooners lost 38-28 to Texas but ended the regular season with a 44-7 beatdown of OSU in Norman. OU did not play Nebraska in Stoops’ first season.

As for Lincoln Riley, who compiled a record of 56-10 in five seasons as the Sooners’ 22nd head coach, OU was 5-1 against Texas, 4-1 over Oklahoma State and 1-0 against Nebraska. Riley got wins over Texas (29-24) and Oklahoma State (62-52) in his Sooner head-coaching debut in 2017.

How Venables fares in his inaugural season leading the Sooners remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: He won’t approach any Oklahoma opponent with any less preparation, passion and determination to win than any of the great Sooner coaches that have gone before him.