Oklahoma Football: Sooners’ revamped coaching staff brings championship pedigree

Jan 5, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive tackles coach Todd Bates during practice prior to the CFP National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 5, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive tackles coach Todd Bates during practice prior to the CFP National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

When Brent Venables was hired to be the next head coach for the Oklahoma football Sooners in early December, he had quite a few items on his plate.

One of the most important was hiring a new coaching staff, as well as deciding which of the current coaches who didn’t follow former head coach Lincoln Riley to USC would get to remain on staff.

In the end, Venables chose an entirely new staff on defense, while four of the offensive coaches stayed.

Bill Bedenbaugh (offensive line), Cale Gundy (wide receivers), Joe Jon Finley (tight ends) and DeMarco Murray (running backs) remain as the only holdovers from the previous regime. Each had previous ties to Oklahoma, and Sooner fans should expect each to have a contributing role in how the offense looks moving forward.

One of Venables’ first calls upon receiving the Oklahoma job was to Jerry Schmidt, who was the strength and conditioning coach at OU from 1999 to 2017 and now returns for a second stint in Norman. Schmitty will be tasked with making the Sooners stronger, tougher, faster, more physical and more disciplined, as is Venables’ direction with the program.

That mindset falls right in line with Oklahoma’s reset as a team, and its impending move to the SEC. In order to win a championship in the College Football Playoff era, you must either be an SEC team, or you must play like one and have built your program that way. Venables knows this from his time at Clemson and is now bringing that standard with him to the Sooner State. He is excited about the move to the SEC, whenever it does happen.

Championship teams need championship staffs, and those staffs are filled with coaches who will have their own programs someday.

Urban Meyer’s 2014 Ohio State squad featured Tom Herman (Houston and Texas) as the offensive coordinator and Luke Fickell (Cincinnati) and Chris Ash (Rutgers) as co-defensive coordinator. Fickell, specifically, has had a wildly successful tenure as the coach of the Bearcats.

Nick Saban’s 2015 Alabama team had a historically good coaching staff. It featured Lane Kiffin (FAU and Ole Miss), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Mario Cristobal (Oregon and Miami), Billy Napier (Louisiana and Florida) and Mel Tucker (Colorado and Michigan State). Each has been a success, but it is important to note that for every Kirby Smart, there is also a Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee), so the Saban tree doesn’t always bear the best fruit.

Dabo Swinney has now produced an impressive tree of Venables, Tony Elliot (Virginia) and Jeff Scott (USF). His reload will be one of the fascinating stories in college football in the coming years.

In addition to Pruitt, the 2017 Alabama team led by Saban also had Brian Daboll (Bills OC and NY Giants head coach) and Mike Locksley (Maryland). The 2020 edition of the Crimson Tide had Steve Sarkisian (Texas) and Charles Huff (Marshall). Pete Golding and Charles Kelly are the current defensive coordinators for Saban.

The 2019 LSU Tigers coaching staff included Dave Aranda (Baylor) and Joe Brady (former Panthers OC). The defending champion Georgia Bulldogs have already had one assistant take a head coaching job. Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning was hired by Oregon. He becomes an extension of the Saban tree through Kirby Smart.

At Oklahoma, Venables has put together quite an impressive first staff. In addition to the familiar faces, he hired Jeff Lebby (who not only is an OU alum but knows a thing or two about the SEC) to run his offense. Ted Roof is a veteran defensive coordinator and will serve that role helping execute Venables’ defense. But where it really gets juicy is the defense position coaches.

Todd Bates and Miguel Chavis worked with Venables at Clemson and will coach the defensive line. Chavis brings an energy and love of the game to the defensive ends room, while Bates was the Rivals’ recruiter of the year in 2019 and was integral in the 2018 championship run for the Tigers. His defensive tackles at Clemson were regularly among the best in the nation. He was a huge get for Oklahoma and Venables.

Jay Valai will coach cornerbacks and has experience coaching under both Nick Saban (2021) and Kirby Smart (2017). Brandon Hall is the safeties coach, and he has ties to OU as well. He has been the defensive coordinator at Troy for the last three seasons.

Getting the head coach right is crucial in the world of college football but getting the staff around him right is very important as well. Oklahoma’s focus is on becoming a championship-winning program at the highest level and joining the ranks of Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Georgia as the teams that are regularly in the hunt to take home the CFP championship trophy.