Oklahoma football: Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma appears to be fortuitous for Sooners

OU football coach Brent Venables watches the Sooners practice on March 24 in Norman.cover small
OU football coach Brent Venables watches the Sooners practice on March 24 in Norman.cover small /

Since December of 2021, the Oklahoma football fan base has endured quite a lot of difficult times. However, Brent Venables quickly turned Sooner Nation’s fortunes around, and it’s clear now that OU has more momentum as a program than it has in some time.

You can see it when looking at the body transformations of the Sooners on the roster, the way recruits talk about Oklahoma, and the momentum on the trail the Sooners are enjoying. There will be many media members and fans with a lot of crow to eat.

Many narratives anywhere from Venables is a middling recruiter to Oklahoma would not be able to recruit the west coast/California anymore to implications that the Sooners would no longer be able to get Five-Star QBs. All those narratives have been quieted, and there is one left that Oklahoma will fall off despite having a top-five roster in the sport.  I wouldn’t say I like that narrative’s odds either

The last push for investment into the Oklahoma football program

With Oklahoma football set to leave for the SEC, OU needed to open its oversized pockets and start investing more into football. It’s no secret that Oklahoma recently did stadium renovations and has a great facility, one of the finest in the sport. However, keeping up with the Joneses is necessary for success in this sport.

Oklahoma has been notoriously thrifty over the years, but the pocketbooks appear to be open. For Oklahoma administration to have had a head coach you groomed take another college job (something that has not happened at Oklahoma since before Bud Wilkenson) was embarrassing.

Riley has not publicly detailed his reasons for leaving other than insisting it was about USC being such a great opportunity. The problem is Oklahoma football is just as great and prestigious of a job as USC is, and Oklahoma doesn’t have a program in shambles.

There is more to this story. The more is that the Oklahoma administration and Riley did not see eye to eye on every detail. Riley wanted things that were taking longer to get done than he’d like or were not granted. When Oklahoma hired Brent Venables, Venables let it be known about certain things he would need to take the job.

From things like a football team chef to facility changes, among other things, changes are being made. There are new stadium renovation plans and bringing in Thad Turnipseed is a clear indication that the administration will not cheap out and get things done the right way this time regardless of the cost.

Riley spurning Oklahoma opened the eyes of the administration in a way it may not have had he stayed. It’s not just the administration; donors are opening up their pocketbooks more than ever. They never want to be embarrassed again the way they were when Riley left.

Brent Venables’ staff is better than Riley’s, and they recruit better too.

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
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 /

Lincoln Riley and his staff were not slouches on the recruiting trail, but Venables and company are making them look like they are. Oklahoma football is on a recruiting roll I have not seen in my lifetime. Oklahoma seems like they can do no wrong and continue to tear things up on the trail.

Some more commitments are to come within a few days and weeks of this article, and they aren’t the small variety. They also do more than run routes and throw passes. Oklahoma is recruiting every position at a high level, not just a couple.

Todd Bates is an incredible defensive line coach; Ted Roof is a National Champion as a defensive coordinator. Brandon Hall is an exceptional special team and safety savant, and Jeff Lebby is more than just competent as an offensive coordinator. His offenses over the last few seasons have out-produced Riley’s with significantly less talent. Bates snagging LeBlanc out of Florida is not a move you could have expected under the previous staff. There is a big one coming in to be announced shortly that the Sooners only seem to get over the years if they are from the state.

Strength and conditioning will be a crucial difference.

Bennie Wylie was not qualified to be the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oklahoma. When Jerry Schmidt and Lincoln Riley did not see eye to eye on several factors about performance, they mutually parted ways. Schmidt went to Texas A&M; the problem is that the discipline and play strength the Sooners had displayed for 20 years appeared to leave with him. Oklahoma focused on fast-twitch training, speed over strength. Repetition and explosion over violence and strength. While there is more than one philosophical way to get the job done, however, discipline is the bigger difference.

Schmidt is a strict disciplinarian; he holds the kids accountable. If you’re late, you are staying for the stair master afterward. If you miss a lift, I can’t imagine the punishment for that. However, under Bennie Wylie, sources have told me that star players got preferable treatment, sometimes even missing workouts altogether. This led to Mahala Wiggins choosing to leave the program as well. He was one of the most respected S&C staffers and worked under Schmidt a few years before he left.
Schmidt is back now that Venables is the head man, and the players can tell the difference and have let the world know on social media. Former players notice the difference as well. Schmidt is the best in the business and will show immediately on the field of play. Oklahoma will be more disciplined, and the lines of scrimmage will have significantly better play strength.

The commitment to football around the state, the program, and donors is at an all-time high. The commitment to the players and their needs is at an all-time high with the soul program, the Oklahoma Collective, the personal chef for the team, and more. The facilities and stadium are set for more renovation. Brent Venables fits the culture at Oklahoma like a glove which also is a big boost. The recruiting is already on fire, and that’s before the season even starts when Oklahoma is likely to field a better product than they have over the last couple of years. Things are looking up big time in Norman.