Oklahoma football: Head coach Brent Venables checking all the boxes thus far

OU football coach Brent Venables watches his team go through drills on Aug. 10 in Norman.cover
OU football coach Brent Venables watches his team go through drills on Aug. 10 in Norman.cover /

In less than two weeks, the Brent Venables era of Oklahoma football will officially kickoff, although he’s been laying the foundation for the past nine months.

The Sooner sidelines is nothing new for Venables. He spent 13 seasons there under Bob Stoops before leaving for 10 seasons to become the defensive coordinator at Clemson, where he established a stellar reputation for building and leading one of college football’s elite defensive teams.

Some college football experts expect Venables to continue the winning tradition and championship-level success that is built into the DNA of Oklahoma football and join the very best that have been in the job at Norman. Whether he’s able to put the Sooners back atop the Big 12 and as a national title contender in Year 1, Year 2 or later in the Venables era at OU, that story has yet to be written.

When you’re a winning head coach at Oklahoma, you find yourself ranked among the top 25 very best in the college game. And when you are at it long enough — with continued high success — that value and popularity thrusts you into the top 10.

247Sports recently did a ranking of the top 25 college football head coaches entering the 2022 season. Venables is not among them, but three other Big 12 coaches are: Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State is the highest at No, 11. Dave Aranda, who is about to begin his third season at Baylor and guided the Bears to their first Big 12 championship last season, is No. 12, and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is 15th.

Venables shouldn’t fall in the top 25, certainly not in his first season as a head coach. What he lacks is experience and results, which he will surely get at Oklahoma, and probably sooner rather than later.

Lincoln Riley wasn’t ranked among the top 25 in his first season in 2017 (incidentally, he’s still in the top four, though now at USC). Riley’s first-year success at OU moved him to No. 16 to begin the 2018 season, and after two 12-2 seasons along with back-to-back Big 12 championships, he was in the top five.

It shouldn’t be look before you see Venables right up there in the head coaches’ ranking with Riley. And he’ll be there because of a complete team on offense and defense.

Venables has definitely brought a new energy and enthusiasm to the OU football locker room. His passion for winning and putting in the hard mental and physical work to achieve and feed off of success is off the charts. He wants players who believe in themselves and, more important, believe in what they can only accomplish by working together as one.

According to sources withing the program, the Sooner players have totally bought in to the vision that Venables and his newly melded coaching staff have for OU football and what they want to build. One OU player, sophomore defensive back Billy Bowman, even went so far to say they were having fun preparing for the 2022 season. That is something you generally don’t hear in fall training camp, especially is the dog days of summer.

To say Venables has won the team over is an understatement. But he still hasn’t won a game as the head coach at Oklahoma. The cultural transformation and all the high energy and hard work are important and nice to have, but we don’t know yet how that is going to translate to the field when the Sooners start playing games for real.

Here is what senior wide receiver Drake Stoops had to say after a recent practice session about the man his father and former Sooner head coach Bob Stoops was glad to see get the job as Riley’s replacement:

"“All of us have bought in to what Coach Venables has brought. His energy is contagious and that spreads to us.”Said linebacker David Ugwoegbu: “The energy around this team is amazing because you can feel that there’s something different. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never experienced anything like this as far as the chemistry, the bond all the guys share. It’s not so much offense vs. defense, it’s a whole brotherhood.”"

Venables is the man responsible for that culture transformation.

When Venables arrived back in Norman for a second go-around with Sooner football, OU fans felt really go about the hire, knowing that the former OU defensive coordinator’s passion and commitment to the long-term success of Oklahoma football was real.

This is not to imply that Riley wasn’t committed to Oklahoma’s success on and off the football field, but rather that you’re not likely to see Venables jumping ship when times are good — or even when times aren’t so rosy — to go to another team. He has said as much himself. I’m here for the long haul, he said, shortly after his feet hit the tarmac at Max Westheimer Airport in Norman on Dec. 6, 2021.

Under Bob Stoops and Riley, Oklahoma has recruited very well, bringing in a number of top-10 classes. That was another question, some experts had about Venables ability to maintain the previous success that the recent Sooner head coaches have had on the recruiting trail. There was no question about Venables’ ability to bring in elite defensive talent. His track record is already proven in that area, but would he be able to attract and sign exceptional offensive talent and elite quarterbacks, which was Riley’s forte?

You can check that box as well. With the help of Stoops, who immediately volunteered to jump in and coach the team in its bowl preparation after Riley’s exit announcement and also hit the recruiting trail with Venables to retain the 2022 recruits they had commitments from and add to the class just days ahead of the December national signing date, OU’s 2022 class checked in at the No. 8 in the final 247Sports national class rankings.

Once ranked No. 1 in the early 2023 class rankings, when Riley left a couple of top-rated recruits, including the No. 1 QB in the class, Malachi Nelson, decommitted from the Sooners, Oklahoma fell like a rock in the team rankings.

By the middle of June, the Sooners had four commitments in their 2023 class and ranked 41st in the national class rankings. Flash forward two months and Oklahoma 2023 class size has grown to 20, including two five-stars and 10 four-star recruits, with top talent equally distributed between offense and defense. OU’s 2023 class currently ranks as the seventh best in the nation, according to 247Sports, and Venables insists that they aren’t done.

The Sooners have a very good chance of landing several more elite prospects, which could push them into the top five nationally.

So, yeah, Venables likes to be patient and deliberate in the recruiting market, but he definitely is more than capable of getting some of the very best in the country. A value added when it comes to competing in the talent-rich SEC.

Head coaching experience and results. Venables soon will be checking those boxes as well. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy Year 1 of the Brent Venables era in Oklahoma football.