Oklahoma football: Is Sooners’ job too big for Brent Venables?

Oct 1, 2022; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables walks in a line with his team before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2022; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables walks in a line with his team before the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Whenever a team with an exceptional history of success — like the Oklahoma football program — hits an extended rough patch, the first criticisms are always directed at the head coach.

After all, it is the head coach who shoulders the ultimate accountability for the team’s performance.

The head coach’s job at Oklahoma is like few others. Expectations and standards for the football program at OU are extremely high, and deservedly so. And the brutal fact is, the Sooners, under first-year head coach Brent Venables, are dangerously close to going completely off the rails this season, if they haven’t already.

The 31-point loss to TCU a couple of weeks ago was embarrassing and egregiously uncharacteristic of an Oklahoma football team. What happened at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, though, was beyond embarrassing, verging on an historic horror show. Against its biggest rival and viewed by a nationwide television audience, Oklahoma was the absolute worst form of itself and suffered its worst loss in the 118-year history of this classic rivalry game.

The south half of the Cotton Bowl seating bowl, dedicated entirely to Sooner fans, was more than half empty not even halfway through the third quarter. That’s how utterly disgusting the OU performance was to the Sooner faithful, most of whom had traveled to Dallas to attend the game.

OK, so whose fault is all of this and how does it get corrected and quickly?

Everyone typically directs blame at the head coach first

The first finger pointing always is directed at the head coach. After all, Venables owns the ultimate accountability for the success or lack thereof of the program. The Sooners did lose quite a few players from last season, both to the transfer portal after Lincoln Riley’s defection as well as to the NFL, but that doesn’t qualify as an excuse for how bad the team is currently performing. There is still more talent on this team than most of the other Big 12 teams, but for whatever reason, that talent is not transferring to the field of play.

Learning a new system and adjusting to a new head coach and new coordinators is always an adjustment. In OU’s case, the adjustment looked to be working early in the season, or so Venables and his staff kept telling us. When the performance started to drop off in the Kansas State game, Venables told us the hard work and desire were definitely there, it was the discipline and consistency that needed to catch up.

Venables has said all offseason and into the current season, that there has been excellent buy-in and commitment from the Sooner players on the vision of the new coaching staff and what they want to do. Again, though, that is not what we’re seeing translate to the playing field.

What we’ve witnessed on defense the past three games, with players out of position and opposing runners and receivers running over tacklers and wide open in the secondary speaks to a defense that seemingly has no idea what it is doing or simply lacks the ability or capacity to execute its defensive assignments. Or perhaps the defensive system and schemes that are part of the defense Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof are trying to install is too complex for this group..

I personally believe in Brent Venables, despite the drastic downturn that has everyone up in arms and calling for his head. He did not inherit the quality of team that all of us, including many college football experts, thought this group was going to be. Sooner fans want this to be a Bob Stoops-like coaching turnaround, and the fact that Venables was part of that staff helps fuel that vision.

Stoops inherited a team from John Blake that had suffered through one of the worst three-year stretches in program history. The 1998 OU team, in Stoops’ inaugural season, finished 7-5, and the following year, of course, Oklahoma won a national championship.

There are also numerous stories of head coaches struggling through a losing season their first year and rebounding in the second or third year with a 10- or 11-win season. Dave Aranda at Baylor was 2-7 his first season at Baylor in 2020 (also his first head-coaching assignment) and went 12-2 last season and won the Big 12. Lance Leipold, in his second season at Kansas, is also in this category. Look what he has done with the Jayhawks this season.

What is a reasonable trial period for a head coach of a major program?

I’m of the opinion that any head coach deserves more than one season to get the right roster and systems in place to be successful. The trouble is, Oklahoma isn’t just any program. Patience runs extremely thin in places like Norman, Oklahoma, especially with the deplorable and unpardonable way the Sooners have performed in the past couple of weeks.

At this point, even a bad performance by the Sooners would be preferable to an historically awful performance.

As much love and loyalty Sooner fans had in learning of Venables’ return to Oklahoma to become the next head coach, it is not out of the question that he might not be the right guy for the job. There is no question that his reputation as an outstanding defensive coordinate precedes him, but not every coordinator is successful as a head coach.

A head coach is only as successful as the men he surrounds himself with on his staff. We all thought Venables made excellent hires in his offensive and defensive coordinators and the other defensive staff personnel he brought in. Time will tell whether this group is the problem or the solution.

So, what should we expect from the Sooners for the rest of the 2022 season?

There is not an easy game the remainder of the schedule, starting with Kansas at home this weekend.  OU needs three more wins just to become bowl eligible, something that has been taken for granted to past two decades.

There is no way this Oklahoma team is as bad as the way they’ve performed the past two weekends. And if they are, then there is definitely a disconnect going on between the players and the coaches.

Progress would be avoiding a losing season and winning at least three more games out of the six remaining — and at the very least playing competitive football. That would be a huge positive step from where this team is right now, both physically and mentally. There is too much pride and history in the Oklahoma brand to accept anything less than an all-out competitive performance. And that’s just not happening right now, and the result is totally unacceptable.

The Sooners need to finish out the season on a positive note. And the good news is, there is still time to make that happen. The ball is clearly in Brent Venables’ court.