How does Brent Venables first season compare with other OU head coaches?

OU head coach Brent Venables yells to players during the first half of Saturday's game against Baylor at Owen Field.jenni -- cover small
OU head coach Brent Venables yells to players during the first half of Saturday's game against Baylor at Owen Field.jenni -- cover small /

Only two head coaches in 128 years of Oklahoma football have finished with an overall losing record in their first season. Brent Venables is not one of them — not yet, anyway.

That’s because the Sooners finished the 2022 regular season with a 6-6 record. The outcome of Oklahoma’s Cheez-It Bowl matchup with Florida State will determine whether Venables and the Sooners enjoy a winning or losing season.

Only four OU head coaches have finished .500 or worse overall in their first season coaching the Sooners, and that includes Oklahoma’s very first varsity season in 1895, when John A. Harts lost 34-0 to an Oklahoma City town team in OU’s only game that season. The other three are Lewie Hardage (4-4-1 in 1932), Howard Schnellenberger (5-5-1 in 1995) and John Blake (3-8 in 1996).

That’s a list Venables would like to avoid, but it’s going to take a strong performance from an Oklahoma team that has been up and down all season and will be without several key players when it goes up against a formidable Florida State team that finished the season with a 9-3 record and ranked 13th in the country.

Venables wasn’t able to avoid another unwanted distinction, however. He is one of just three Sooner head coaches to have a losing conference record in their debut season. The Sooners were 3-6 (.333) against Big 12 opponents this season. In terms of winning percentage, that is the lowest of any OU head coach in conference games since Oklahoma was first affiliated with a conference in 1915.

The Oklahoma head coach with the best record in his inaugural season was Barry Switzer, whose 1973 Sooner team finished with an undefeated 10-0-1 record and a perfect 7-0 in the Big Eight. In fact, Switzer did not lose as a head coach until the ninth game in his third season, going 32-0-1 over that time.

Switzer’s predecessor, Chuck Fairbanks, also had an outstanding first season, going 10-1 and 7-0 as Big Eight champions.

By comparison, Oklahoma’s three other legendary coaches — Bud Wilkinson, Bob Stoops and Bennie Owen — were a combined 21-9-1 in their inaugural season. Wilkinson was 7-2-1 in 1947, Stoops was 7-5 in his first season in 1999, and Owen’s first OU team was 7-2 in 1905.

Wilkinson’s 1947 Sooner team, like Switzer’s 1973 team, was a conference champion

Lincoln Riley also had a highly successful first season, finishing 12-2 overall, 8-1 in the Big 12 and as conference champions.

Venables was a member of the Oklahoma coaching staff under Bob Stoops for 13 seasons. Stoops never had a record worse than the 7-5 mark of his first Sooner team, and we know how extremely well OU’s all-time winningest coach did after that first season.

Hopefully that same pattern will ring true for Venables in the coming seasons.