Brent Venables gets a failing grade from CBS Sports on his first OU season

Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners coach Brent Venables shouts at an official during a game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners coach Brent Venables shouts at an official during a game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s no getting around the fact that the 2022 Oklahoma football season was downright disappointing and one of the poorest by a first-time Sooner head coach.

The Sooners were not necessarily expected to be world beaters in Brent Venables’ first season as head coach, but they certainly weren’t expected to lose more games than they won, either. After all, he inherited a team that finished the previous season with an 11-2 record and an Alamo Bowl win over Oregon.

In truth, however, the Oklahoma team that Venables took over following the sudden and surprising exit by Lincoln Riley was one that was already in a state of decline. And with a handful of players at skill positions on the offense, including two former No. 1 quarterback recruits, deciding to leave the program, joined by several top defensive players on a defense that wasn’t that good to begin with leaving by way of the NFL Draft, the team Venables was left with had some key personnel gaps to address.

Nevertheless, Venables wasn’t the only first-year head coach that took over the helm at a major college program whose former head coach had left of his own volition for so-called greater fame and greener pastures at another institution. Dan Lanning, formerly defensive coordinator at Georgia and considered a candidate for the Oklahoma job, left to become head coach at Oregon. When Brian Kelly departed Notre Dame to take the same job at LSU, Marcus Freeman was elevated from defensive coordinator to replace Kelly.

The Sooners finished 10th in the final Associated Press Top-25 poll for 2021. Notre Dame was 8th and Oregon ended up at No. 22.

This past season, Oregon, under Lanning, finished with a 10-3 record and No. 15 in the final 2022 AP poll, and Notre Dame was 9-4 and 19th in the final AP rankings. Meanwhile, the Sooners under Venables, who was in his second stint at Oklahoma, having served 13 seasons coaching the defense under Bob Stoops, ended his first season with a 6-7 record and out of the rankings.

As they do every year at season’s end, a number of national media outlets issue grades for first-year college head coaches as well as head coaches who are new in their jobs. Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly, deservedly or not, both received A’s from the majority of media outlets that weighed in on the coaching evaluations. Dan Lanning and Marcus Freeman generally graded out at the B-level in their new coaching roles. When it came to Venables, the first-year Oklahoma head coach received mostly D grades.

That was not the assessment of Venables, however, from Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports, who earlier this week posted his grades for all of the new college football head coaches this past season. He gave Venables a “failing” grade. The Oklahoma head coach was one of three first-year coaches from Power Five programs to receive a grade of F. Mario Cristobal of Miami (5-7) and Brent Pry of Virginia Tech (3-8) were the others.

That seems a bit over the top, even to this admittedly biased observer. I can understand why the majority of evaluators were inclined to give Venables a D grade — although I would have put it more like C- — but how is a 6-7 record, with four of the losses by three points or less and another by seven, considered “failure”? By Oklahoma football standards, perhaps, and that apparently is the basis for Jeyarajah’s evaluation.

Here is an excerpt of what the CBS staff writer had to say about Venables and Oklahoma this season:

"“Venables faced a difficult situation taking over for Riley, but the lows were still shocking…Oklahoma lost 49-0 against rival Texas, while Venables’ signature defense ranked 123rd. The bar is high at Oklahoma, and 2022 wasn’t even in the same stratosphere.”"

It’s true that the Sooners suffered an embarrassing loss to Texas, but OU was also without starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who left the TCU game a week earlier before the first half was over with concussion symptoms, and had to play the game with a backup who was seeing his first action in an Oklahoma uniform after transferring from Pittsburgh.

As for the comment about Venables’ “signature defense,” this was not Venables defense nor anywhere near the players he is recruiting on that side of the ball. This was Alex Grinch’s defense from the season before and nothing like the quality of the defense Venables is expected to put together once he gets the right fits and his type of defensive talent on the field. The next two years will be the best judge of that.

It also appears that Venables gets no credit — as a coach with a first-year “failing” grade — for signing a top-five recruiting class for next season. Who on earth would ever sign on to play for a coach to which the media know-it-alls assign a grade of F?

The best way to respond to all of this is for the Sooners to win nine or 10 games next season, which is entirely doable, and then, based on the same grading scale, improve to an “A” or high “B’ the next time around. Only, Venables won’t be a first-year head coach this time next year and will escape the wrath of the media evaluation panel that sits in judgement of all new coaches.

Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and Sooner fans will be the judge for 2023.

Wait till next year…