Oklahoma football: Jeff Lebby’s reputation growing as a top offensive maestro

Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby before the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx15237
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby before the Red River Showdown college football game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Texas won 49-0.Lx15237 /

When OU alum Jeff Lebby was hired by then new head coach Brent Venables as the Oklahoma football offensive coordinator, Sooner fans weren’t really sure what to expect.

The Sooner offense under Lebby’s predecessor, Lincoln Riley, who served in both roles — leading the offense while also serving as head coach — was easily the strength of the team and one of the country’s best during the time he was in Norman.

Those high-octane Oklahoma offenses from 2015 through 2021 were all quarterback-driven. A pair of Sooner quarterbacks during that time won the Heisman Trophy. Another (Caleb Williams) won college football’s top individual prize a year after starting his career at Oklahoma, and another (Jalen Hurts) was a Heisman runner-up.

Oklahoma had one scholarship quarterback on the roster when Lebby stepped into his current role, and he had never taken one snap in a game at OU. Lebby’s influence was the catalyst that enabled Oklahoma to steal UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel away from UCLA. Gabriel was hours away from enrolling at UCLA before Lebby was able to persuade him to change direction and come to Norman.

As in life, relationships are a huge factor in college recruiting. Lebby and Gabriel were well familiar with each other from their time together at UCF. Lebby recruited Gabriel to UCF and coached him in his freshman season there.

So Gabriel was well familiar with Lebby and his offensive system when the former arrived at OU, and now the four-year college quarterback is entering his second full season as the Oklahoma starter.

The Sooners weren’t in the top-five in total offense in Lebby’s first season as OU offensive coordinator. OU ranked 13th nationally, but did lead the Big 12, averaging 474 yards of total offense per game. But he had the No. 2-ranked offense nationally at UCF in 2019 (one spot better than OU’s, incidentally, under Riley and with Hurts at QB), and the third-best offense among FBS teams in 2020 at Mississippi.

Oklahoma isn’t the only team that recognized Lebby’s talents and abilities, this offseason the Sooner assistant coach was widely believed to be on the short list for the open offensive coordinator job at Alabama. The chance to work under Nick Saban is one of those jobs that if you had the good fortune to be considered and were ultimately offered the job, it would be very hard to turn it down.

I don’t know that Lebby was even contacted about the Alabama opening (Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was hired for the job), but I don’t think he would have left Oklahoma, not at this time, anyway. For one thing, he is an alum and is outspoken about his love for the university and working with head coach Venables.

At the start of spring practice, Lebby met with the media for the first time since the Sooners’ appearance in the Cheez-It Bowl.

"“I think the biggest thing is that I’ve had experiences here,” he said. “For me, it’s being back here and understanding it’s more than just a university.“I’ve bled it, I’ve wanted it. Now I have a chance to do it again. To me, it’s pretty special.”"

Lebby came to Oklahoma 21 years ago as an offensive line recruit and became a football student manager when injuries ended his playing career.

The Sooner offensive coordinator said his focus right now, as it is for the entire coaching staff, is to get Oklahoma back where it needs to be. “That’s what I want and have a passion for right now,” he said. “And it’s going to continue to be that way until it happens.”

Count the staff at Pro Football Focus among those who consider OU’s  Lebby one of the top college offensive coordinators in the game. PFF college football analyst Max Chadwick ranked Lebby as the sixth-best OC in college football. Here is an excerpt of what Chadwick had to say about the Sooner assistant coach:

"“Oklahoma’s offense wasn’t as dominant as we’ve come to expect in Lebby’s first year at the helm…However, Oklahoma was going through a major transition after losing Lincoln Riley and two starting-caliber quarterbacks…“His proven track record suggests he should be able to turn it around at Oklahoma sooner rather than later.”"

Lebby also had a major hand in bringing in the Sooners’ starting QB of the future in five-star 2023 recruit Jackson Arnold, ranked as one of the top three quarterbacks in the 2023 class.

“Blessed to be here, Fortunate to be here,” Lebby said, “and we’re going to get it right.”

Sooner Nation is counting on it.