Brent Venables’ showing he’s a master recruiter; performance needs to follow

DALLAS, TEXAS - OCTOBER 12: Oklahoma Sooners cheerleaders hold up megaphones during the 2019 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 12, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TEXAS - OCTOBER 12: Oklahoma Sooners cheerleaders hold up megaphones during the 2019 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 12, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

In his nearly two years as head coach of Oklahoma football, Brent Venables has shown that he can recruit with the best of them when it comes to landing elite talent from the high school ranks.

Feeding the pipeline with talented, highly skilled first-year players and experienced college players via the transfer portal, is a critical element to building a championship team and, most importantly, sustaining success, but it only represents half of the battle to complete the process.

Unless it translates to performance on the field, it doesn’t really matter how highly touted the recruiting prospects are or how highly ranked the overall class is. College coaches not only need to be able to recognize and recruit top recruiting prospects, they also need to be able to develop them to be the best they can be and reach and even exceed their talent expectations.

The Texas Longhorns may be the poster child for consistently landing top-10 recruiting classes with nothing to show for it on the back end of the process. The Longhorns, for example have had five top-10 recruiting classes in the last six cycles, including four in the top five, according to 247Sports, but no Big 12 championships during that span and only one conference finish higher than third.

Venables’ 2024 class has picked up tons of momentum in the last two months and is well on pace to become his second top-five class in as many seasons. Before Venables arrived, the Sooners had not had a top-five class since the 2003 season. Oklahoma signed two five-star prospects in the 2023 class and already have two committed to the 2024 class.

Still four-plus months before the early signing period, when most of the 2024 major college recruiting classes are officially locked up, Venables and his staff are in excellent position to add at least a couple more five-star prospects to the 2024 class.

Willliams Nwareri, ranked by 247Sports and the No. 1 defensive lineman in the 2024 class and the No. 3 player nationally, has multiple projections favoring the Sooners. He is expected to announce his commitment decision on Aug. 7. Oklahoma also is in line to secure the commitment of another five-star defensive lineman in David Stone, rated as No. 3 at that position in the national class as well as the No. 10 overall player nationally. Those two recruitments alone show the emphasis by Venables in boosting the Sooners on the defensive line and the ability of he and Oklahoma D-line coach Todd Bates in going after and influencing some of the best available at that position to come to OU.

For the past two months, Oklahoma has been steadily moving up in the 2024 team recruiting rankings. At one point as late as May, the Sooners were ranked 53rd in the 247Sports Team Rankings. Currently, they stand 15th in the 247Sports rankings and are 16, according to Rivals.

Venables’ philosophy and ways of going about recruiting are different from most major college coaches. He’s not interested in accumulating a large volume of commitments early in the process just to run up the numbers, which generally results in high team rankings. Venables wants the Oklahoma commitments to be truly invested in their decision, including having completed all of their visits to other prospective programs. This approach seems to be working for the second-year OU head coach, but, of course, how the Sooners perform on the field will provide the final evaluation.

Some critics will try to use OU’s 6-7 record from last season as the first example of Venables’ recruiting ability. But the reality is that the 2023 class, Venables’ first that was all his and his coaches’ doing, weren’t part of the 2022 team. Several members of that class are expected to see the field early and often in the 2023 season and are expected to have an impact, especially on defense.

While the majority of the emphasis and the energy is in securing a strong 2024 class, Oklahoma is also working ahead, laying the groundwork for the 2025 class. The Sooners already have four commitments to the 2025 class, which currently ranks No. 4 in the 247Sports Team Rankings.

Venables is fully aware that not every blue-chip recruiting prospect lives up to expectations. That’s why coaching, a strong work ethic and a genuine interest in learning and getting better every single day in everything you do is such a critical part of the process.

College football is a game of development, Venables says. The transfer portal provides experience and immediate roster help to fill areas of need, but it is through recruiting and subsequent player development that the best teams are able to achieve sustained success and compete for championships in college football.

Venables is demonstrating that he has the first part down, time will shortly tell about the second pat.