Why Brent Venables is the Perfect Choice to Replace Lincoln Riley in Oklahoma

Through RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Just a week after Lincoln Riley shock Oklahoma supporters and the world of university football by accepting the USC coaching job, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables walks over to Norman.

Venables is slated to become Oklahoma’s head coach and in doing so will bring together a fan base and athletic director Joe Castiglione a decade after leaving the program. Castiglione immediately identified Venables as the OU’s best candidate to replace Riley.

RJ Young: Oklahoma got her man in Brent Venables

RJ Young reacts to the Oklahoma Sooners’ announcement that Brent Venables has been hired as head coach to replace Lincoln Riley. “Oklahoma has its man. You should be excited. ”


Shortly after Oklahoma won its first national title in 1950, then OU president Dr.George Lynn Cross addressed the state legislature to ask for the money to improve the state’s flagship university.

When Cross finished his call, speaking for nearly an hour, a senator stepped in.

“Yes, that’s fine,” the state senator said, according to Cross’s book, “Presidents can’t Punt”. “But what kind of football team are we going to have this year?”

“We want to build a university that our football team can be proud of,” replied Dr Cross.

The truth is, he was only half kidding.

When Riley dropped the bombshell he was leaving just a day after the regular season ended, one of the first jobs Castiglione and college president Joe Harroz did was ask Bob Stoops if he would coach the team – guide them, stabilize them – while they identified, recruited and signed a new head coach.

Stoops didn’t even let the duo finish asking the question. Of course, he would coach the team in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon.

The next day, Stoops, who is a FOX analyst on “Big Noon Kickoff,” sat down at a three-table for a press conference with Harroz and Castiglione and assured fans that not only will this braintrust find the right coach, but that Oklahoma is bigger than any man.

He was energetic and direct. He alleviated fears and inspired belief.

“When I arrived here on December 1, 1998, there was something to worry about,” Stoops said. “There is cause for concern – four straight years without a winning record, no bowl games. Two years later we were 13-0 and won the national championship. This place is in much better shape.”

Stoops saw this job posting as a chance to find a man who could not only recruit the best players, but get the best of them.

“Give it a little while, and you’ll see it’s just a little bump in the road,” Stoops said. “There isn’t a single guy, a single person in the history of this program that is bigger than the program – Coach Switzer, myself or Lincoln Riley. And what I said to the players , is that they are the program. They are football OU. “

And not only did Castiglione and company get their man, they got the man whose defense had given Riley fits.


In the 2015 Orange Bowl, the Venables Tigers defense maintained Riley’s offense, who averaged 530.2 yards and 43.5 points per game, to 378 total yards and 17 points in a resounding victory. on his way to Clemson’s first national title since 1981.

Venables added a third national title to his resume in 2018. That year, Clemson had six NFL first-round defensive caps, including three defensive linemen.

He has gained a reputation for identifying under-recruited and undervalued players and turning them into stars.

Linebacker Isaiah Simmons was a lightly recruited three-star athlete when Venables got his hands on his film. Some programs had identified the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Simmons as a wide receiver, others as a safety. He was ranked 330th player and No.25 in safety in the 2016 class. Venables found him just a week before National Signing Day at Olathe North High School in Olathe, Kansas.

“I literally wrapped my arms around him and hugged him as tight as I could,” Venables said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so glad I came to see Olathe.’ Because I really didn’t know. I saw him in the hallway. We just saw a great athlete who had good ball skills who was mostly playing catcher, a bit safe. “

Venables signed Simmons, took his frame and ball skills and turned him into a cutting edge defender capable of playing on the edge, middle of defense, corner of the lunge and both safety positions. Simmons has become a Butkus Award winner, a player so good he can make a mistake just changing his roster at the snap – a destroyer of worlds.

Simmons was the eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft and is now destroying NFL offenses for the Arizona Cardinals.

Venables choosing to leave Clemson could spell the end of a fantastic era of football in South Carolina. Dabo Swinney’s program became a national power in large part because Venables turned down one high-level post after another.

Under Venables, the Tigers’ defense had become as feared as any in the country and a stabilizing force, even when the offensive crackled.


However, there was not always the conviction that Venables would accept the OU head coach position if offered to him.

A native of Salina, Kansas, he played college ball at Garden City Community College before having the opportunity to play linebacker at Kansas State. But when Bill Snyder resigned, Venables said he was not interested in the job now held by Chris Klieman.

He also didn’t appreciate the constant uprooting that many coaches have placed on their families in search of the next job. For example, Alabama coach Nick Saban was an assistant to 10 different teams in the first 20 years of his career.

In July, Venables signed a five-year extension with Clemson, making him the highest-paid assistant in the sport with an annual salary of $ 2.5 million. It’s clear that he never felt underestimated in Clemson, but, perhaps, he returns to the same feeling that caused him to leave OU in the first place.

After the 2011 season, OU went 10-3, but after the defense finished outside the nation’s top 50, Stoops made the decision to bring in his brother, Mike Stoops, as defensive co-coordinator with Venables.

Bob Stoops was simply trying to help Venables strengthen the defense by re-establishing a partnership that had worked for four years before Mike became Arizona’s head coach. No one was pushing back Venables when he got an offer from Clemson, and he said one of the toughest decisions of his life came at an Oklahoma City airport when he had to decide between training in Norman or at Clemson.

“Sometimes you have too much testosterone to admit it, but I was scared for my family,” Venables told ESPN in 2015. “I was scared for myself professionally. I was in a comfort zone. . This is Oklahoma. It’s not a stepping stone to leave the only home my kids have ever known, it’s really hard. “

He chose to chase after evolution rather than complacency. He wanted to find out how good he could be.

“If you don’t evolve you will die,” Venables said. “I really believe it.”

And now, by becoming OU head coach, just two weeks away from his 51st birthday, he’s forcing himself to evolve once again. Perhaps with this development, Oklahoma can return to heights it hasn’t seen since Venables was earlier.

But hiring a coach like Venables counts for more than a lasting chance at winning the national championship as OU prepares to join the sport’s most competitive league in just a few years. His hiring reflects not only the mood, but also the attitude of Oklahomans and Sooner fans.

They want a tough coach, without compromise in the way he wants his teams to play football, a coach who reflects the beliefs and core values ​​that Oklahoma people are raised by, including me.

Venables is a renowned task master. He is energetic, passionate, precise, and approaches work with fanatical ferocity. He trains on the wire and teaches his players to play on the wire.

Former OU linebacker Rufus Alexander made it clear to me how far Venables will go to prepare himself and his players to win games.

“He would have a Red Bull, mixed with a five hour energy, mixed with a Spark [Energy]Alexander told me. He is ready to go by the time he gets out. “

And Venables keeps that intensity throughout practice. “Where are you supposed to be? Why are you stumbling? If this guy does that, where are your eyes supposed to be? So you’re panicking as a real freshman. That’s the energy type. that he had there, “Alexander added.

Venables is a serious man who takes on the challenge of coaching in a place where football is not just a sport but a birthright, built to fight the desperation brought on by the swirling winds of the Dust Bowl and the ravages of tornadoes. , floods and the price of oil.

Oklahoma football is a constant in a state constantly belittled and undermined by larger neighbors with a presence in the NFL or MLB. No matter what might be going on in the world, Oklahoma people Sooners can point to this program, this team and know the pride.

Our hearts are on our sleeves, and the head football coach holds each one in his hand. For this reason, Oklahoma is not a place where you want to win. It’s a place where you have to win.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The # 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young. ”Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The young show RJ“on YouTube. He’s not on a StepMill.

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