Is Oklahoma finally the perfect fit for Brent Venables?
Let’s talk about Brent Venables and Oklahoma.
With Lincoln Riley heading to USC, the Sooners are conducting a coaching search for the first time since 1999. Remarkably, the same athletic director — Joe Castiglione — that hired Bob Stoops during that search will also be hiring Riley’s successor.
It didn’t take long for Venables’ name to pop up in relation to this job. He — along with former Oklahoma assistant and current South Carolina coach Shane Beamer — were the first names to surface when the job opened on Sunday. Since then, Beamer’s candidacy has taken on more doubt while Venables’ is only gaining steam.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just another Venables coaching carousel crisis — if Clemson fans had a dollar for every time he was mentioned in head coaching rumors, the Tigers could probably build another new practice facility.
But this is a blue blood head coaching job in a place where Venables spent a good chunk of his career. His relationship with interim OU coach Bob Stoops dates back to 1993 when Stoops was Kansas State’s co-defensive coordinator and Venables was just on staff as a graduate assistant.
Those two, of course, worked together in Norman from 1999-2011. Those years included some of the best football Oklahoma has ever played. The Sooners won a National Championship and played for three more during that era.
However, let there be no confusion: Venables’ first stint at Oklahoma ended poorly. The Sooners slowly regressed on defense over the back end of his tenure, a reality that culminated in a 44-10 loss to Oklahoma State in the final game of the 2011 regular season.
What happened next was a cruel twist of fate for Oklahoma fans. Mike Stoops was brought back as defensive coordinator in a move that was supposed to bring the Sooners back to the elite defense they were known for in the early aughts. Instead, his defenses kept two historic offenses — led by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — from even reaching the National Championship Game.
Meanwhile, OU fans — and presumably administrators— watched as Venables built arguably the nation’s best defense over the last decade. Even as the Tigers slipped to a 9-3 record this season, their defense still held opponents to an ACC-best 4.44 yards per play.
By all accounts, Venables is the top candidate for the Oklahoma job right now. That doesn’t mean he’s been offered the gig, or that he would accept. Castiglione promised a stealthy search during a press conference on Monday and has so far delivered on that promise.
But it would make sense if Venables felt there was unfinished business in Norman. It would make sense if, after years of declining head coaching opportunities, this was the job he finally jumped at.
Clemson has become home for Venables and his family, but he’s originally from Kansas. Born in Salina, he played for Garden City Community College and for Kansas State. He started his coaching career on Bill Snyder’s staff. The Wildcats, Sooners and Tigers are the only programs he’s ever worked for.
A move back to Oklahoma would represent a homecoming for Venables in more ways than one. And while the timing wouldn’t be optimal for Clemson’s program following a 9-3 season, the Tigers are plenty stable enough to thrive in a post-Venables era.
This is by no means a done deal. Other candidates will probably emerge for the Oklahoma job and Venables may very well choose to stay at Clemson, where he’s enjoyed the best years of his career.
But if it is Venables, it just means he finally found his perfect fit.