Five questions for Brent Venables
The cheers will soon fade. The welcome party will become a distant memory. And the real work will begin.
That’s the reality for Brent Venables, who was formally introduced as Oklahoma’s 23rd head football coach at a pep rally inside Everest Training Center Monday morning.
It’s hard to measure excitement, but the OU fanbase hasn’t seemed this energized in a while. They got the guy they wanted out of this coaching search, as did OU athletics director Joe Castiglione.
Here are the big questions Venables will face in Year 1 at the helm of his dream job.
1. What type of offense will Venables run?
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby has pretty much been the leading candidate to take the same role at OU since news broke that Venables would be named OU’s head coach. And according to reports, Lebby will be the hire.
“I believe you have to throw the ball in this day and age,” Venables told reporters about what he expects from his offense. “I think that's never changed. But you have to be aggressive in the things that you're doing, very diverse in your presentation and make the defense move and adjust and be right on the field. I think that you have to be known for something. So, I think having a strong identity that has shown it's stood the test of time is important as well.”
Here is how Lebby’s Ole Miss ranks this current season:
Scoring offense: 18th nationally (35.9 points per game)
Total offense: 4th nationally (506.7 yards per game)
Passing offense: 21st nationally (282.4 yards per game)
Rushing offense: 9th nationally (224.2 yards per game)
First down offense: 7th nationally (318 first downs)
Venables also plans to hire a defensive coordinator, which should ease concern that this ship will be ran like the last one.
2. Can Venables keep Caleb Williams on board?
Hiring Lebby would be a solid response to this question. Williams, who took control of OU’s offense midway through the 2021 season, can look at the success of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and come to the conclusion he could execute Lebby’s scheme just as well, if not better.
Venables said he has reached out to Williams and his father. The Sooners’ rising sophomore quarterback was at Venables’ pep rally and a team meeting later in the day. While Venables doesn’t have any head coaching experience, he has plenty of recruiting experience that’s met plenty of success.
If there’s a guy that can get Williams sold on OU again, it’s Venables.
3. Why did it take so long for Venables to get a head coaching job?
At 50 years old, Venables has coached at three schools: Kansas State (1993-98), Oklahoma (1999-2011) and Clemson (2012-21). Loyalty is part of the Venables brand, but he’s been contacted for head-coaching jobs before.
He mentioned last year’s coaching carousel was the closest he’s been to taking that step. But he was enjoying his time at Clemson with Dabo Swinney, and why leave a good situation for one you’re uncertain of?
But with OU, Venables was positive this was the right time to make the leap.
“This is Oklahoma,” Venables said. “Alabama's never offered me a head job. I don't want to go down my small rolodex of schools, but this is that program. I've had 27-plus years of interviews and preparation. I've been exposed to three College Football Hall of Fame coaches. Coach (Dabo) Swinney will be next. And what they've been able to pour into me, I've always been a sponge. I'm taking it all in.
“I've led my position group, I’ve led defenses. I’ve been in front of the team plenty. It's something that's easy for me and it’s something I love to do. I'm just passionate about people and I am passionate about winning.”
4. How will he handle OU’s transition to the Southeastern Conference?
The speculation around Lincoln Riley’s departure from Norman to Southern Cal is that he wasn’t up for OU’s move to the SEC.
Riley, of course, has shot down that speculation. So, how does Venables feel about it?
“Without evaluating the personnel yet and what our needs are, I'm incredibly excited,” he said.
Venables’ comfort shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s been recruiting at an SEC level for years at Clemson, which has the advantage of proximity to one of the biggest recruiting hotbeds in the country.
If Venables can continue to have a strong presence in that area, plus focusing on OU’s natural pipelines in-state and in Texas, recruiting shouldn’t drop off at all from the Riley era and OU should be well positioned to have success in its new conference.
“It's always about the player,” Venables said. “That's where it's going to start. We’ll be evaluating the players, finding what our needs are, addressing those needs as quickly as we can, and building the foundation for them, both from a philosophy standpoint, structure standpoint and then the development that goes with that.
“That's not an overnight thing. That's all the things that I've said already in regards to philosophy and structure alignment. It's all game-planning and once you get to that stage down the road.”
5. Will Venables embrace the transfer portal?
If you’re not familiar with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s transfer portal philosophy, then maybe take a seat.
Under Swinney, Clemson hasn’t used the transfer portal — a stark contrast from how teams like OU have operated to fill holes in its lineup.
Venables didn’t outright say he wouldn’t either and mostly knocked his first presser as OU’s head coach out of the park. If there was one thing that raised concern was his stance on transfers.
“We just make it easy and they … just quit,” Venables said. “It's cool now to quit. I don't get that. I understand there's always extenuating circumstances and situations where it's okay for somebody that needs to move on, or maybe a graduate transfer that wants to go somewhere and actually play more. But it is a real issue.”
The Sooners are going to absolutely need the transfer portal with the natural turnover that comes with a head-coaching change. How Venables evolves in his new job, much like other coaches who cut their teeth in this business before the modern era of college football, will be critical to his success.
Which I think will eventually come, but utilizing transfers will undoubtedly expedite the process.