Brent Venables: The 5th B?
Bennie, Bud, Barry, Bob… Brent?
The Oklahoma Sooners football program is one of the most storied in the sport. They are the 6th most winningest program, have won the most conference titles, and have the most Heisman trophy winners out of any school in the country. It’s no secret that there has been a seemingly endless amount of talent that has walked through those hallowed halls and tapped the “Play like a champion today” sign. The real one that is. But, most importantly today, Oklahoma is the only program in the nation that has had 4 different coaches win over 100 games at their respective school. Coincidentally, all of their names have started with the letter “B” and 3 of the 4 were assistant coaches for the Sooners before taking over as the head man. Did the Sooners hire their next great coach yesterday evening?
Bennie Owen, who the Oklahoma Sooners have named their field after, won 155 games as the OU football coach while also holding the Basketball coach, Baseball coach, and Athletic Director positions for the University. He was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1951. Bud Wilkinson, who the Sooners practice facility is now named after, was an assistant coach for one season before taking over the Head job at Oklahoma at only 31 years old. As Head Coach and Athletic Director for nearly 20 years he won 145 games, 3 national championships, 14 conference titles and still, to this day, holds the record for most wins in a row with 47. He was inducted into the college hall of fame in 1969. Barry Switzer also started his career at Oklahoma as an assistant and took over the Head Coaching role when Chuck left for the NFL. Barry dominated, winning 157 games, 3 national titles, and 12 conference titles before stepping down and eventually making a return to coaching to win another championship for the Dallas Cowboys. He was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 2001. Lastly, we have Bob Stoops, who now has a statue outside the stadium. Bob is the winningest coach in OU football history with 190 wins, 1 national championship and 10 conference titles. He was just inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 2021. Four head coaches, four “B’s” have collectively turned Oklahoma Sooner football into the powerhouse brand that it is today.
Brent Venables matches up perfectly with that weird set of circumstances that always ends in Sooner Magic. Brent has been coaching college football since 1993 and has shown nothing but loyalty and excellence every step of the way. He began his coaching journey right after graduating from Kansas State. Upon graduation, he immediately joined the great Bill Snyder’s staff as a Graduate Assistant and after only 3 years he was promoted to coach the Linebackers unit. It was clearly the right choice by Coach Snyder because over the next 3 years Venables helped Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops build one of the strongest defenses in the country. In 1998, Snyder, Stoops & Venables had the wildcats one overtime defeat to Texas A&M away from Kansas State’s first ever National Title appearance. At Brent’s first coaching stop, he remained on staff for 6 seasons, received 1 promotion, and helped elevate the Kansas State program to heights they had never reached before.
Everything changed for Brent in the off-season between 1998 and 1999. Bob Stoops, Mike’s older brother was hired on by Oklahoma where he brought on both his brother Mike and the up-and-coming Venables as Co-Defensive Coordinators. The tandem picked up right where they left off, leading a hard nosed Oklahoma defense to a National Title in 2000. They didn’t stop there. The defense remained dominant for most of the 2000’s and OU would make it back to 3 more national title games, but unfortunately fell all 3 times. Mike Stoops eventually used that momentum to earn himself a Head Coaching job in 2004. Brent stayed on the staff with Bob Stoops until 2011. At that point the Sooners had a disappointing end to the year and Venables’ defenses had begun to stagnate. Bob, in an effort to bring back the magic from early on, brought his brother back on staff to help Venables lead the defense. Almost 20 years into his career, Venables wanted full control of the defensive unit so he decided to leave Norman to coach the defense at Clemson. Brent’s 12 years at Oklahoma was full of accomplishments. He helped bring the Sooners back to the top of the mountain in 2000 and was close another 3 times. Now 20 years in, he’d found success at both stops and had learned from 2 now half of fame coaches.
It didn’t long for Venables to do the same thing at Clemson that he had done at his previous landing spots. Clemson hadn’t won or even played for a National Title since 1981, but it only took 3 years for Venables to help bring them back to the National conversation. In 9 years at Clemson, he had 5 defenses that finished in the top 3 in the country (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, & 2021), won the ACC and made it to the college football playoffs 6 years in a row, winning 2 national titles. Venables has been one of the hottest coaching names for the past 5 off-seasons, but it has seemed from an outsider’s perspective that he was happy at Clemson as the highest paid coordinator in the country. It didn’t seem like anyone could pry him away. Not until Oklahoma called anyway.
The University of Oklahoma is a very special place. Oklahoma is a humble state with humble people, but the alumni and fans take pride in this place. For over 100 years OU has built a culture that is designed for sustained success. Whenever other programs around the country look for new head coaches it seems like they pull up ESPN’s list of candidates and just pick their favorite. For OU, it’s something different. The culture they’ve built breeds loyalty and time and time again they are able to find incredible coaches who are just as passionate about Oklahoma football as the fans and players are. OU has a number of “program guys” on staffs around the country that, if OU calls, they’d come home in an instant. That’s what this hire feels like. Brent Venables was part of this culture for 12 years, he’s helped Dabo build a similar culture at Clemson. It is rumored that Venables will look to hire another “program guy” in OU alum Jeff Lebby who has made a name for himself as one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators at UCF and Ole Miss to lead the offense.
This is exactly what the OU fanbase needs right now. Loyalty. That’s what this program was built on and what the fanbase thought they had with Coach Lincoln Riley. Bud Wilkinson took the reigns from Jim Tatum in 1947. Barry Switzer took the reigns from Chuck Fairbanks in 1973. We all thought Lincoln Riley would be the next to do it when Bob Stoops handed down the program to the 33 year old coach. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen at a place like Oklahoma and the fans feel betrayed by Lincoln Riley.
The hiring of a “program guy” who waited so long for this job and wants to be here for the long term has galvanized the fanbase in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time. Brent, it’s time to get to work and based on your previous performances it shouldn’t take long to see the Sooners back on top. I have no doubt that Brent will lead the Sooners to great things, but the question is, will he put himself into that legendary status that the previous “4 B’s” now sit?