Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been hired as the next coach at Oklahoma, the school announced on Sunday. Venables, a former Sooners assistant, will return to Norman, Oklahoma, after 10 years as the Tigers defensive coordinator, including four as associate head coach under Dabo Swinney.
Venables will replace Lincoln Riley, who became the first Sooners coach since 1946 to leave for another college opportunity when he accepted the same role at USC.
Venables is targeting Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to oversee the offense, according to multiple reports.
“This is an incredibly special opportunity. Julie and I and our family are extremely grateful for the belief in us — and certainly in me — to be the next head coach at Oklahoma, one of the winningest and most tradition-rich programs in college football history,” Venables said in a statement. “Our memories from Norman, where all four of our children were born, have been nothing but great. We’re looking forward to making another decade-plus of incredible memories as we transition to a new era of Oklahoma football, especially with the opportunity and the challenge to join the SEC, the premier conference in all of college football. Joe Castiglione,
President Harroz and the Board of Regents have given us incredible support that equals the best of the best in our sport. There’s no question we are equipped to compete at the very highest level and attract the best players from across the country. The OU logo has never been stronger.”
Venables spent 13 years as defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Oklahoma under legendary coach Bob Stoops. He served as co-defensive coordinator on the 2000 national championship team as his defense suffocated Florida State to the tune of 13-2 for Oklahoma’s most recent title.
Clemson has become a defensive juggernaut under Venables’ leadership. The Tigers rank No. 9 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense and have remained ruthlessly consistent despite major injuries during a 9-3 campaign. Venables has sent eight defensive players to the first round of the NFL Draft at Clemson, with cornerback Andrew Booth projected to join them this year.
“This is a truly great day for Oklahoma — for our program, our current players, former players, recruits and fans,” athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Coach Venables is a proven winner who over the years has helped his teams earn 13 conference championships and three national titles, and has developed one of the country’s consistently best defenses. A born leader, he helped build and sustain an exceptional culture during his 13 years here at Oklahoma and his 10 seasons at Clemson.
He has a track record of establishing meaningful relationships with his players and preparing them for the next level. Brent embraces competition and the challenges that come with it, and there is no doubt in my mind he is the right man to lead OU football into its next great era. We couldn’t be more excited for Brent to return to OU as our head coach and for him, his wife Julie and their children Jake, Tyler, Laney and Addie to call Norman home again.”
Venables has repeatedly been mentioned for head coaching jobs in the past, most notably when Bill Snyder retired from his alma mater of Kansas State. Venables, however, has deep ties to Oklahoma — and the Stoops family — that make this particular opportunity different.
The 50-year-old Venables would be the fourth consecutive Oklahoma head coach hired without any head coaching experience. Still, the Sooners have achieved 14 conference championships, 15 top 10 finishes and a national championship over that period. Venables would take over a Sooners program that has finished top 10 each of the past six years, including a 10-2 season in 2021.
Here are three key takeaways from Oklahoma’s reported hire.
Venables is a program-changer
In 13 seasons at Oklahoma, Venables helped lead the program to a 139-34 record. In the 13 seasons prior, the Sooners went just 92-55. In 10 seasons at Clemson, the Tigers were even better: 120-17. In the previous 10 seasons, Clemson went just 79-50, including 25-16 in three years under Dabo Swinney. Venables has three national championship rings.
Sure, the periods of success also coincided with the emergences of Swinney and Stoops, but Venables has put his identity on every program he’s coached at. The Tigers are known as one of the fiercest defenses in the nation, a mark that kept true even during a frustrating 9-3 campaign in 2021.
Without question, Oklahoma is next. Venables is a safe hire, but the Sooners need a sure thing as they prepare to head into the SEC. He will win.
A new direction
When one of the greatest offensive minds in recent college football leaves for the West Coast, trying to replace an offensive wonk with another offensive wonk is asking for failure. Instead, Venables’ defensive mindset coming to Norman provides a clean break and the chance of a new era.
The Sooners have been maligned for their defensive struggles, especially in the College Football Playoff. In four games, Oklahoma has allowed 49.8 points per game in the CFP, including 63 points in one of the most embarrassing performances of the playoff era against No. 1 LSU.
However, this is the program of “The Boz” and Stoops. Oklahoma takes pride in physical, defensive football. Venables will bring that back.
Oklahoma bets on consistency
There are few coaches in the sport as intimately familiar with the University of Oklahoma as Venables. With Venables coming to Norman, expect him to keep some key staffers with ties to the university.
Running backs coach DeMarco Murray, tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley, co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy, defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux and linebackers coach Brian Odom all played for Oklahoma. All have long histories on the coaching staff and are considered excellent recruiters. Venables might not keep all of the above, but they should receive consideration.
All eyes will be on offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, considered one of the best in the sport. Early reports had Bedenbaugh going to USC with Riley. But with Venables coming to Norman, he may consider staying. If Oklahoma had hired a coach like Dave Aranda, Luke Fickell or any of the other names that were mentioned for the job, it would have likely led to complete turnover just 10 days before the Early Signing Period.
Offensive hire will be key
When defensive coordinators become head coaches, they can sometimes build offenses to protect their defenses — look no further than Will Muschamp’s units at Florida. The most successful defensive-minded coaches have adapted.
Luckily, Venables has coordinated defenses across from dynamic quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. Expect him to have an understanding of the necessity of playing dynamic football on both sides.
Early reports say that Venables is targeting Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby — a former Oklahoma player — to lead his offense. The Rebels had the No. 4 total offense in America and averaged more than 6.5 yards per play. If Venables sticks with that direction, it’s a strong positive indicator.