Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Oklahoma hires Brent Venables as coach: Clemson defensive coordinator to replace Lincoln Riley

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been hired as the next coach at Oklahoma, a source confirms to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. 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 to leave for another college opportunity since 1946 when he accepted the same job at USC.

Venables is targeting Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to oversee the offense, according to multiple reports.

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. 

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. 

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