'You’ve got to earn that': How Brent Venables' time away from OU football prepared him to lead Sooners
NORMAN — Brent Venables has three coaching mentors that stand as tall as any group.
It started with Bill Snyder, who’s already in the College Football Hall of Fame, building Kansas State from the ground up.
Then there was Bob Stoops, who took Venables under his wing while in Manhattan then brought OU quickly back to a national prominence it has maintained since Stoops, Venables and Co. arrived in December 1998. Stoops will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
Finally, there was Dabo Swinney, who took Clemson to soaring heights, winning a pair of national titles, two more national championship game appearances. His time for the hall of fame will come.
All of those experiences helped lead Venables to where he was Monday, being introduced as the Sooners’ newest coach after a decade away from Norman.
It was in that last stint — 10 seasons at Clemson under Swinney — that ultimately made him ready to finally, at 50 years old be elevated into a head coaching spot.
Venables was at OU from 1999-2011, serving as the Sooners’ co-defensive coordinator with Mike Stoops until Stoops’ ascension to head coach at Arizona. Then Venables took over as the defensive coordinator, where he remained until leaving for Clemson in January 2012, shortly after Mike Stoops returned to his brother’s staff.
That move to join Swinney’s staff was a leap of faith.
“Getting out of your comfort zone, and we know in our different professions, is one of the hardest things you can go through,” Venables said. “So for me, that was a very hard transition. I thought, ‘Oh, I’m Johnny Supercoach. I’ve got all this incredible pedigree and résumé and association and I’m this hot-shot coach. I’m a winner.’
"And what I learned at 40 years old in a very humbling way — you’ve got to start over, and you’ve got to start over with relationships. You can’t bring your street cred with you. You’ve got to earn that.”
It’s the same now. Though there were plenty of familiar faces greeting him Sunday night at the airport and Monday during his public introduction followed by the introductory press conference, there’ll be plenty of relationship-building for Venables in Norman, starting with the players currently on his roster.
At least in the short time he’s been around the current Sooners — a Sunday meeting on Zoom and then a gathering Monday morning — he’s clearly already made an impression.
“Y’all don’t understand how bad I wish I could play just one game for this guy,” veteran linebacker Caleb Kelly posted on Twitter on Sunday night. “He had me ready to run through a brick wall.”
As Venables made his way from the Switzer Center in the south end zone of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium across the street into the Everest Training Center for his public introduction as head coach, he was followed by the players — most wearing “We are OU football” T-shirts. That group of players included quarterback Caleb Williams, who is at the top of Venables priorities when it comes to relationship building.
“The @CoachVenables era is going to be scary,” OU defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey tweeted.
Terms of Venables’ deal with OU haven't been announced, and the school has yet to respond to an open-records request from The Oklahoman.
Venables was asked about specific lessons he took away from each of his primary mentors.
“How to love, loving the staff, loving the players, showing a genuine appreciation for everyone,” Venables said of the main lessons he took from Swinney.
That respect is mutual, as made clear by the lengthy statement Clemson released after Venables’ hire was officially announced.
“I know he is well-prepared. It’s been fun for me to watch him really grow since 2012, and I’m excited for Oklahoma because they’re not only getting a good coach, they’re also getting a great man who is going to do it the right way,” Swinney said, in part, in the statement.
“His hiring is a great complement to our program and to all the great players that we’ve had. I’m going to miss him, but at the same time, I’m also excited about moving forward here and the great opportunity ahead. Today is a great day for Brent and his family and a great day for Oklahoma, and the entire Clemson Family and I are proud of — and thankful for — his 10 years here and the lives he impacted in the process.”
Venables called Swinney “the best man I’ve ever been around.”
“He pours into his coaches as much as he pours into his players,” Venables said. “So it’s really in every area that he prepared me.
“He equipped me and empowered me and allowed me to do things within the confines of his vision to be a leader and inspire and challenge and to grow and to compete.”