With Oklahoma’s 2022 football season winding down, it’s becoming painfully clear that this isn’t the same dominant Sooner team in the Big 12 he’s used to seeing in recent seasons.
You wouldn’t notice it much in the last season’s record — over the past three seasons, the Sooners have won 12, 9 of 11 in the 2020 pandemic, and 11 games last season — but they haven’t won as easily or decisively as previous Oklahoma teams.
Last season alone, six of OU’s wins were by seven points or less. The Sooners lack the killer instinct to turn teams away when they have opponents on the ropes. As a result, the Sooners finished third in the Big 12 rankings a year ago, picking up a streak of six consecutive Conference Championships.
The disappointing 2021 season wasn’t a matter of missing talent. Oklahoma sure had a lot of that. There was certainly an imbalance between the team’s offensive power and defensive ability, but they quickly still managed to excel in most of his matches, although more than half of the matches could have gone the other way and left the OU with a few. Seven or eight wins and an overall record of just over 0.500.
The point is, for the first time in a long time, Oklahoma looked lethal and more vulnerable than it had for some time. Against this background, at the end of November, the entire bottom seemed to have pulled out.
Less than 24 hours after losing their last game of the regular season in Oklahoma State, they surprisingly lost their head coach, Lincoln Riley, who chose to jump ship and head to West to take the vacant job at USC.
And that was just the beginning of the fall of the dominoes. Riley took with him half of the OU’s assistants as well as several major Sooner players who chose to follow him to his new destination.
Just like that, ongoing concerns about the state of football in Oklahoma have been raised to a whole other level of anxiety and uncertainty.
Brent Venables was the first goal from the start
When Riley got off the stage properly, OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione went into instant coach search mode, but he did so completely intent on landing the man he knew was not only the perfect fit, but the right choice at the right time for the job.
Enters Brent Venables.
Venables was one of the Sooners special. Yes, he did spend a decade as a defensive coordinator at Clemson, but before that he was in the same role at Oklahoma for 13 very successful seasons soon under Bob Stops. That in and of itself made Venables a very popular company among the Oklahoma fan base.
Venables actually hit Earth on December 5, 2021, and hasn’t stopped yet. His fire, energy, and emotional personality revitalized Sooner’s locker room. He has invested a lot of time in strengthening the relationships between the coaching staff and the players and between the players themselves.
The new Oklahoma state president has done an amazing job establishing his vision of making the Beginners a confident, physically strong, blue-collar team that competes at a very high level. You can see coming out of spring training and entering training camp this fall that Sooner players are comfortable with the changes so far and approaching training exercises with the same toughness, high energy, and aggressive nature that is reflected in their head coach’s personality.
So why are Oklahoma’s football programs doing so well after it emerged eight months ago that the sky was falling apart. There are two main reasons:
The first is the Oklahoma football brand, which is one of the strongest brands in college football. Bob Stops said it best time for the press conference after the announcement of Riley’s departure:
“No one, one person in the history of the (Oklahoma) program is greater than the program, (including) Coach Switzer, me or Lincoln Riley.”
Soon fans are some of the most enthusiastic in the country, and there’s an undeniably winning culture in Oklahoma. One sports columnist said of the change in coaching at OU: “Oklahoma football made Lincoln Riley. Lincoln Riley didn’t make football in Oklahoma.”
The other reason, perhaps more obvious, is that they hired just the right guy to take on the next head coach position in Oklahoma.
As always under AD Joe Castiglione, the tourists have found their man
The transformation is underway, and it is refreshing and reassuring to witness.
And Venables don’t do it all on their own. You are as good as the people you surround yourself with.
The 23rd head coach of the Oklahoma Football Club assembled a rift defensive team after Riley wiped out that side of the coaching staff. And if you ask me, people new to Norman have better credentials than those who left. At the same time, Venables was able to retain all the offensive coaching staff at the time, including the longtime OU assistant. Cal Gundywhich works with wide receivers, and Bill BidenbauOne of the best offensive line coaches in the college game.
Under the leadership of Stoops and Riley, Oklahoma has kept talent flowing with a number of top 10 recruiting classes. Venables is already making his mark in that area. With the help of ex-coach Stubbs, he’s settled into a 10th OU recruiting position for 2022 and is recruiting at a very high level this summer in fulfillment of class 2023 commitments.
What’s also impressive about the Sooners 2023 class, aside from quantity and talent level, is its balance, with recruits outstanding in both attack and defense. The OU 2023 category is currently ranked #6 nationally, according to 247Sports.
While it was surprising and shocking at first, the change of training actually comes at the right time and for all the right reasons. Although his words were otherwise, Riley was clearly not committed to Oklahoma long-term and, to be perfectly honest, his urgent soccer team has become too persistent and predictable and has lost their edge.
Venables’ passion for football in Oklahoma never left him even when he was at Clemson. And now Bob Stops’ former assistant is back where he really belongs.