As Oklahoma’s 2022 football season drew to a close, it became painfully clear that it wasn’t the same fans of the dominant Big 12 Sooner team were used to seeing in recent seasons.
You wouldn’t notice that much in last season’s record – over the past three seasons the Sooners have won 12, 9 of 11 in the 2020 pandemic season and 11 games last season – but they weren’t winning as easily or as decisively as past Oklahoma teams.
Last season alone, six of OU’s wins were by seven points or less. The Sooners didn’t have the killer instinct to put teams away when they had opponents on the ropes. As a result, the Sooners finished third in the Big 12 standings a year ago, winning a streak of six straight conference championships.
The disappointing 2021 season wasn’t about a lack of talent. Oklahoma certainly had plenty. There was definitely an imbalance between the team’s offensive strength and defensive ability, but the Sooners still managed to come out on top in most of its games, although more than half of the games could have taken another direction and leave OR with as little. seven or eight wins and an overall record just over .500.
The fact is, for the first time in quite a while, Oklahoma appeared deadly and more vulnerable than it had been in some time. And it was against this backdrop, at the end of November, that the whole background seemed to fall.
Less than 24 hours after losing their final regular season game at Oklahoma State, surprisingly, they lost their head coach, Lincoln Riley, who opted to jump ship and head West to fill the vacant position. at USC.
And that was just the beginning of the fall of the dominoes. Riley brought with him half of OU’s assistants as well as several key Sooner players who chose to follow him to his new destination.
Just like that, lingering worries about the state of Oklahoma football have been elevated to a whole new level of concern and uncertainty.
Brent Venables was the No. 1 target from the start
As Riley left the stage, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione went into immediate coach-seeking mode, but he did so with the intention of landing the man he knew was not only the ideal person, but also the right choice at the right time for the job.
Walk in Brent Venables.
Venables was one of the Sooners. Yes, he spent a decade as a defensive coordinator at Clemson, but before that he held the same position at Oklahoma for 13 very successful Sooner seasons under Bob Stoops. That in itself has made Venables a very popular rental among Oklahoma fans.
Venables literally started on December 5, 2021, and it hasn’t stopped yet. His fire and energy and passionate personality reinvigorated Sooner’s locker room. He has invested a lot of time in strengthening the relationship between the coaching staff and the players and between the players themselves.
Oklahoma’s new leader has done an outstanding job of establishing his vision of making the Sooners a confident, physical, tough, blue-collar type team that competes at a very high level. You could see coming out of spring training and entering fall training camp this week that the Sooner players are comfortable with the changes so far and approaching the drills. training with the same tenacity, energy and aggressive nature reflected in the personality of their head coach. .
So why are Oklahoma’s football programs doing so well after it appeared eight months ago that the sky was falling. There are two main reasons:
The first is the Oklahoma football brand, one of the strongest in all of college football. Bob Stoops said it best during the press conference following the announcement of Riley’s departure:
“There’s not one guy, one person in the history of the (Oklahoma) program that’s bigger than the program, (that includes) Coach Switzer, myself, or Lincoln Riley.”
Earlier fans are some of the most passionate in the country, and there’s an undeniable winning culture in Oklahoma. A sports columnist had this to say about the OU coaching change: “Oklahoma football made Lincoln Riley. Lincoln Riley didn’t make Oklahoma football.
The other, perhaps even more obvious, reason is that they hired absolutely the right person to take the reins as Oklahoma’s next head coach.
As always under AD Joe Castiglione, the Sooners have found their man
The transformation is underway, and it is refreshing and reassuring to witness it.
And Venables doesn’t do it alone. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
Oklahoma’s 23rd football head coach assembled an elite defensive staff after Riley decimated that side of the coaching staff. And if you ask me, Norman’s new guys have better credentials than those who left. At the same time, Venables was able to retain the entire attacking coaching staff, including the longtime OU assistant. Wedge Gundywho works with wide receivers, and Bill Bedenbaughone of the best offensive line coaches in the college game.
Under Stoops and Riley, Oklahoma had maintained the talent pool with a number of top-10 recruiting classes. Venables is already making its mark in this area. With the help of former head coach Stoops, he stabilized and secured a No. 10 OU recruiting class for 2022 and is recruiting at an extremely high level this summer by fulfilling commitments for the 2023 class.
What’s also impressive about the Sooners’ 2023 class, aside from the amount and level of talent, is its balance, with highly touted rookies on both offense and defense. OU’s Class of 2023 currently ranks 6th nationally, according to 247Sports.
Admittedly surprising and shocking at first, the coaching change actually comes at the right time and for all the right reasons. Although his words said otherwise, Riley obviously wasn’t committed long-term to Oklahoma, and to be perfectly honest, his Sooner football team was getting too static and predictable and had lost its edge.
Venables’ passion for Oklahoma football never left him, even when he was at Clemson. And now Bob Stoops’ former assistant is back where he really belongs.