Brent Venables announced the first major hires of his tenure as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners Friday. As expected, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby is returning to his alma mater to fill the same role at OU. Not so expected: the well-traveled Ted Roof is taking over as defensive coordinator.
Hiring Lebby to oversee the OU offense has been one of the worst-kept secrets in college football for more than a week. He already started recruiting for the Sooners in the last few days and said his goodbyes to the Rebels earlier this week. As Venables noted in his announcement, Lebby is “maybe the hottest offensive coordinator in college football.” He served as the architect of an offense that finished the 2021 season ranked 11th in Offensive SP+.
We’ve previously discussed Lebby’s troubling ties to Baylor during the sexual assault scandal under coach Art Briles in the mid-2010s. OU athletic director Joe Castiglione spoke to those issues in a statement released Friday:
“Like with all potential coaching staff, we vetted [Lebby] from every angle, on and off the field. We understand why additional questions have been raised around his candidacy, which is why we did our due diligence, completed a thorough review and background check, and spoke to his previous employers throughout the process. The reports we received from Baylor, UCF and Ole Miss were consistent – they spoke highly of him as a person, his relationships within the programs as well as how he develops his players, his recruiting ability and, of course, his football acumen. At every turn throughout our review, we received assurance of the content of his character, his commitment to compliance and safety, and his desire to contribute to the development of winning programs in the manner we expect of all our staff. In speaking with Jeff, it is abundantly clear that he also knows and will embrace OU’s expectations of him both on and off the field. We’re glad to welcome him aboard.”
Lebby also addressed the questions that have been raised about his time at Baylor, albeit indirectly:
“My experiences at Baylor will inform my perspective for the rest of my life, on and off the field. It will be a privilege to work with Coach Venables and Joe Castiglione. These are two men I believe in and have the greatest respect for — I have the utmost confidence in their administrative leadership. OU’s athletics programs have always demanded the best and I will work every day to earn the trust they have placed in me to represent this institution.”
In terms of Lebby’s on-field track record, his offenses at UCF and Ole Miss lit up scoreboards. However, the fact that he was coaching alongside Josh Heupel with the Golden Knights and Lane Kiffin in Oxford leaves room for doubt about his chops as a play caller. As quarterbacks coach, Lebby will also be responsible for either guiding the development of OU’s star prospect Caleb Williams or identifying a suitable replacement in the transfer portal.
Roof is on fire
On the other side of the ball, rumors that Venables had targeted Roof as defensive coordinator turned out to be more than that. The 57-year-old Roof worked with Venables as an analyst this season at Clemson. (He turns 58 on Saturday, which makes this one hell of a birthday present from a colleague.)
The word “seasoned” comes to mind when talking about Roof’s career. OU will be his 11th employer since 2004. That includes a stint as defensive coordinator at Auburn from 2009 to 2011 during which the Tigers won a national championship in 2010. Most of the other stops didn't work quite so well, such as the time Duke went 6-45 with Roof as head coach from 2004 to 2007. His most recent experience as a defensive coordinator came at Vanderbilt in 2020, an 0-9 season in which the Commodores finished 13th in the SEC in scoring defense and last in defensive yards per play. To be fair, we’re also talking about Vanderbilt.
Frankly, this hire won’t get fans’ blood pumping around Norman. It is worth noting that even if Venables isn’t calling the defense this year, the head coach will be the de facto defensive coordinator for this team in 2022. This decision simply confirms that. On the plus side, Roof also brings ample experience as a recruiter across the Southeast. When it comes to his responsibilities as linebackers coach, Roof will have to answer to one of the top teachers of the position in the business.
Other staff members announced
Little surprise, but Venables is retaining four assistants from the previous staff: running backs coach Demarco Murray, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley and receivers coach Cale Gundy. That leaves openings for new assistants for the defensive line and secondary.
Additionally, Venables has lured away a key cog in the Clemson machine to join the Sooners. Thad Turnipseed is leaving his job as director of recruiting and external affairs at Clemson for what sounds like a gig as Venables’ chief of staff with the Sooners. In addition to playing a vital role in operations, Turnipseed will have the best name in the program.