The Oklahoma Sooners are changing course by bringing back a familiar face in Brent Venables as head coach.
Numerous media reports Sunday evening confirmed the hire, including Bruce Feldman of The Athletic and Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports:
Sources: Brent Venables has finalized a deal and will be the next coach at Oklahoma.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) December 6, 2021
After joining the OU staff when Bob Stoops was hired as head coach in 1999, Venables stayed with OU through the end of the 2011 season as defensive coordinator. Venables left for a the same position at Clemson in 2012 and played a vital role in a run of dominance that saw the Tigers win two national championships and six ACC titles. In total, he has been a part of coaching staffs that appeared in eight national championship games since 2000. He also oversaw defenses that helped Clemson blast the Sooners in head-to-head matchups in 2014 and 2015.
Venables was long viewed as the heir apparent to Stoops prior to his departure, and numerous programs came calling for him at Clemson during his tenure there. Ironically, he’s now replacing the up-and-coming assistant who did get that opportunity in Lincoln Riley. Riley took over the program when Stoops retired in 2017 and left last week for USC.
The move will likely mean a reset in terms of the identity of the program. While OU developed one of the most prolific offenses in college football in the last two decades, the play on the other side of the ball eroded significantly after Venables’ departure. The Sooners finished outside the top 15 nationally in Defensive S&P+ from 2005 to 2011; they made it back inside the top 15 two times – 2013 and 2020 – after he left.
Venables also brings a decade of experience hunting talent in the recruiting grounds of the Southeast. That seems like a must with OU preparing to transition to the SEC at some point in the near future.
The next offensive coodinator
With Venables in the fold, the focus at OU now turns to his pick as offensive coordinator. Early signs point to Ole Miss assistant and OU alum Jeff Lebby as the pick:
Veteran Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has emerged as the top target for the @OU_Football head coaching job, and the two sides could finalize a deal as early as today. Ole Miss’ Jeff Lebby is Venables’ top choice as offensive coordinator, sources tell ESPN.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) December 5, 2021
Lebby is reportedly generating interest from a number of programs for his handiwork under Lane Kiffin in Oxford and experience as Josh Heupel’s offensive coordinator at Central Florida. He also coaches quarterbacks, meaning he’d essentially be filling two of Riley’s three vacant coaching roles at OU.
However, Lebby’s previous tenure at Baylor from 2008 to 2016 has presumably – hopefully? – raised concerns for the OU athletic department. He became an assistant coach under his father-in-law Art Briles in 2010 and was part of the Bears coaching staff until 2016. That was the height of a sexual assault scandal at the Baptist university involving a litany of allegations and convictions against Baylor football players. It resulted in the termination of Briles and high-level school officials, including university president and Clinton impeachment impresario Ken Starr.
Baylor’s coaching staff, including Lebby, came under fire for indignant displays of support for Briles up to and after his dismissal in 2016. A Baylor graduate has also alleged that Lebby responded inappropriately when she reported to him that a Bears football player assaulted her.
Additionally, Lebby was involved in an incident in which he was caught on the sideline at an OU-Tulsa game in 2015 while he was a coach at Baylor. The blatant NCAA violation earned Lebby a suspension for the first half of the meeting between the Sooners and Bears that season.
At minimum, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione needs to prepare to explai the vetting process behind hiring Lebby if the Sooners go that direction.
Joe Brady emerged on Sunday as another potential target for the opening at offensive coordinator. The winner of the 2019 Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the nation received his walking papers from the Carolina Panthers. Brady was instrumental in building the LSU offense into one of the best in college football history during the Tigers’ run to a national championship in ‘19. He matched wits against Venables when LSU and Clemson met in the national time game that year.
Panthers announced they parted ways with OC Joe Brady.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 5, 2021
Brady will be a hot commodity on the college coaching circuit should he want to take a step away from the NFL. Jason Kersey of The Athletic noted, though, that Brady has something of a connection to an important member of the OU team (at this moment):
Apropos of nothing, Caleb Williams wanted to play for Joe Brady before he left LSU for the Panthers job.— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) December 5, 2021