I was listening to one of Split Zone Duo’s shows ($) this week that featured a Q-and-A segment on what one of the show’s listeners perceived as a lack of buzz around the Oklahoma Sooners and new head coach Brent Venables this offseason. The question, boiled down: Is OU is taking a low-key approach to public relations for a reason?
As hosts Steven Godfrey and Richard Johnson pointed out in their discussion, it seems like an ironic question given that OU fans have been anything but quiet in online spaces since Lincoln Riley forced a change at the top of the program. However, fans screaming into the void and the football program’s media strategy are not the same thing.
Personally, I don’t see anything to suggest the Sooners have intentionally buttoned up PR since Venables took over. I’ve seen him on ESPN. I’ve heard him on radio and podcasts, including local and national outlets. He has done the rounds for feature articles with Dennis Dodd of CBS, ESPN’s David Hale and Matt Fortuna of The Athletic ($) – and that’s just to name a few. It looks like the standard playbook for a first-year coach.
What seem to be missing are the reverberations that make Venables and OU a story. We’re not talking about an offensive wunderkind jilting one of college football’s most successful programs in flyover country to resurrect a fading power in Los Angeles. It’s not stodgy-ass Notre Dame elevating Marcus Freeman to head coach. Likewise, it’s not the fish-out-of-water story of Brian Kelly taking over at LSU.
When Riley left for USC, OU responded soberly by tabbing a respected assistant coach to head the football program. Athletic director Joe Castiglione has done that three times now in 24 years. Good or bad, it’s what you’d expect from OU at this point.
Venables may prove in over his head once the Sooners kick off, but all arrows are pointing up since his hire. He added possibly the best defensive line coach in the country in Todd Bates and a coveted offensive coordinator in Jeff Lebby to the OU staff. Strength coach Jerry Schmidt returned to Norman after a brief exile at Texas A&M. In preparation for life in the SEC, the Sooners hired Thad Turnipseed, the program architect who helped build Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney build their programs into juggernauts. He’s part of a rapidly expanding support staff.
All of these things are vitally important to the health of a college football program, but they’re not sexy headline material. The closest Venables has come to that? Talking about “too much casualness” at bowl practices and “blowing and going.”
When you think about it that way, overly online hordes of whiny fans trying to ether Riley makes for more interesting subject matter. Being competent is boring.