EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 1 of a three-part series today after Brent Venables has been hired as head football coach at Oklahoma.
Chuck Long remembers meeting a young, fresh-faced Brent Venables for the first time in the Switzer Center. Even 22 years later, the moment still resonates.
“He just was full of enthusiasm,” said Long. “When you shook his hand, it’s like you’d known him for 20 years. He’s just one of those guys. And not everybody’s that way.”
Long was hired to mentor quarterbacks on Oklahoma’s 2000 coaching staff, and in 2003 became the offensive coordinator. On Sunday, he and other former colleagues told SI Sooners they were glad to hear Venables would be coming home to Norman.
“Oh, I’m not surprised he’s been named to new head coach at Oklahoma,” said Jackie Shipp, who was the defensive line coach then. “I know it was probably always his goal to be a head coach. And he had all the intangibles and things that one needs to be a head coach there.”
“I’m happy about it,” said then-offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, “that’s for sure.”
Venables, who turns 51 on Dec. 18, had just turned 28 when Bob Stoops hired him as linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator in December 1998.
Now, 23 years later, Venables is the 23rd head coach in the history of the OU program.
“He made you feel comfortable, welcome,” said Long, who was introduced as the Sooners’ new quarterbacks coach after Mike Leach took the head coaching job at Texas Tech following the 1999 season. “You know, here’s a co-defensive coordinator, and he says, ‘Hey, welcome to the family, good to see you!’ ”
Venables and his brothers were raised by their mother in Salina, KS. In high school, he was named Class 5A defensive player of the year by Kansas Sports Magazine. After two outstanding seasons at Garden City (KS) Community College (he earned All-American recognition), he walked on at Kansas State as a smallish but fearless linebacker.
In Manhattan, Venables became honorable mention All-Big Eight in 1992.
“As a player, he was undersized,” Mangino said. “But boy, was he tough. He was a hard-nosed guy, he played with enthusiasm. He wouldn’t back down from anybody. He was just a hard-nosed competitor.”
Those were among the many qualities then Kansas State defensive coordinator Bob Stoops saw in a young Venables — qualities that convinced Stoops to tell Bill Snyder he needed to add Venables to the coaching staff.
“I know for a fact coach Stoops went to (Snyder) and was like, ‘Brent’s my guy. That’s who we want to hire,’ ” Venables told Oklahoma media before the Orange Bowl in 2015. “I went through all of spring ball, all of summer, to fall camp, then he gives me a contract for $33,000 and says, ‘We’ll see what you do.’ “
The rest is history: Venables coached three seasons as a graduate assistant, three more as full-time linebackers coach and then migrated to Norman to join the Stoops brothers after the ’98 season. He was co-defensive coordinator with Mike Stoops from 1999-2003, and when Stoops left for Arizona at the end of the 2003, Venables was paired as co-defensive coordinator with Bo Pelini in 2004.
In 2005, after Pelini left for LSU, Venables was finally and fully in charge of the OU defense. He was the coordinator until Stoops returned from Arizona following the 2011 season.
Contrary to popular opinion, Venables wanted to stay in Norman. He agonized over it, reportedly even calling Bob Stoops from his layover en route to Clemson to talk it through. But he realized that the best way he could evolve as a coach and spread his coaching wings was to do it apart from those who had given him his foundation.
“Loyalty is a trait that Brent has had all of his life,” Mangino said. “That goes hand in hand with how he treats people the right way, he tries to do the right things all the time when dealing with people. And I could see his loyalty to Bob, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. That’s how he operates. He’s big into loyalty. That’s why he puts his family first ahead of career decisions, because he’s loyal to his family and he wants to do the right thing for them, too.”
Painful as it was, to grow as a coach, Venables had to leave the Stoops nest.
“The impression I got from Brent,” Mangino said, “he just felt like it was time to get out there and do his own thing and prove to himself that he can run a defense by himself and be successful at it. From my conversations with Brent and Bob during that time, Brent didn’t have to leave. Mike and Bob wanted him him to stay. Bob really wanted Brent to stay and thought it could work.
“And Brent said, ‘No, it’s just time. You know, it’s just time. Time to go take on a new challenge for me and see if I can do this myself.’ Obviously he was pretty darn successful at it.”
In commanding one of the most dominant defenses in college football over the last decade, Venables has won two national championships at Clemson under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers also made the College Football Playoff Championship Game twice (losing to Alabama and LSU), won six straight ACC titles and posted a 120-17 overall record — one of the best decades in college football history — with Venables as the defensive coordinator.
“Very hard worker,” Shipp said. “Very knowledgeable. Kind of a go-getter guy. A lot of intensity. High-energy person.”
That energy has made Venables semi-famous if only for his sideline gyrations on game days. At Clemson, Swinney even assigned a “get-back coach” to Venables to make sure he didn’t get penalized for being too far out on the field during play.
But that’s only on game days.
“I think he was more calm in the staff room, if you can understand that,” Shipp said. “I think it was more calm in there. I think the intensity and different things you saw were on the field, in games or in practice. But the staff room, it was more even-keeled, smoother pace. What’s the word I want to use? I guess competition or battle, that’s the time that you all saw the faces, the moving around, the bouncing around and all those types of things.”
Anyone who’s ever met Venables also knows he’s actually a warm and friendly person with a biting sense of humor. His wife Julie, sons Jake and Tyler and daughters Delaney and Addison would attest to that. So would his coaching pals.
“One of the most personable guys I’ve ever worked with, been with and have known,” Long said. “His enthusiasm, positive enthusiasm, I thought went a long way toward building that defense with Mike Stoops, without Mike Stoops, and of course at Clemson, what he’s done there.
“Just having him on the staff, I thought, was really good for the entire staff.”
One vital aspect Bob Stoops instilled quickly at OU: family. He scheduled family nights in the coaching office every other week (sometimes every week) so the staff could get to know each other on a more personal level. That made the investment real.
Venables thrives in those settings — and beyond.
“He would just go out of his way to get to know you, get to know your family,” Long said. “Which really extended over to his — he was an excellent recruiter. He would build relationships the right way with recruits.
“I believe it’s gonna be a great, great hire. Because he does have that recruiting enthusiasm,” Long continued. “It’s really all about — that’s a big chunk of it, that recruiting enthusiasm and getting kids to hop over a bunch of states to come to Oklahoma. That’s gonna be big, and Brent’s the right guy to do that.”