The Norman Transcript

August 6, 2008

10 years in, Venables still vital


By Clay Horning

Mike Balogun, a junior linebacker who’s been in Norman for about 10 minutes out of Lackawanna College, was describing his position coach Wednesday morning, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

“Just the energy and the enthusiasm that he brings,” he said. “You feed off that. He really likes things up tempo.”

Yet it was what Balogun was doing as he said, “You feed off that …”

Because he was snapping his fingers.

Minutes earlier, at a lectern, Venables did the talking. Along with Bobby Jack Wright, Cale Gundy and Jackie Shipp, he’s about to enter his 10th season along with coach Bob Stoops. He had plenty to say because he always has plenty to say, and still the throwaway lines were the most revealing.

Somebody asked about defenses catching up to spread offenses and Venables launched into his answer, basically saying the Sooners had to be better, but finished by explaining that OU will face several “two-back” foes as well. He ticked them off: Chattanooga, Washington, Texas and Texas A&M.;

Asked about entering his 10th season, he said time’s flown by, that he probably hadn’t contemplated being here so long but it’s not the kind of thing “you think about when you’re getting ready for Indiana State.”

Finally, speaking about OU’s defensive performance at the Fiesta Bowl, he pointed out 51 of West Virginia’s 59 plays went for 3 yards or less but “the eight plays, they’re going for touchdowns all over the damn place.”

It explains so much.

Because while interesting the spread may no longer be spreading, it’s more telling to hear Venables rattle off the two-back opponents like he’d watched the film yesterday, rather than weeks and months ago.

And while worth noting the hot young coach who arrived at OU as defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ top lieutenant remains a Sooner, it’s far more revealing to hear Venables bark out the name of that very first opponent, the Sycamores, because like seemingly everything in his past, the memory is just so vivid. Thinking about his longevity, it all comes rushing back.

Just like remembering what happened in Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 2, the feast or famine experience of the defense, is an explanatory nugget, but the greater truth lies in his still visceral reaction to the thought. How else to interpret “they’re going for touchdowns all over the damn place.”

The regime is closing in on 10 years and if Bob Stoops is the maestro and Wright’s the old fart who knows everybody and Gundy’s the returning hero and Shipp’s the quiet and steady force, Venables is still the one you notice, remember and occasionally can’t quit watching … on the sideline, coaching as hard as his linebackers are playing; in the interview room, toning it all down, barely; even talking about life beyond the game with the same engrossing depth that begs the conversation go a little longer.

Austin Box, another Sooner who gets position coaching personally from his defensive coordinator, was challenged to describe Venables in three words.

The first two were “intense” and he struggled to find a third.

“It’s very contagious,” Box said. “It makes you want to bring out the best in yourself.”

It is his famous passion and intensity, but also his off-the-curve recall that keeps Sooner linebackers, as Venables said, “always engaged.”

“He can tell you a play that happened four years ago,” Box said. “And he remembers it perfectly.”

“The mistakes we make,” middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds said, “he remembers them down to the quarter. He never forgets.”

The shocker may be he’s still here. He’s been an integral part of a nine-season run of success that’s included a national championship, two more BCS title game appearances and five Big 12 crowns. Likely, he could leave when he chooses. But he may not.

“I think I’m more content being a husband, father and coach daily,” Venables said, “than I spend any time calculating things down the line.”

For him, and OU, it’s been a good time.

Clay Horning