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Horning: Signing day tells us more about Venables than who'll be playing for him

Brent Venables Presser

OU head football coach Brent Venables speaks during a press conference, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Is it possible Brent Venables’ magnetic authenticity and personal sense of honor might be worth one more loss each season?

You know, his palatability so great, his enthusiasm so infectious, could the Sooner Nation stomach each 13-0, 12-1 and 11-2 season becoming, instead, a 12-1, 11-2 or 10-3 season?

Yeah, probably not.

Good thing, then, less than couple of weeks into his tenure as Oklahoma’s new skipper, Venables continues to offer signs there’s more to him than being a coach you want to root for.

Wednesday wasn’t the national signing day, more like a national signing day, because these days players seem to fall out of the transfer portal like rain and, beyond that, Wednesday was just the first day of an early singing period that concludes Friday and there’s still the old signing day, which used to be the only signing day, arriving Feb. 2, and it’s just the first day of the final signing period, extending to April 1.

It’s a long way of saying Venables’ first recruiting class remains incomplete. Still, what he put together by Wednesday afternoon — 13 signees and two hard commitments Oklahoma’s getting credit for — is being forecast as the nation’s 10th best recruiting class by 247Sports, giving the new Sooner coach the No. 2 class in the Big 12 (to Texas), the No. 5 Class in a future 16-team SEC (to Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia and Texas) and in a race between two programs, itself and Southern Cal, the top class by miles and miles, for Lincoln Riley’s Trojans are sitting 79th.

Perhaps more promising is Venables has put together the first portion of his first class while sticking to his recruiting world view.

“Just feel terrific, again, about as much as anything else, the type of people they are,” he said. “They fit … our philosophy, our locker room. The things that we value, they value as well.”

Talk like that is more than platitude, as Venables made clear when addressing the name, image and likeness earnings now available to college athletes.

“Typically, with the right guys, that’s not one of the first, second or third things that’s discussed,” he said. “If that’s one of the first or second things, you have to be cautious moving forward.”

It’s a very different message than the one Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin offered Monday, that “we have free agency in college football and the kids go to where they’re going to pay the most.”

Venables isn’t blind to the new landscape, yet he understands the name of the game is balance, something a former Sooner quarterback may only be beginning to understand in Columbia, South Carolina, having failed in Norman.

Yet, maybe a more telling takeaway from Wednesday was the clear glee with which Venables views remaining recruiting on the docket, given the his first class has room to grow.

You could see it as he told the story of OU discovering Jeremy Beal, way back when.

Beal was not highly recruited, didn’t have great “measurables,” as prospect prognosticators like to say, but Venables and Bob Stoops believed in him upon seeing him play, faith that eventually paid off in Beal being named Big 12 defensive player of the year in 2010.

“That’s [the type of] guy that, just within the last couple of weeks [of the recruiting process] that are there if we are willing to be patient and find them,” Venables said. “That’s one reason I’m excited. They’re there. Some of them we’ve already identified.”

So, yeah, Venables can play the star system well enough. He can get the guys everybody wants and proved it, managing a top-10 class with 13 signees and two commitments, while every program ranked higher features between 17 and 27 signees and commitments.

And given his old Kansas State pedigree and his confidence in identifying terrific football players, Venables can’t wait to find homes for a player or two or three the rest of the world missed.

Actually, there was one other intriguing thing to come from Venables on Wednesday.

He expressed his disappointment upon learning some of Clemson’s commits left the Tigers upon his departure for OU.

“I even spoke to a few guys,” he said, “after they decommitted just to say, ‘Hey, you need to rethink this.’”

Can you imagine?

He didn’t try swinging them to Norman. Venables tried telling them their first decision may have been the right one.

Come on, you could handle an extra loss each year to have a guy like that be your coach, right?

Don’t worry about it.

It’s probably worth another win (or two).

Clay Horning

405 366-3526

Follow me @clayhorning

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