Bedlam Football 2021

Sooner running back Kennedy Brooks runs with the ball against Oklahoma State on Nov. 27.

Lincoln Riley’s departure to USC was surprising to nearly everybody in the college football landscape.

The news broke within hours of Oklahoma’s 37-33 defeat to Oklahoma State last month. After the news began circulating on social media, Riley met with the Sooners to announce that he was leaving the program.

During Zoom press conferences on Friday, OU players were able to give their thoughts on all the recent changes to the program. When it came to Riley’s departure, the players were surprised, too.

“Just like everybody else, we were all shocked,” OU running back Kennedy Brooks Friday.

The next few days were tough on the players, too. Several current players entered the transfer portal, and there was a lot of speculation on who would replace Lincoln Riley as head coach.

But one thing that brought stability was Bob Stoops stepping in as interim head coach.

“This place sort of doesn’t let him go,” OU linebacker DaShaun White said. “He doesn’t let go of this place, either. Having the opportunity to play for a coach like him, [I’m] really excited to be honest with you. I’ve watched him from afar, just watched the way this place has really loved on him.

“I think I’m starting to understand why so many people are really big on him. Obviously, really excited to be able to play for him.”

Though Brent Venables had been rumored to be in contention for the job, it didn’t become official until a week after Riley had left.

OU defensive end Reggie Grimes described how the players found out Venables was the new coach.

“... Obviously that week, week-and-a-half when everything was spiraling around, we didn’t have direction,” Grimes said. “We were all kind of scattered all over the place. It was a mess. When we finally… had the Zoom call and we saw it was Coach Venables, me personally I loved that.

“I did always want to play under Coach Venables. The fact that it did happen, I was more than excited and more than enthused.”

While he was at Clemson, Venables had recruited Grimes to go there. Even though Grimes chose Oklahoma, his interactions with Venables stuck with him.

Grimes said he would “run through a wall” for Venables.

“It’s definitely a shift, just because Oklahoma’s always been — or, has been for the last couple of years — offense and known for their dynamic, explosive offense,” Grimes said. “So to now have, in Coach Venables’ words, a ‘suffocating defense’, [and] have a coach like that who’s more focused on the defensive side of the ball, more emphasis on the defensive side of the ball, it’s definitely a shift.”

White is also excited about the Sooners hiring a defensive-minded coach.

“I would say everyone [is excited], to be honest with you,” White said. “I think the defense, especially. Guys like me, on the defensive side of the ball, are especially a little bit excited. But I think that everyone’s really excited for a fresh start, sort of feel [like it’s] a new sort of identity. A lot of things go into this. It’s a big opportunity for a lot of different people, like I said, and I think it’s just a big opportunity that a lot of people are looking forward to.”

But it’s not just the defensive players that are excited. OU receiver Marvin Mims believes Venables’ hiring brought new energy to the program.

“It’s been a crazy experience, that’s for sure,” Mims said. “Pretty much a lot of up and downs but at the end of the day, most of it’s been kind of like internal motivation. When Coach Riley left, we didn’t really have much up here but we still had to work out, still had the game to play and stuff like that.

“When coach Venables came, there was a lot of energy brought to the team, something that we definitely needed, [it] brought everybody together. Now we’re just back to practicing, working out.”

Brooks said he will wait until after the team’s Alamo Bowl game against Oregon on Dec. 29 before announcing whether he’ll stay for another season. But in the meantime, he’s excited about Venables taking over the program.

“I think it’s a great fit,” Brooks said. “Just like Bob [Stoops] was a defensive coach, I think he was a great fit to be a head coach. He seems like a fun guy and somebody that’s going to be a hard worker and change the program around. I think it’s a great choice.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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