Addressing his growth as coach, Venables' words offer a little hope (emphasis on 'little')
Despite an opening losing season, Oklahoma’s first in 25 years, even head coach Brent Venables’ critics continue to give him credit for the big picture he still imagines.
The culture he’s trying to instill is not questioned.
Nor is the apparent uber-tedious process to instill and install it.
It’s seen as a strength.
Another losing season and it likely won’t.
Another losing season and the perfection Venables seeks may be seen as the enemy of the good, or great, the talent he’s accumulated ought to be reaching. Another losing season and maybe all of his intentions will be questioned, even dismissed.
But not now.
Now, coming off that losing season, Venables’ biggest problem is the thing he tried to address in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, during Big 12 football media days:
“We’ve looked long and hard in the offseason, since January, at what we need to do to become a more efficient football team, and we’ve looked at every single part of our program. How can we improve and get better. Nothing ever stays the same.
Later, he even answered a question more personally.
Looking at overall efficiency, I think, is probably the biggest thing for me. Willing to listen. Sometimes, again, willing to listen to your players, certainly listen to your staff, take it all in. Ultimately, you have to make decisions on all of it. But being a better listener, looking at the efficiency, how you do what you do and then what you do. And in those critical situations, how can you improve, schemes, coaching, all of that.
That’s promising as far as it goes. Also, all too non-specific.
Like, can’t Venables, just as a favor to his fans, tell us about one light-bulb moment, one conclusion reached, one epiphany delivered following the forensic accounting of last season.
Can he not do that?
It would help so much in the wake of last season.
It would help so much in the wake Venables’ least fine hour as a rookie head coach, the moment every Sooner fan saw him not coaching as clear as the nose on his face.
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Nov. 19, Bedlam, playing at home, via big plays and Cowboy turnovers, the Sooners exited the first quarter up 28-0 and the first half up 28-3, only to be followed by one of the most non-sensical halves of football ever coached and played in the history of the program.
As offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby explained the following Monday, after OU’s first two second-half drives were foiled by its own miscues, he wrongly went in the tank.
“After those first two series,” he said, “the rest of it is on me, getting too conservative.”
Lebby then addressed the game’s final two offensive series.
“[We] had the ability probably to huddle and truly slow down and then run the football,” he said.
What happened was, with a big early lead, Lebby became uninterested in scoring, just trying to get to the finish line. Still, he inexplicably pushed the offense at a near no-huddle pace, giving OSU every chance to get back in the game.
And while that rightfully undermined confidence in Lebby, Venables was more at fault.
“To continue to put [your] defense in that position,” he said, “it’s not what you want.”
But all he had to do was tell his offensive coordinator to take the air out of the ball, not snap it until the play clock approaches zero.
Same deal on Lebby going too conservative. Had Venables wanted him to open things up, go down the field and score, all he had to do was tell him.
Instead, somehow, while everybody watching knew it was that simple, Venables didn’t.
The episode made the rest of the season make so much more sense.
So often the questions were: what are they they doing, what are they thinking, are they even talking to each other? Bedlam indicated the answers were: who knows, who knows and no, they probably weren’t.
So, Thursday was an opportunity for Venables to tell everybody, on a day he must have spouted “efficiency” more than any other word, to detail some of last season’s inefficiencies and how they won’t occur any longer.
Instead, this is about as far as the Sooner coach got, answering a question from All Sooners’ John Hoover, who many may recall as the inimitable Tulsa World’s John Hoover:
“You used the word ‘evolve’ and that’s what you always do, even when you go 14-1 or 15-0 or 13-0, it’s like, ‘OK, how can we be better? I’ve spent my whole life as a football coach, coaching linebackers and coaching defense, coaching the game, and even through success, you’re always looking at ways to improve and get better. So, having a never-satisfied attitude is never going to change for me. But again, whether it’s patience, or its efficiency, decision-making from a situational football [standpoint], you’re always learning and improving and getting better.”
On the right track.
But will it put him in Jeff Lebby’s ear when what Lebby’s doing makes no objective sense?
Will it get him out of defensive coordinator’s Ted Roof’s ear long enough to make him aware of the game at large he’s supposed to be coaching, but maybe not micro-managing defensively?
Will it allow him to enter the head coaching gear all of us seem to believe he inhabits well enough Sunday through Friday, yet not well at all on Saturday?
Thursday, in Arlington, those questions remained.