Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Brent Venables being Brent Venables remains a treat
There is a world in which a day will come we take what Brent Venables has to say and apply it toward any number of things.
Like, he’ll say something about quarterback Dillon Gabriel and we’ll build a story around where Gabriel fits among first-year Sooner quarterbacks, how he stacks up against Josh Heupel, Nate Hybl, Rhett Bomar, Paul Thompson, Sam Bradford, Trevor Knight and maybe Baker Mayfield.
Kyler Murray will be left out of it, because who wins a Heisman their one and only campaign, rendering all comparisons unfair?
We’ll do it because that’s the job. The news isn’t what the man said, but what the man said in the context of this and that, issue to issue, and how it might affect trying to beat the next opponent, or opponents after that.
But this is not that world and Tuesday was not that day, because, once again, the first-year Sooner coach upstaged himself with himself, his thoughts revealing so much more about him and the foundation upon which he’s building a program than anything that might affect what happens Saturday against Kent State or future particular days beyond.
He was asked about linebacker Danny Stutsman, a true freshman a year ago who managed to get on the field despite injury and not arriving early to see action in nine games, make 37 tackles and force two fumbles.
Venables recalled “a conversation Danny and I had, sometime in February, and it was just he and I in the hallway somewhere.”
“I asked him, ‘Are you ever gonna watch tape? Are you ever gonna come ask for a playbook? You want to be a good player?’” Venables said.
To that point, he said, Stutsman had been getting by on talent, instincts and an affinity for the game, not realizing reaching his potential required putting in much work “beyond what’s required.”
“He showed up to one of our first meetings and [he] didn’t have anything to write with,” Venables said, beginning to wave his arms. “‘So you’re like that good, you can just remember everything?”
You think that’s happening in the hallways at Southern Cal?
You think the coach there’s going to risk getting on the wrong side of one of his best players?
More, Venables delights in the telling, because why not, it’s a learning moment, it’s a good story and it proved productive.
“He’s just scratching the surface on what he can be … I like that he remembers the bad plays,” Venables said. “You want to praise him and he immediately brings up the plays that he needed to do better.”
Then, casually, Venables said Stutsman graded out “in the mid 80s, nine tackles, two [pass breakups],” dang good for his first start.
He wasn’t reading those numbers, he just new them. A detail-oriented coach, he always seems to know them.
Before Stutsman came up, the fact the College Football Playoff’s board of managers voted last Friday to expand to 12 teams by 2026 and perhaps by 2024 came up.
“Literally, I’m very sincere when I say this, and I say with all due respect: I could care less,” Venables said. “I really could care less.”
That he doesn’t realize the correct phraseology is “I couldn’t care less,” rather than “I could care less” is mildly interesting, but the bigger point was so on brand.
“I got my hands on this program,” he said, concluding the answer, “and I’m just literally trying to be great today at practice.”
Between the answer’s beginning and end, Venables mentioned how he’d always liked the NCAA basketball tournament, so more teams might be more fun, might bring in some Cinderellas to root for like Loyola-Chicago and St. Bonaventure, or whoever their FBS counterparts might be
“I don’t like having the same teams in it all the time, either,” he said. “So does it give somebody else an opportunity? Maybe. [But] I don’t know what that looks like.”
He mentioned, too, how he loves the bowl system, how “I’m sure there’s a narrative,” that once OU arrives in the SEC, it could mean more spots for the likes of the Sooners or additional SEC teams.
What he didn’t do was care, because he’s got a program to build, a team to coach and a practice to run.
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If all tunnel vision was that tunnel vision, tunnel vision would have a better reputation.
Later, Gavin Freeman came up, the 5-foot-8, 170-pound walk-on true freshman from Heritage Hall, who took a reverse 46 yards to the end zone, twisting through and bouncing off five different UTEP defenders along the way.
Though Freeman’s listed on the depth chart at slot receiver, Venables used Freeman’s example to explain a conversation he had with running backs coach DeMarco Murray.
“I told DeMarco, ‘Don’t ever be afraid if a guy show’s you he can do it,’” Venables said. “‘Don’t [think], Oh, he’s a freshman. So what. He’ll probably surprise you.
“‘Put him in there, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Muff a punt, they get the ball? We’ll stop them, [they] kick a field goal, let’s go.’”
Like he’s got it all worked out.
Like he knows just the right approach in each moment.
Like he’s spent the last 30 years working for hall of fame coaches, taking it all in, figuring it all out, keeping what works, discarding what doesn’t.
Yeah, like that.