Brent Venables doesn't disappoint
The Sooner coach landed a top-10 class on Wednesday, only to overshadow his recruiting acumen by going long on where he's taking the program on Thursday.
In the case of Brent Venables, where even to begin?
Wednesday was national signing day, and not the early one, but the one we once called “National Signing Day,” as though it were a holiday and, why not, because it was treated like one.
Since the advent of college football’s early signing day, the most recent of which arrived on Dec. 15, the later one has lost some of its luster.
It’s making a comeback.
It’s still the day prospect classes are rounded out and, a result of the transfer portal, it’s on the way to reclaiming its old hugeness.
A result of the portal, it makes more and more sense for high school prospects to wait to sign their letters, the extra time giving them a better sense of what they’ll be walking into.
Also a result of the portal, each program’s annual class is now the sum of its signees and transfers, and with that in mind Venables’ first recruiting class as Oklahoma’s new head coach — 21 signees, 10 transfers — has been judged the nation’s eighth best this cycle.
Still, the thing about Venables, such a breath of fresh air as the Sooners’ new skipper, is he may have overshadowed his own class on Thursday, simply by being so generous with his time and thoughts, theories and beliefs, offering a level of introspective depth we never received from his predecessor.
We’ll get to it, but we should probably do this first.
Oklahoma’s 2022 Class
Stars: 0 five-stars, 15 four-stars, 6 three-stars
State reps: Texas 6, Oklahoma 4, Florida 4, California 2, Nevada 2, Colorado 1, Kansas 1, Nebraska 1
Position: QB 1, RB 2, WR 2, TE 2, OL 2, ATH 2, LB 2, DB 3, DL 3, DE 2
Stars: 3 four-stars, 7 three-stars
From: TCU, Tulane, North Carolina, Missouri, Louisville, Wyoming, Appalachian State, Hawaii, UCF, Cal
Positions: QB 1, OL 2, TE 1, CB 3, DL 2, LB 1
Notable: Three transfers — Jonah La’ulu (6-6, 280, DL, Hawaii), Dillon Gabriel (5-11, 186, QB, UCF), McKade Mettauer (6-4, 305, OL, Cal) — have raised their star status since reaching the college stage. La’ulu’ gone from a two-star to a four-star, and Gabriel and Mettauer from three-stars to four-stars.
Isn’t it nice to know players can be defined by what they become rather than what they were upon entry?
Wednesday, the first plan was to have media in to chat with the Sooner coach about the class in person, yet weather conditions made it a 40-minute Zoom call instead, only for that to become only 30 minutes, thanks to an unreliable internet connection.
Almost undoubtedly, were Lincoln Riley still in charge, the original 30, though supposed to be 40, would have been all the access, period.
Instead, Venables entertained media again on Thursday, and this time went an hour and a half.
What’s next, open practices?
Near as anybody can tell, he went 90 minutes because he had a lot to say, a lot to explain, not treating it like a pain in the ass he had to fulfill, but like a coach with a real interest in being authentic and transparent, who wants to engage with his fan base, offering more rather than less.
You can find a whole lot of that Q & A here, but let’s hit a section of it that may tell us the most going forward.
Venables is putting together a program he calls SOUL Mission, SOUL standing for Serving Our Uncommon Legacy. To that end, he’s recently hired former Sooner linebackers Curtis Lofton* and Caleb Kelly and tight end Josh Norman.
It’s a “leadership initiative program [that’s] all encompassing,” Venables said.
Wednesday, Venables went long on SOUL Mission’s origins, telling of the day he saw something like it at Clemson for the first time when, still a Sooner assistant, he took an exploratory visit during one of the Tigers’ recruiting weekends.
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“I was exposed to a very thorough in-house, life-skills and development program they had set up. It was just an ‘A-ha’ moment,” he said. “I was overwhelmed spiritually, man. I was in the back of the room and I’m like having a moment, and I’m looking around, like, ‘Is anybody else seeing this?’ Literally, these are things that I have talked about … putting it all together in the football space.
“It was not necessarily something that people did, you know, intentionally, or did just beyond kind of putting lipstick on it … checking a box … I felt the genuineness … I was sort of like, that’s got to be the backbone of the program … If you make it all about just winning and chasing championships, it’s going to be a very unfulfilling journey.”
So, with all of his football heart, he wants to create that at OU, and the most telling thing about it may not be that he wants to do it and is taking the steps to do it, but that he’s so open about it, with not one part of him worrying, a few years down the line, he might be accused of trying to win life for his players more than he’s tried to win championships with them. Indeed, were he accused of such a thing, almost assuredly, he’d plead guilty.
He said something later, too, that let you know he was serious about making things just so, not just talking about them.
“There’s a lot of things that are going to change over the course of the next year, both on the field and off the field: staff, culture, facilities, programs. Just a lot of stuff that we’re trying to get done right now,” he said. “You can’t just snap your fingers and things like that are done. It actually has to be a process that you go through.”
Anyway, that’s Brent Venables.
He may have lost Caleb Williams and others to the transfer portal and it’s hard to know what the 2022 Sooners, quarterbacked by Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel — yes, he announced that, too — are going to look like, Gabriel’s matriculation from three-star to four-star QB not withstanding.
It is, though, easy to like the direction the program’s headed, to be happy about its leadership change, even if it means winning 9 or 10 games the next year or two, rather 12 or more; not that it will come to that because it may well not.
Do things right and you’re frequently rewarded sooner rather than later.
The new Sooner coach may well be rewarded.