Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Speaking about others, Brent Venables reveals himself
After the spring game, the new Sooner went long … on everything
Here’s the way it works.
After the spring game, or before spring football even begins, or say, a local media day before a bowl game and in season, Monday or Tuesday looking toward a Saturday game … media collects.
It collects the words of the head coach, perhaps some assistants and as many players as are made available.
Need a story on the kicker, on the backup quarterback or the backup quarterback battle? Or on the running backs or special teams, what’s the plan, who looks good, who’s in charge?
Collect all you can whenever you can and, one way or another, even when nothing’s happening, you’ve got a story ready to go, or 15 stories ready to go, whenever you might need them.
It’s the drill.
That’s why Oklahoma football coach Brent Venables was hit with a lot of topics upon completion of the Sooners’ spring game three days ago.
What about Dillon Gabriel?
How’d Gabriel handle the crowd?
What about the secondary?
What needs work defensively?
What about Dillon Gabriel (part 2)?
You get the picture.
Everything everybody got from Venables and everybody else over the weekend will be filling stories until the talking begins again and that may not come until fall camp opens (or summer practice, because nobody actually goes camping and August is still summer).
The more everybody talks the better … except, perhaps, for the head coach, Venables himself.
Not because his answers are bad.
They’re actually kind of great.
But the thing about Venables is they never end, they go on and on and on.
The thing of it is, when the new Sooner coach answers a question, he addresses the question, yes, yet far more fascinating is him, his motor, everything he has to say, the energy behind every word … and the fact his answers hardly ever end.
It’s tempting to believe it’s unsustainable. Yet, pretty much, every time he’s spoken since taking the job, it’s been the same.
So, from every other source that covers the Sooners, look forward to lots of stories, about lots of things, with lots of quotes from Venables.
Today, however, the story is Venables himself. And because Joey Helmer, who covers Oklahoma for 247sports was good enough to transcribe Venables’ post-spring game press conference for public consumption, we can do it.
At no time was Venables, himself, the subject, and yet all that he uttered said so much about him nonetheless.
• Before taking a question, Venables opened with a statement that went on forever, in part, because in the middle of it, he told a story about two unnamed players who had to be pulled out of the locker room to return to the field:
We’ve got two of our best players in the locker room, we're having to pull them out of the locker room to run out for halftime because they're in the locker room cleaning stuff up.
And do we emphasize that? Yeah, we have. There’s a right way to leave it and then a wrong way. But two of our best players are in there cleaning up the locker room, throwing away trash. It’s like, “Coach, you said.” [And I’m like], “OK, well, we got it. It's time to play.”
That's when you know the seed is taking root, and so I’m really, really pleased with our guys.
They called a player only walkthrough this morning. Like, who does that on the spring game? You know, we did. And that may not sound like much to anybody, but for me as a coach, I know what we've tried to instill into them … and it's got to be a lifestyle; it’s not a slogan, being all in and being committed to what that really means and committed to doing your best, doing your best. Just show up and do your best and be intentional and purposeful in everything that you do.
• Continuing that opening statement, he broke into another story about one of the biggest plays of the afternoon:
One of my favorite situations of the day was an early drive where Eric Gray pops one and breaks it going to the north and maybe they had first-and-goal, I believe, at the 3- or 4-yard line. All right?
So, I wasn't happy with defensively what happened on that play. Eric broke a couple tackles, made a guy miss and he was gone and he was running down the hash, and we had incredible effort to run him down. OK?
Something bad happened. OK, well now, what are we going to let them do? Let them score, OK, give up, or are we gonna play through the whistle? And that’s what you saw. So, we got him down. OK, uncommon effort, let's get him down. Let's give ourselves a chance to line up and play another set of downs.
Then we proceeded to knock them backwards, and they ended the drive kicking the ball for a field goal on the 6-yard line. And so I love how we responded to some adversity early in the game. Some bad stuff is going to happen and how you respond is how you'll be defined.
• This next one may actually tell you more about Gabriel, OU’s presumptive starting quarterback. Still it’s a showcase of Venables’ descriptive gifts:
He’s like a stealth bomber, man. [It’s] probably no surprise to many of us in this building, but he's like an assassin. He really is. He doesn’t let any circumstances affect him. He's the same guy every day. And that’s what the good ones and the great ones are. They show up every day and have the same mindset.
• What’s the best thing Venables saw this spring and in the spring game:
The number one thing that I think that our guys have shown the most improvement [with] is just our mindset, our hunger, our humility, the thirst for the knowledge and the work that they put in off the field, our effort. I mean, we are running on and off the field.
Man, I was like, my charge today was let me find one dude that’s not running off the field, not like a full fledged sprint, but running off the field. Do not walk. OK? Send a message by how we do what we do. And so I was looking. I was on the hunt for somebody to be made an example of, and I couldn't find them. And that, for me, I'm like, “Wow, man, they’re listening and they’re buying in.”
• Asked about Baker Mayfield’s return to Norman and the program, Venables could not help but share intimate details of Mayfield’s visit, including his message to the team (and this only a fraction of it):
He said he didn't believe in himself. He didn't think he was good enough to walk on at Oklahoma. So, he said he went to Tech. That was his words, not mine. So, he goes to Tech. What's he do? He starts five games as a freshman, and he doesn't get put on scholarship. Like, he’s better than all these other yahoo's and they don't put him on scholarship.
So, in in typical Baker fashion, right, he's like, ‘Man, screw this. I do believe in myself now. I'm going to Oklahoma.' And so he walks on at Oklahoma, right. So, he goes from walk-on and basically rejected, right, by his own people—they didn’t even put him on scholarship … and goes from a walk-on to being the number one pick in the draft.
Then he goes from that, right, being on top of the mountain, OK, to being ostracized. And “stripped to the studs” was his exact words. “I was stripped to the studs.” Rip out all the wiring, all the plumbing, studs is all there was left. That’s what he said he felt.
What a great message that was for our guys that sometimes you have this mess in your life, man, but there's a message through it all. And it made him realize immediately he lost his way with his faith, he lost his way with his priorities, with his family. He got on the wrong side of it because he started believing all the hype and focusing on the wrong things. And he lost his way, like so many of us have.
Did Mayfield tell him he could spill those beans? Who knows, maybe not. Maybe he would have told Venables not to if Venables had asked. But even if he would have, had he known Venables would tell it that well, he’d probably be fine with it:
• Mayfield, of course, was not the only old Sooner to return. There were many, and its significance was not lost on the new guy in charge:
I think it was a great message to everybody. And for me, I'm like, these guys, you don't come back unless you love your university. You don't come back unless you had a great experience. You don't come back unless this place means so much to you.
Not only do they come back, a lot of them live here and they live here throughout the state. And so [I’m] super humbled, very proud. It brought back so many amazing memories, and reconnected.
It just fills your heart. It just fills your heart up. And it's a reminder of just keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s about relationships. That's what it always has been, always will be about.
That seems like enough, yes?
We still have no idea how the Sooners will fare in the coming season, and not until it arrives will we know for sure if, one, a culture shift has truly taken hold and, two, will it produce results.
What we can know, though, is simple and perhaps profound and it’s this: if the idea was to bring in a coach who’ll deliver a premium culture, with premium energy, who never lets up, who never gives in, cut out to be a fantastic leader of young men, a coach like that could sound no better than Brent Venables is sounding at Oklahoma.
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