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Guerin Emig: Brent Venables as proud and stubborn as ever, but also as introspective and willing to learn

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Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables talks on the headset during last Saturday’s Bedlam game in Norman.

NORMAN — There are things surrounding Brent Venables he must become more aware of, the clock in the second half of a game his Oklahoma Sooners lead by 25 points among them.

OU’s 51-year-old head coach is irrefutably self-aware, though.

In last week’s run-up to Bedlam, someone asked Venables about things he’s learning his first year on the job. Venables spent five minutes answering before finishing with: “It starts with the man in the mirror. That’s where it should always start. That’s all part of going on the journey as head coach, or in whatever position, whatever role you have.”

This is an intensely proud man, but not someone who believes he snaps his fingers and has it all figured out.

Take Venables’ press conference Tuesday.

I asked him about the second half of OU’s 28-13 victory over Oklahoma State last Saturday. The Sooners had eight full possessions over that stretch of the game while nursing leads of 28-3, 28-10 and 28-13. Their longest series burned one minute and 27 seconds off the clock.

That is astonishing.

“We gotta be better there,” Venables said in postgame late Saturday night. “Make no mistake.”

OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby took the heat Saturday night and then again Monday morning, when he said: “That’s 100 percent on me.”

It isn’t, though.

The offensive coordinator’s responsibility might be down, distance, time and score, but the head coach’s responsibility is his coordinators. When they manage a situation poorly, their boss must step in and pull rank.

Which brings us back to Venables’ press conference.

OU coach says team should have huddled in fourth quarter, but added the Sooners' offense needs to stay more aggressive. Video courtesy of OU Athletics

Was clock or game management in Bedlam one of those learning experiences your first year as head coach?, I asked him.

“Yeah, we ran the ball 16 out of our last 18 snaps,” Venables began.

Like I said, the man is as prideful as his old OU mentor. He is as stubborn as Bob Stoops, too.

OU ran 13 plays in Bedlam’s fourth quarter. Eight runs, four passes and Dillon Gabriel’s game-ending kneel-down. OU’s final sequence of the third quarter was a quarterback draw, an incomplete pass and an OSU sack.

However Venables arrived at his numbers, or whether Gabriel threw a few times he was supposed to hand off, the head coach did get around to the most important point next.

“We should have huddled the whole fourth quarter,” he said.

Or at least had Gabriel stand still for 20 seconds before taking snaps.

“But we’re also trying to … Oklahoma State did not come in here having this impenetrable defense. They were a defense that had not played consistently well,” Venables continued. “We thought there was a lot of opportunity. What we didn’t do philosophically was stay aggressive in what we were doing, like we did the first quarter. Yeah, learned we gotta stay more aggressive, particularly in the third quarter.

“And again in the fourth quarter, we needed to huddle and take our time and run the clock down. Even though we were running the ball, things happened where we weren’t on the field long enough to manage the game better.”

So this is an instance where you’ve got to get on the headset and let Lebby know?

“Yeah,” Venables said. “Mmm-hmm.”

You are playing your role as head coach essentially?

“No doubt,” he said.

That is the takeaway from Venables’ first Bedlam as a head coach, since that is what kept OU from winning Venables’ first Bedlam more convincingly.

As it was, observers were as restless over OU’s second half as they were impressed by the Sooners’ first quarter. It left me restless as I started writing Saturday night.

Given time and perspective, I was more curious than restless when I sat down for Venables’ media session Tuesday.

Now I am more encouraged.

Venables is as proud and stubborn as he was when he was a 30-something Stoops lieutenant. He is also as introspective, and as willing to learn on the job.


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Sports Columnist

I'm the proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the OU Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.

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