Summer 2024

Head coach Brent Venables building culture of faith with undefeated Oklahoma football

Brent Venables is no stranger to the Red River Rivalry. Though he’s in only his second season as Oklahoma’s head coach, he spent 13 years as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2011.

His first attempt as OU’s leader to knock off Texas in the annual showdown failed miserably. But that just made No. 12 Oklahoma’s wild upset on Saturday even sweeter.

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Dillon Gabriel’s three-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining lifted the Sooners to a back-and-forth 34-30 victory over No. 3 Texas in the latest thrilling edition of the rivalry. The 2023 Sooners avenged the 49-0 defeat from last season, are now 6-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

“I can’t brag enough on our players,” Venables said in the postgame press conference. “Just their toughness, their leadership, their effort, their strain, their love for one another.

“I love what we’re building, and as we’ve said for a while now, there’s no limits on what this team can do. And no excuses either. We’ve got everything that we need. … Boy, I’m just really thankful for our players and their effort. They were nothing short of amazing today.”

Venables first became the head man at Oklahoma in December 2021 after Lincoln Riley departed to take over at USC. Venables had spent the previous 10 seasons as Clemson’s defensive coordinator, which followed his 13 at OU.

At the press conference to introduce him as the Sooners head coach, Venables reflected on his path from a poverty-stricken and at times violent upbringing to becoming the leader of a college football powerhouse. More importantly, he reflected on Who made his path possible.

“Only God could do this,” he said according to Fan Nation, echoing his former boss at Clemson, head coach Dabo Swinney. “Those that know my background, having grown up in a very dysfunctional way, and putting me here as I stand before you as a head football coach at the University of Oklahoma, only God can do this. And so I just want to take this opportunity to thank the Lord.”

Venables’ unashamed commitment to living out his faith in Christ, even while on the job, was evident from his very first team meeting. He began it by reading the Bible aloud.

“[Venables] starts reading Scripture, not to force the Bible on us, but to apply the morals of the Bible and how messages in the Bible unified people to make them stronger together, so even in our weaknesses, we are strong,” junior defensive lineman Ethan Downs told OU Daily in April 2022. “… He brings it in and says, ‘These messages in here can unify us and bring us together and can motivate us to really achieve something with each other.'”

The team culture Venables has begun to establish with the Sooners highlights a player’s character and true concern for others in all aspects of life, not just wins and losses on the field. Everything is grounded in faith, not production. The thought is that such a strong culture will inevitably lead to victories.

Venables was part of just such a culture at Clemson; the result was two national championships. When asked about player development a few months into the job, in February 2022, Venables talked about more than football.

“Shame on us if we don’t provide opportunities for young people to grow in their faith,” he said, according to Fan Nation. “I’m not here to save everybody, but I do have values. I’m a Christian, and I’m not afraid to profess my beliefs.”

Venables’ tenure with Oklahoma started strong in the fall of 2022, with three wins by 30 or more points to open the season. However, the Sooners limped to the finish line by dropping seven of their last 10 games (including the 49-point blowout loss to Texas) to finish 6-7.

After an offseason of work, program building and steady improvement, his team this year has already matched last year’s win total. What’s more, the Sooners are favored in each of their remaining six regular-season games, and are now College Football Playoff contenders.

After a bye on Saturday, Oklahoma’s first step in that goal is a home game against Big 12 newcomer UCF (3-3) on Oct. 21.

The future is bright in Norman once again, thanks in large part to Venables and his staff. Yet he knows that all the praise that has come and is coming his way this season is due not to himself but ultimately to his Father in Heaven. He will seek to honor the Lord, and the Lord will take care of the rest.

“I’ve just always had this thankfulness wherever I’ve been. … I also believed most importantly that a good name is better than riches and gold,” Venables said via Football Scoop in July 2022, paraphrasing Proverbs 22:1.

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