Guerin Emig: Venables is coming to terms, compromising on something he isn’t comfortable with personally so that it helps him professionally.
NORMAN — Brent Venables will never be Deion Sanders when it comes to the transfer portal.
Oklahoma’s head football coach is unapologetically old school in that he blends life lessons with tackling techniques. To him a player entering the portal risks taking a wrong turn as a young man.
“I’m just coming at it as a dad and somebody that believes wholeheartedly in loyalty and building something and sticking through some tough moments,” Venables said Tuesday. “That’s not a bad thing, to stick around and figure things out…
“You don’t know what you don’t know as an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old. I’m coming to you from a 52-year-old perspective that’s lived a little life. I can appreciate being an alumni of somewhere.
“Or maybe even from a career standpoint, I haven’t worn many hats. I feel very connected to people and places, the couple places that I’ve been. That comes from a place of genuineness and being loyal to where your feet are.”
Who Venables can’t be when it comes to the portal is Dabo Swinney.
If Sanders, who runs his Colorado program like it was an NFL franchise, is the prototype for portal acceptance, Swinney symbolizes resistance. The Clemson coach added one transfer last offseason — quarterback Paul Tyson from Arizona State. Tyson backs up Clemson starter Cade Klubnik.
As the Tigers were tossed around by Duke Monday night, Swinney’s resistance appeared to catch up with him. The Blue Devils aren’t 49-deep with transfers like Colorado, but they had a few help beat Clemson. One, former Miami safety Al Blades Jr, hugged Duke head coach Mike Elko so long in celebration it looked like he might cry.
Two days earlier, as Sanders took his turned-over roster to TCU and beat the defending national runner-up, Venables started transfers Rondell Bothroyd, Trace Ford and Da’Jon Terry across OU’s defensive line. If the impact was lost in the 73-0 final score against Arkansas State, the idea was not — Venables used the portal to fortify the weakest position on his first OU team.
“The biggest thing, the biggest impact is where somebody can come in at a position of need,” Venables explained Tuesday, “and make it better immediately.”
This is a head coach coming to terms, compromising on something he isn’t comfortable with personally so that it helps him professionally. Finding a soft spot between Sanders and Swinney helps his program.
Finding a smart spot.
Venables didn’t scorn the portal his first year at OU. With the holes in the roster left with Lincoln Riley’s USC relocation, he couldn’t. His Week 1 starting lineup against UTEP included transfers Dillon Gabriel, Tyler Guyton, McKade Mettauer and Jeffery Johnson.
The results, like others related to the 6-7 Sooners, were inconsistent at best. Using a formula that judges talent gained versus lost via the portal, On3 ranked OU’s 2022 transfer class No. 64 nationally.
This year OU ranks No. 24.
Venables hinted after his rout of Arkansas State that he has gained some head coaching clarity since his first try last year. Perhaps that goes for portal usage.
The impact of that transfer trio across the D-line will help determine whether that’s true. So will the performances of portal starters Reggie Pearson at safety, Andrel Anthony at wide receiver and Walter Rouse at left tackle, as well as key portal pieces like linebacker Dasan McCullough and tight ends Austin Stogner and Blake Smith.
The idea here is staying tuned to changing times.
“You’ve gotta adapt,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, plenty old school himself, said of the portal in preseason. “You’ve gotta adjust.”
“My mindset, our mindset, is adapting and making sure we’re doing everything we can to put our roster in the best possible shape it can be in as we move into each and every (season),” offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. “So that’s where it sits. Those are the rules we’re all playing by right now. And that’s part of it. So I’m good with it, because that’s how everybody’s having to play ball.”
Love it or not.
“It really doesn’t matter how I feel at the end of the day because I’m not changing it,” Venables said. “Nobody that makes decisions has asked me, ‘Hey what do you think coach Venables?’”
He can’t change the rules, but he can change his roster, and his fortune, adapting to them and using them to his program’s advantage. That’s his responsibility as head coach.
That, ultimately, is what the relationship between Venables and the portal comes down to.