Barry Switzer wearing the "Beat Texas" hat in the rain during the OU-Texas game on October 13, 1984. The Sooners and Longhorns tied, 15-15, that day. The editing marks, made with a grease pencil on the original print, are from The Daily Oklahoman sports desk. (Jim Argo/The Oklahoman/Oklahoma Historical Society)

‘Beat Texas’: It’s not a slogan, it’s Brent Venables’ job description

‘Beat Texas’: It’s not a slogan, it’s Brent Venables’ job description

Berry Tramel: Oklahoma is a place that has a measuring stick. And as Barry Switzer said long ago, that measuring stick is Texas. As losses to the Longhorns mount, doubt grows. Winning in the Cotton Bowl is the ultimate weeding. Keeps the garden nice and settled.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 5, 2023, 10:39pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 5, 2023, 10:39pm CDT

(Editor’s note: Sellout Crowd’s coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com))

DALLAS — Barry Switzer famously donned the cap on that rainy day in the Cotton Bowl 39 years ago.

BEAT TEXAS.

It was no rallying cry. It was a job description. A requirement, like meeting sales quotas or showing up to work on time. 

The Oklahoma football coach is expected to beat Texas. Maybe that has slipped by some of us. It’s been so long since the Sooners had a coach cursed by the Longhorns, we’ve forgotten what that pressure was like.

Lincoln Riley beat the Longhorns in his State Fair debut and finished 5-1 vs. Texas before deciding he’d rather try to beat Notre Dame every year.

Bob Stoops lost his first Red River but then won five straight and walked away with an 11-7 record against the hated ‘Horns.

Even Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake managed to avoid losing their Cotton Bowl debuts (the Colonel tied Texas in 1995; Blake stunned the Longhorns in overtime, both with spirited comebacks). Both soon lost their jobs for reasons that had nothing to do with hook ’em.

So you have to go back to Gary Gibbs to find a coach who bore the Bevo burden. Gibbs lost his first four OU-Texas games, the first three in excruciating fashion, and never shook the yoke. Gibbs was 1-5 vs. Texas (and 1-5 vs. Nebraska) and became a former Sooner coach.

But now comes Brent Venables, in Year 2 as a head coach and staring at the burnt-orange-end of an 0-2 record in Red River  His maiden Sooners lost 49-0 in the Cotton Bowl a year ago, and now Texas is not just a 6½-point favorite, but back – baaaaaaaack! – with a 5-0 record, a No. 3 national ranking and the carcass of Alabama, after the ’Horns stormed Tuscaloosa for a 34-24 victory four weeks ago.

OU coaches who start 0-2 against Texas don’t have long shelf lives. Since World War II, only Gibbs, Gomer Jones and Chuck Fairbanks lost their first two Texas games. That’s all Gomer was allowed to coach; he was kicked upstairs to athletic director after the 1965 season. Fairbanks lost his first four Texas games but saved his job with the mid-season switch to the wishbone, and a dynasty was born, but Fairbanks was so battled-scarred, he left behind the Selmon brothers, Rod Shoate and Joe Washington to take the New England Patriots job. 

So quietly, subtly, but quite clearly, there’s a message for Venables: Beat Texas.

“As we know, this game is always really important, regardless of you’re both undefeated or not,” Venables said this week.

But that’s the thing. OU-Texas isn’t so much what you’ve done coming into the game. It’s what you’ve done in past Red Rivers. And Venables was a 49-0 loser a year ago.

Sure, he was a horseless headman last October in the Cotton Bowl. OU played without quarterback Dillon Gabriel, resorting to a direct-snap offense, usually to tight end Brayden Willis.

Sounds kooky and it was, even if it did flummox Texas outside the red zone. But still, 49-0 is 49-0; 0-2 is 0-2.

And while Venables and the Sooners have made great strides as a coach in Year 2, he and they also haven’t played Kansas State and Texas Christian, the elite teams that on the schedule preceded the Longhorns a year ago and left the clues that things might not be rosy in the Cotton Bowl.

Absolute truth: this OU team is untested.

“Regardless of last year, I think it’s a big deal to try to win this year, given the historic rivalry that it is,” Venables said.

Oklahoma is not Auburn or Florida or Louisiana State, future SEC brothers who on a whim fire successful coaches because the scoreboard went slightly askew.

But Oklahoma is a place that has a measuring stick. And as Switzer said long ago, that measuring stick is Texas. As losses to the Longhorns mount, doubt grows. Winning in the Cotton Bowl is the ultimate weeding. Keeps the garden nice and settled.

It’s been a long time since OU was unsure about its coach. It knew quickly that Stoops and Riley were home runs. Knew quickly that Schnelleberger and Blake were whiffs.

To find uncertainty, you’ve got to go back to Gibbs, who seemed like a grand hire and did a ton of good things, but as the losses mounted in the aroma of saltwater taffy (Texas) and the chill of November (Nebraska), the crabgrass spread.

Venables seems like a grand hire and has done a ton of good things, and he seems like a coach who would be unaffected by pressure.

I mean, Venables gets as intense talking about his Soul Mission program and turning boys into men as he does cornerback blitzes and winning Bedlam.

“It’s hard to tell if it’s higher this week or whatever because he’s always on go,” OU guard McKade Mettauer said of Venables’ intensity. “I think he’s up here (raises hand). I don’t really know if you can go any higher than he is all the time.”

That’s a good trait for a coach in OU-Texas. Bonkers is the norm at Fair Park. The bus ride in. The revelry of the Midway. The walk down the tunnel. The electric crowd. The feeling, right or wrong, that you never will do anything as important in your life as what transpires over the next three hours.

Having a coach who acts the same as he does on a spring day in March probably is a comforting feeling for the Sooners.

Still, Venables knows the score. He knows his job security is determined not by those things for which he is so passionate about, but wins and losses.

Venables says he doesn’t coach for cheers and likes and clicks, but he admitted he’s bothered “when we’re not putting a good product on the field.”

And the Sooners most definitely did not put a good product on the Cotton Bowl field last October.

“I know that’s a responsibility of my position … certainly as a head coach,” Venables said. “It all falls under you as a coach if you’ve got the right stuff to you.”

And so Venables takes the field Saturday bearing the Bevo burden, 49-0 hanging around his neck and 0-2 staring him in the face if things don’t go well. 

Venables doesn’t need a hat to know his mission. Beat Texas.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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