NORMAN — On the topic of coaches’ pride at OU-Texas, Brent Venables said Tuesday: “There’s a lot of people in this state and a lot of alumni that are south of the Red River. I’ve always taken great pride in doing a good job with whatever role I had, knowing the colleges and universities I worked for are counting on us to put out a great product, something for them to be proud of.”
Venables said: “Every week, your pride is at stake” before he got around to the statement above, but the statement above gives him away. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl matters a hell of a lot to this man.
We can listen to Venables to know this, and we can watch him.
There he is running down the sideline in 2011, his last year as OU defensive coordinator, throwing air punches after the first of five Texas turnovers during the Sooners’ 55-17 demolition job.
He has just called the perfect blitz — linebacker Corey Nelson and cornerback Aaron Colvin both off the left edge. When defensive tackle Casey Walker beats his one-on-one blocker and forces Case McCoy, stepping up in the pocket to avoid the blitz, to fumble, it produces the perfect result.
And there Venables is at his first OU-Texas game as head coach 11 years later, wearing the 49-0 humiliation to his press conference, coming to grips with the fact his team wasn’t competitive and repeatedly self-critical as a result.
“We’re underperforming, and that’s the most frustrating part. That’s coaching to me,” he said that stunning day. “That’s coaching.”
The scent from 49-0 lingers. It wafted into Venables’ press conference after OU’s 50-20 victory over Iowa State last Saturday night.
“This is a program that has represented excellence for a long time. Last year was a terrible representation of that,” Venables said at one point. “All of that falls on my shoulders.”
He wasn’t talking about OU-Texas specifically, but then he didn’t need to be. OU-Texas was the most terrible representation of the Sooners’ terrible representation.
To rebound from 6-7 requires a rebound from 49-0. A win would be nice, but this is more about honor for a program steeped in that, in a game steeped in that.
Mike Stoops had lost his way as OU defensive coordinator by the time his defenders literally dragged themselves to the finish line of a 29-24 victory over Texas in 2017.
He’d lose his job after this game one year later, but at least that day he could stand tall and declare to reporters: “It’s easy for people to attack you personally. That to me is upsetting, but that’s just part of the business. I’ve been around too long. I know what my resume is. I know what I’ve accomplished in my coaching career. My players know, they understand it and I’ll put it up against anybody.”
That’s what OU-Texas can bring out of a man backed into a dead end, the only thing left to rely on being pride.
How to see Venables one year after his dead end in Dallas?
“He’s very prideful,” OU defensive end Trace Ford said after beating Iowa State. “Hates to lose, hates to be wrong.”
“Yeah, Coach Venables is very confident in what he does,” linebacker Danny Stutsman said that night. “When you put so much effort and preparation into it… He has such a great track history, everything he stands for, the way he holds himself to such a high standard.”
This dates back a while. Venables’ fierce self-worth helped him onto Kansas State’s roster as a walk-on linebacker, then onto K-State’s staff as a defensive graduate assistant.
That didn’t change after Venables followed Bob Stoops to OU in 1999. Bob’s little boy, Drake, noticed.
“When I was a kid I’d go over to his house and hang out with his sons,” Drake Stoops said of Venables this week. “He’s just always been wired a little bit different, that passion, that intensity.”
That wiring doesn’t come undone.
“Like whenever we go to practice… Getting us in the right mind frame,” said Drake, now Venables’ starting receiver. “‘This is how you approach the game. This is how you approach life…’
“Exactly how he is now is exactly how he was then.”
Coaches wired different reveal themselves in games that are different. OU-Texas is different than all of them. It’s where schemes, and wrinkles within them, are as renowned as the players who carry them out.
Watch Venables’ double-pumping sprint after his overloaded blitz call in 2011. He knows. All the coaches in this game do.
The Sooners and Longhorns spend every OU-Texas week talking about the run game and the line of scrimmage and the turnover battle and special teams edges. And then everyone gets to Dallas and pride swells from the Fairgrounds into the stadium onto the field and doesn’t just overcome the taunting, gesturing players.
It hits the coaches right in their square jaws.
“I take pride in watching people have joy and watching our guys play with incredible effort, fundamentals, toughness, precision, with an edge, with class. That’s in every single game I’ve ever coached,” Venables said Tuesday, still trying to keep it general.
A few sentences later, he said: “I live in this community. I live in this state. Wherever I’ve been, it’s home. It’s not a job. It’s home. And so I’ve always… just looked at myself and there’s a huge responsibility. And part of our responsibility is to… or maybe the gratification comes from having people that love your team, the Sooners, and have pride in how we’re doing what we’re doing.”
What the Sooners do against Texas matters most to those who love them. Venables knows this like he knows his call sheet.
Venables being more prideful than anyone in the crimson half of the Cotton Bowl, what the Sooners do Saturday matters most to him.