Jenni Carlson: Almost two years into his tenure as OU head coach, we’re getting a sense of Brent Venables’ communication style. Sometimes, it’s messy, but it’s way more honest than his predecessor.
NORMAN — Brent Venables isn’t usually an interrupter of questions.
But Tuesday morning during his weekly press conference when he was being asked about his comments the evening before on his radio show — he said the Sooners “probably have a Rolodex of better plays” than the fourth-down rub-route pass play they used at the end of Bedlam — the OU coach shut down the question.
“We’re on to West Virginia now,” he said.
The interruption was a tell.
Venables didn’t want to talk about it because he knew he’d stepped in it. Knew he shouldn’t have questioned offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby publicly. Knew he should’ve kept those discussions in-house.
But here’s what we’re learning about Venables after almost two years as a head coach: his first inclination is to say what he thinks. If he’s asked a question, he wants to shoot straight.
Even if it gets messy.
Truthfully, Venables is like his old boss Dabo Swinney in that way. Heck, it was just last week that the Clemson coach went off on a fan during his radio coach’s show. “Tyler from Spartanburg” called in to voice his displeasure about the Tigers’ .500 record, questioning why Swinney gets paid $10.8 million “to go 4-4.”
“People like you who just love to destroy people with your comments, I’m sure you’ve never made any bad decisions,” Swinney said during a five-minute rant directed at “Tyler from Spartanburg.” “I’m sure you’ve lived a perfect life.
“To answer your question, I started as the lowest-paid coach in this frickin’ business, and I’m where I am because I’ve worked my ass off every single day. And I ain’t gonna let some smart-ass kid get on this phone and create this stuff.”
Venables hasn’t done anything that bombastic yet, but he’s way more wide-open than Bob Stoops ever was. The legendary OU coach followed in the footsteps of former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. They could answer questions without revealing everything but without fibbing.
Lincoln Riley, on the other hand, fibbed.
Remember “We’re close”?
Then again, how could you forget? Especially after what Riley said earlier this week. After he fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on Sunday, Riley was asked what he’s learned about what it takes to have a good defense.
“I know what it looks like,” Riley said. “I know what the change can look like. … I watched a defense when we took over at OU that was not the strength of the program, and then I watched in a matter of several months, it became the strength of the program.”
Hey, would someone call LaLa Land and see if Linc has been out in the sun too much lately?
Clearly, he’s toasted.
At no point under Riley was the defense ever the strength of OU’s program. Never. Ever.
Perhaps it goes without saying that no coach is perfect when it comes to answering questions publicly, but I’ll take Venables’ overly honest style over Riley’s overly deceptive one. Sure, Venables’ style has to make for some uncomfortable moments behind the scenes — would’ve been interesting to be a fly on the wall of the coaches’ meeting Tuesday morning — but at least there’s a sense that issues are being addressed.
Even Tuesday when Venables shut down questions about the Rolodex of plays — believe it or not, you can still buy a Rolodex — $29 on Amazon — he still pulled back the curtain a bit.
He acknowledged that every play call isn’t perfect.
“After the fact, you always look at everything and you analyze every single play in every game,” he said. “Some are good. Some weren’t.”
The same goes for the plays themselves. Sometimes the execution is good. Sometimes there have been penalties or miscommunications or busts.
“Everybody has ownership, but it starts and ends with the coaches,” Venables said. “So, ‘Coach Venables, he’s an undisciplined coach and the players are playing undisciplined.’”
(At this point, Venables seemed to be referring to the throughline that has been drawn from the players’ lack of poise to the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty he drew last Saturday, which came on the heels of another such penalty drawn by the OU bench the week before at Kansas.)
“Until you get it right, that’s fair,” Venables said. “It’s fair. Shoot the arrows.”
He mimicked shooting an imaginary bow and arrow.
“Our job is to fix it. Period.”
At least Venables isn’t saying “We’re close.” Make no mistake, he could be since the Sooners have lost these past two games by a total of eight points. But instead, there’s a recognition that all is not right. The offense struggles to find a rhythm. The running back rotation lacks a clear plan. The unforced errors pop up too often for a unit that is two-thirds of the way through the season.
This offense has shown it can be spectacular. What it did against Texas is no fluke. But right now, OU has issues.
“We don’t have our head in the sand on what those might be and why we may not get the result that we want or everybody else wants as fast as everybody might want,” Venables said. “But … we understand where our weaknesses are better than anybody else.”
Venables might shut down a question or two, but he doesn’t seem to be hiding from the truth.