Almost immediately after Lincoln Riley announced that he was hitching his wagon and rolling out of Norman Brent Venables became a fan favorite to be named as the new frontman of Oklahoma Football. Everything about that hire would make sense. Venables has name, and brand recognition, as Clemson’s defensive coordinator. In all he’s coached in eight national championship games, winning three of them, and in 25 years of coaching he’s never been with a team that had a losing record. He’s also coached in 15 conference championship games and has an impressive 13-2 record, including 6-0 at Clemson, in such contests. Of course what endears him to OU fans was his time in Norman where he helped Bob Stoops resurrect the program from obscurity and won the 2000 national championship and then going on to win a total of eight Big 12 titles with the Sooners.
Brent Venables would be the perfect selection as Oklahoma’s next head coach. The problem is, that may not be what he wants. He’s enjoyed success as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation and has made a lot of money while doing so. At 2.5 million dollars a year he’s the highest paid assistant coach in college football and that may be all he wants to do. There’s no doubt that he’s living the high-life right now and job security doesn’t seem to be fading anytime soon. Plus the longer this search draws out the less likely it seems as though Venables, who isn’t coaching in a conference title game today, won’t be the guy. So, if not Venables then who?
With wide speculation that a name will emerge over the weekend, and an official announcement that could come as early as Monday, there’s smoke that the new coach could be involved in a conference championship game. Castiglione said as much earlier in the week. On Monday the Sooner A.D. said that there are multiple candidates “we may want to talk to that are engaged with teams that are playing (this weekend) in a conference championship,” and that some of those candidates might advance to the College Football Playoff. Clearly that wouldn’t include Venables but it would keep guys like Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning at the forefront of the coaching search.
Of that trio, Aranda would be the interesting choice, Fickell the best choice, and Lanning the obvious choice. It’s noting short of amazing what Aranda has done with Baylor. In just two seasons he guided the Bears back to the conference title game but he also inherited a team that played Oklahoma for the title in 2019. Perhaps we could pump the brakes just a little on Aranda because while he’s proven that he can maintain a program, I’m not sure that he’s shown he can advance a program. Oklahoma doesn’t need to be maintained, it needs to be advanced. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at a large portion of the fanbase that had become unsatisfied with “only winning the conference championship every year”.
Luke Fickell definitely knows how to advance a program. Think about the coaches that came before him at Cincinnati. Mark Dantonio, Butch Jones, and Brian Kelly all spent time at Cincinnati and yet they never achieved the type of success that Fickell has. Since 2017 he’s guided the Bearcats to a 53-21 record and has them on the doorstep of becoming the first non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff. If that doesn’t count as advancing a team then I really don’t know what does.
However, Dan Lanning may be the answer for the Sooners. Nope he doesn’t have the pedigree of the other three coaches mentioned but you can’t take away his success with the Georgia defense this year. As we already know, Joe Castiglione doesn’t mind hiring young defensive coordinators with no head coaching experience. OU will be guided through the bowl season by legendary coach Bob Stoops who came to Oklahoma after serving as Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at Florida. Could it be that Joe C. is turning back the clock and hoping to hit another jackpot with a young defensive coach from the S.E.C.? Lanning 100% fits that mold. At 35 years old he’s three years younger than Stoops was when hired at OU. He’s energetic enough to hit the recruiting trail with energy and he’s relevant to find success on said trail. Lanning has been coaching in the college ranks for a decade now so he’s got the network of connections, and the notoriety, to bring in an innovative staff, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and integrate them with several of the current members of the staff. If Venables were truly out of the picture then Lanning is the guy I would pick from the field.
With the super-secret method that Castiglione uses to hire coaches the whole conference championship thing could be the smokescreen for a hire that no one really saw coming or thought possible. So, with that, here are a few candidates that aren’t really out of the running but definitely a longshot.
Dabo Swinney – Personally I don’t see this happening but I’m loving the momentum this rumor is building. The fact that Clemson AD Dan Radakovich just announced that he’s leaving to take the same position at Miami only adds fuel to this fire.
Shane Beamer – I dare you to find a person who has something bad to say about Shane Beamer. There literally isn’t one out there but that would all change if he bolted from South Carolina after just one season. That’s one of many reasons why I’m pretty confident he won’t be returning to Norman.
The No Shots
Matt Campbell, head coach at Iowa State; Mark Stoops, head coach at Kentucky; Josh Heupel, head coach at Tennessee; Lane Kiffin, head coach at Ole Miss; Kliff Kingsbury, head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and Matt Rhule, the head coach of the Carolina Panthers are all out. They were fun rumors to chase down, for various reasons, but each of those rumors can be put to bed because they all led to some sort of elimination from consideration.
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