A deal was finalized Sunday night after OU athletic director Joe Castiglione flew to the Clemson area to meet with Venables, who had emerged as the Sooners’ top target. Venables flew back with the Oklahoma contingent Sunday night and is expected to be formally introduced on Monday.
Venables, one of the top defensive minds in the college game, has been a major part of Clemson’s championship run under Dabo Swinney and has a long history at Oklahoma. He was on the Sooners’ staff from 1999-2011, co-defensive coordinator from 1999-2003 and defensive coordinator from 2004-11.
While at Clemson, Venables was the Broyles Award winner in 2016 as the top assistant coach in college football. He has turned down multiple head coaching opportunities in recent years to stay at Clemson.
Venables’ defenses at Clemson consistently ranked near the top nationally of most statistical categories. He was the highest-paid assistant coach in college football and received a contract extension prior to this season that took him to $2.5 million annually. That’s after turning down the Auburn head coaching job a few months earlier.
Sources told ESPN that Venables plans to hire Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator. Lebby, a semi-finalist for the Broyles Award each of the past two seasons, spent four years as a student assistant at Oklahoma after signing to play there but suffering an injury that ended his playing career. Lebby, working under Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss, called the offensive plays for the Rebels, who ranked fourth nationally this season in total offense (506.7 yards per game).
Cincinnati‘s Luke Fickell was another coach Oklahoma had interest in, but the timing didn’t work out for Fickell, whose Bearcats won the AAC championship game on Saturday and are headed to the College Football Playoff.
Venables, 50, replaces Lincoln Riley, who left to take the USC head coaching job the day after Oklahoma’s 37-33 Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State. For the third straight time, Oklahoma went the assistant route in hiring its head coach. Riley was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator under Bob Stoops before being promoted. And Stoops was the defensive coordinator at Florida before landing the OU head job in 1999.
Venables will help usher in a new era in Oklahoma football, as the Sooners are set to move to the SEC, possibly as early as the 2023 season. In two games against SEC opponents this season (Georgia and South Carolina), Venables’ defense allowed a combined three points.
Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas tweeted Sunday night: “So happy for coach. He deserves it more than anyone. Hardest working man I have ever known. Y’all take care of him!!”
Tim Bourret, Clemson’s former football communications director who’s been a part of Clemson athletics for more than 40 years, tweeted: “Brent Venables has been the most significant assistant coach in any sport in Clemson athletics history.”
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