While at Oklahoma, former head coach Lincoln Riley held a 55-10 (.846) record and led the Sooners to four Big 12 Championship and three College Football Playoff appearances.
To say that you don’t like the way that he left or that he is dishonest is one thing, but to call him a bad football coach is just ignorant. The success that he had at Oklahoma in his short stint with the Sooners was on par with some of the greats that the program has seen over the years, without a national championship to show for it.
However, over the last few months, bits and pieces of Riley’s feelings toward his former employer have trickled out. It appears that the sandy beaches and superior climate of California has brought out a bit of distaste in Riley towards the Sooners, or at least how the program is set up.
Despite a Plethora of Resources, Riley Was Set Up to Fail at OU?
Back in June, Riley took a shot at his former Oklahoma teams whether he meant to or not. During an interview with CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, Riley attempted to correct the notion that he was “scared” to compete in the SEC, but in doing so, he placed the blame for his inability to win against the conference’s top teams on Oklahoma’s roster makeup.
“I’ve walked into four playoffs, and I’ve never had better than maybe the third-best roster [of the four teams],” Riley said. “Every other year, we were four of four. We had really good rosters, but they weren’t the same. … I can’t imagine that there could be a setting that we could build a better roster than we can here.”
Then, about a month later, a story was published by Oklahoma insider Kegan Reneau which explained that former Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley felt that he was set up for failure while at OU because he didn’t have access to the resources necessary to succeed.
“I think Lincoln felt that way, that if I’m not gonna get this building, I’m not gonna get this amount of staff, I’m not gonna get this amount of trainers or nutritional staff, if I’m not gonna get all the things that Alabama has, and that Georgia has, and that A&M and Tennessee have, and Florida — if I can’t have that, then we’re behind,” Reneau said. “That perspective of Lincoln is going unnoticed because that, to me, tells me that Oklahoma failed in giving Lincoln the confidence that they had the resources and all the things we’ve talked about with Brent Venables and donors and boosters.
“Lincoln Riley was NOT scared to compete in the SEC. I know that about him as a person. I feel confident in saying that … but I do think he was a little bit scared to fail, and those are two completely different perspectives.”
Essentially, Riley made it seem impossible to recruit elite defensive talent to Norman, and maybe under his regime, it was. However, when Brent Venables stepped in and demanded that the standard at Oklahoma is higher and that Norman, Oklahoma was just as much a destination as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Athens, Georgia, or Columbus, Ohio, things changed.
Enter Brent Venables, a Man with a Plan
Before Brent Venables even coached a game at Oklahoma, he knew that there were things in Norman that needed to change. In December 2021, Parker Thune of 247Sports detailed some of Venables’ first changes at Oklahoma as the head ball coach in Norman.
“I’m told that one of Venables’ first priorities will be hiring a full-time team chef,” Thune said. “A source also indicated to me that Venables has already laid the groundwork to bring on a facility engineer that worked under Nick Saban at Alabama, and from an amenities perspective, there will be plenty of upgrades and additions on the way. Two things that were specifically mentioned by that source are cryotherapy and float tubs.
“OU football will not be lacking in any department [that] the top SEC programs have,” a source told Thune.
Venables also realized that he needed the right guy for the job of building Oklahoma to be the best, and not just the best in the SEC, the best in the country. For that, he hired Thad Turnipseed, the man that helped build dynasties at Clemson and Alabama, to be the Executive Director of Football Administration.
Turnipseed was Nick Saban’s right-hand for the better half of his 11-year stint in Tuscaloosa, and then he took a job with former teammate Dabo Swinney to help build what we now see at Clemson. A visionary, Turnipseed sees what Oklahoma can be, and his job is to get them there.
“There are things to be done, and the administration has been great to work with,” Turnipseed said back in April. “And I think it’ll be a process that’s going to take a couple of years to get to the — not only to the SEC, but to the Alabama level of the SEC. Because we’re very good here right now. But it’s just the mindset of always wanting to be the best and everything matters … is kind of what everybody’s buying into right now.”
As to why he took on this challenge? Well, that answer was direct and to the point.
“Brent Venables,” Turnipseed says. “I’ve always said for nine years, he’s the closest thing to Nick Saban I’ve ever seen. I say that meaning his passion for the game, his passion for being a ball coach. He truly enjoys recruiting, and you can’t probably count on two hands and two feet how many coaches actually love recruiting. But he’s one of them. Passionate about it, just like Nick Saban. But then Dabo made us both better people. We were never mean people. We were always friendly people. Just watching him, truly the love, care and serve philosophy that he has, a lot of that culture we’re bringing with us.”
“I truly believe he’ll be the face of college football, the new face here shortly.”
With a Plan in Place, Oklahoma Looks Destined for Continued Greatness
Now it’s August, and as the 2022 college football season is set to begin, Brent Venables’ Oklahoma Sooners open the 2022 season ranked No. 9 in the country. Despite all the turnover, turmoil, and muckraking from national sports pundits the world over, the Sooners are still expected to remain right near the top of the college football world.
The staff that Venables has built in Norman, alongside the roster he has maintained and pieced together following the last regimes departure, is good enough to compete for the Big 12 right now. Regardless of what you have heard, read, or seen, Oklahoma isn’t going 7-5 in 2022. Those kinds of drop-offs happen at places where leadership and purpose is lacking. That is not Oklahoma, not under Brent Venables.
What about all the reasons that Lincoln Riley gave as to why he couldn’t succeed in the flyover state? The lack of resources and inability to recruit SEC-type rosters to a place like Oklahoma? Just today, as this piece is being written, two things have come out to show just how wrong Riley was.
First, Oklahoma picked up several crystal ball projections for a five-star recruit in the 2023 class, including one from 247Sports Recruiting Analyst Steve Wiltfong. “A quarterback,” you might say, and while Oklahoma does have a commitment from a five-star signal caller, that isn’t who we are talking about here. No, I am referring to 2023 five-star defensive linemen David Hicks. Hicks is the No. 1 defensive lineman in the class and the No. 8 overall player, and he looks to be one of two five-star defensive linemen in the 2023 class to head to Norman, alongside edge rusher PJ Adeboware. Under Riley, Oklahoma never landed a five-star defensive lineman, and Venables looks to have two potentially in his first class. He has also won recruiting battles over Georgia, Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Clemson in this recruiting class, and many of those were for sought-after defensive recruits. What the current staff at Oklahoma is building far exceeds anything we saw in the Riley era, and they’re not even done yet.
The second development is an announcement from Gabe Ikard, an on-air analyst for Oklahoma football.
As Venables and Turnipseed alluded to, the Sooners’ program is building to become the best in the business. When the new facilities are completed, Oklahoma will be on par with the top schools in the country, and right now they are already in the Top 10 for football facilities.
But as Venables would say, “that ain’t good enough.”
The complacency and “nonchalantness” at Oklahoma have been swept out of the building, right behind the previous regime, and that is a good thing for the folks in Crimson and Cream.