Q&A with Brent Venables

Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables talks about the latest in the search to replace Bo Pelini, new Defensive Graduate Assistant and former KSU All-American Jeff Kelly, and next year's defense heading into spring practice. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The search is underway for a new secondary coach at OU following the departure of Co-Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini, who accepted a position of Defensive Coordinator at LSU at $400,000 per. OU Head Coach Bob Stoops came off a brief vacation on Friday to begin the search.

Coach Stoops will ask the opinion of Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables a great deal during this search, and recently OUInsider had a chance to sit down and talk to Venables about what the role of the new coach will be and how the search might proceed.

JH: Since you have been OU you have been a Co-Defensive Coordinator. Until last year, you shared the title with Mike Stoops, but he was the coach calling the plays on game day and he made final decision. Last year you shared that title with Bo Pelini, but you called the game on game day and had to make the final decisions. Do you feel Coach Stoops will use the 'Co' title again to attract a quality coach or will you assume the total title of Defensive Coordinator.

BV: "I am not sure what Coach Stoops will do. We have discussed both options, just like we did with Bo. Let me say this first and foremost, Coach's first priority is not Brent Venables. It will be to do what is best for our football team and our football program. He needs to find the guy who is the best fit for what we do philosophically and with X's and O's. We also want to find a guy who can jump into our program with both feet and who can be with us for the long haul, and that is our first priority.

"Once we identify a pool of candidates then we will zero in on the one we like and find out what we have to do to get him here without challenging the integrity of what we are trying to do. The only thing that is important to me is that we function cohesively as a defensive staff and that everybody will be on the same page. Again, I understand that somebody has to have some finality as far as decision-making, and that will rest on my shoulders. As long as everybody is on the same page and is loyal to each other, then that is what is most important for the chemistry of our team and our ability to function as a defensive unit.

"It was a great fit with Bo as he brought some good ideas to our program and did a fantastic job while he was here. We had a great core of candidates when we hired Bo and we have the same pool of candidates again. Through the weekend and into next week, Coach Stoops will be working to hire the best candidate for our program and he will ask our (Coach, V, Jackie Shipp and Bobby Jack Wright) thoughts, and we will go through these guys and we will see what we come up with."

JH: You have the finality of all decisions, so what exactly does Co-Defensive Coordinator mean for you and the other coach? Who does what?

BV: "Here are the dynamics of a coaching staff. First, whether there is a head Defensive Coordinator or two guys who share the title, somebody ultimately has to make the decisions. What happens during the course of a week with any staff is that you start by putting together a philosophy that everybody is in agreement with. You have a run defense and you have a pass defense. You have your bread-and-butter third down coverage's and pressures. You have your goal-line defense, and everybody again is in agreement and on board that this is what is best for the team.

"All egos are checked at the door, but you have to have some restrictions as far as client management during game week as everybody has a responsibility as far as the game plan goes. So, any position coach, whether he is the secondary or linebacker guy or whether he shares the coordinator title or not, is still responsible for a good meat of the game plan whether it is run defense, pass defense or pressures or whatever. It is very critical that the front end and back end guys are tied in together and that they understand completely what they are going to do and what each other is going to do. They both have good strong inputs and ultimately what is going to be the game plan. Whether or not there are titles shared or anything, you are still going to have to have the kind of inputs and philosophical agreements."

"We have been comfortable with the 'co' situation, especially with Mike and I because we worked together for 10 years, knew each other extremely well, trusted each other and we knew what each other was thinking before either of us had to say it. We knew what each was thinking before we had to go down to the others office. That was because we had been in the same system, but that was unique in this profession. That is why that situation worked so well. We had our disagreements and healthy arguments, and I say that no tongue-in-cheek. It was always a complete understanding where each other was coming from and that is why it always worked. And when it was all said and done, it worked really well."

"There were some things this year that we tried and experimented with because with every year when you go into the new season you try to evolve and stay on the cutting edge. We tried some things and they were successful and we tried some other things that probably weren't as successful as we had hoped. Regardless of whether Bo had stayed, there were probably some things that we would have continued to tweak and evolve with and maybe gone back to some things that we had been successful with in the past. Ultimately, some of the very small changes that we made, and as an example the field and boundary corner which we had done in the past which we changed to a left and right, that was a ultimately a staff type decision.

"Myself, Bo and Bob were all in agreement and in understanding the plusses was a successful change. Now you go back and look and maybe that wasn't as successful as you would have liked. Again, that wasn't a Bo thing as our entire staff was in agreement and it will be the same when we ultimately decide who is going to coach the secondary. Who that guy will be is someone that fits all the criteria that we have covered here and who can work cohesively within our system."

"You can not fault Bo for taking the LSU job. It is a great situation and he is going to coach great athletes there as well. He is going to get to do his own thing and he has certainly proven his worth and ability to do that. We wish him well, but in the perfect world we would have liked to have seen the continuity here. That is good for our players and it is good for our staff. So, we want to try again, and you can't ever predict the future, but we want to try to get somebody that is going to be here for a period of time. That is what we all assume we are going to be.

"When you keep you mind where you are at then you have a great chance to be successful and not be worried about making that next move or getting that head coaching job. In this profession, you can be your own worst enemy when doing so, but we are going to continue to have those kinds of opportunities for promotions because people across the country are looking at Oklahoma with the success that we have had and they are looking at our coaches. We are just kind of a victim of our own success, but it is a great problem to have. Again, you can't predict the future, but we hope that we can continue to have the continuity that any great program needs to have."

JH: What can you tell us about the hiring of defensive graduate assistant Jeff Kelly. What do you look for out of your graduate assistant coach?

BV: "They do a great deal for us behind the scenes. They do our game breakdowns, our performance breakdowns, and they put out all the reports as far as tendencies in formation, run, pass and a variety of things that really give us a jump on things on Sunday when we begin to get our game plan ready. Their effort makes the rest of the week, in terms of getting a game plan together, much easier.

"Then, at practice, they always assist somebody, and Jeff will end up assisting our secondary. He will help them run individual drills and he will be an additional eyes-and-ears in helping our guys coaching the right technique. They also help in regards to recruiting as they evaluate tape identifying guys. Again, you give them some criteria and guidelines and if there is any gray area they alert us and we go from there. They are men of many hats and they are never appreciated enough, but they are invaluable to your success. They have to be the right fit to and that is probably one of the things that we have had a great deal of success in is hiring our graduate assistants. We have hired guys who have known us and what to expect when we run our system, and all of them can relate to the players on our own team and in recruiting.

"Jeff has a dynamic personality. He is a people person with a tremendous amount of energy. He has an infectious smile and he has a great mind for the game. Jeff comes to our program with the credentials and respect as he was named the 1998 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was a defensive All-American, and he played in the NFL. He knows the commitment that it takes, so when Coach Kelly gets after them when they are dogging it and not giving it everything that they have, then he will immediately command their respect because he has been there and done that."

JH: This will be a very interesting spring for the defensive staff because since your first year at OU you have not had this many question marks on defense have you?

BV: "We have a lot of inexperience in the secondary, but we feel strong about our front-line guys. We think our front-four is going to be pretty good, but we will miss the intensity and leadership of Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson. We will also miss the steadiness of Lance (Mitchell), but we feel good at backer with Rufus (Alexander) and Clint (Ingram) manning those outside positions and Zach (Latimer) and Demarrio Pleasant in the middle. We will also have Lewis Baker at linebacker and he will play some safety as well.

"We have some good young safeties ( Jason Carter, Tony Cade, Brett Bowers) who we don't know quite what they can do, but they have ability. This will be a valuable spring for them and it will be a valuable one for all us, but especially for them because of the number of reps that they will get. We will probably look at one of the skill guys on the other side of the ball to come over and play some corner (Lendy Holmes) as well as on offense.

"Marcus (Walker) will miss the spring because of his shoulder. So, three seniors (Chijioke Onyenegecha, Eric Bassey, Jowahn Poteat) and Darrien Williams will get a look at corner, but Darrien will get a very good look at safety. He was a safety in high school and we know what he can do at corner. We will look at him at safety early in the spring and then we will just see who can move around a little and help our team. Then these freshmen secondary guys that are coming in the fall are very talented. We have a bunch of talented young men with good minds that we believe are going to have to help us this fall.

Editor's note: Most of the attention of hiring a new coach has centered around Coach Stoops hiring a secondary coach, and he will probably do that. However, I have always said that Coach Stoops doesn't always think within the box and this is one of the factors that makes him such a great head coach.

Already on the staff is Bobby Jack Wright, who in 1991 was the top secondary coach in the country at the University of Texas when his unit ranked No. 1 in the country. Wright has coached every position on the field with the exception of the quarterbacks and could easily make the transition to the secondary again. Coach Wright is doing a great job as the defensive ends coach and special teams coach, but if Coach Stoops believes he can hire a better coach who comes in as a defensive end and special teams guy, then he has the flexibility to move Coach Wright to the secondary.

Many of you have stated that you didn't feel Bo Pelini had enough fire in his belly to coach the secondary. Well, Coach Wright doesn't have that problem and is a very good football coach, plus he doesn't have an ego. Coach Stoops wouldn't ruffle his features when he jumps in and helps coach the secondary. Coach Stoops loves to coach and he is also one of the top secondary coaches in the country and he likes to lend a hand every one in a while.

This is just food-for-thought, but again Coach Stoops doesn't always hire within the box and he does have some flexibility on the staff in Coach Wright. Also, another item for thought is the fact that Jackie Shipp can easily coach the entire defensive line on a full-time basis, which gives Coach Stoops another factor he can work with. So, let's say he moves Coach Wright to secondary coach, but hires a guy to work with corners, then Coach Shipp would coach the d-line.

It is always good to have options especially with good quality people.

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