Oklahoma hires Clemson’s Brent Venables to replace Riley

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Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) celebrates with defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro (33) after the team’s NCAA college football game against South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Clemson won 30-0. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Oklahoma hired Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables as its head coach to replace Lincoln Riley on Sunday night, bringing back a former Sooners assistant with a long track record of success.

Venables will be introduced Monday morning on the campus in Norman, the school said.

The 50-year-old Venables was on Oklahoma’s staff under Bob Stoops as co-defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2003 and defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2011. He was co-defensive coordinator when the Sooners won the 2000 national title. He left Oklahoma for Clemson in 2012 and won the Broyles Award in 2016 as the nation’s top assistant. He’s been on the staff of teams that have won three national titles and appeared in eight national championship games.

“He knows the formula to win national championships and has the toughness, the attitude and the fight that I think will elevate our program in a lot of positive ways,” said Stoops, who has been serving as interim coach since Riley’s surprising departure last week for Southern California. “I’ve always loved his energy, excitement and passion for the game — it clearly spills over to his players.”

Venables, who will be a head coach for the first time, said in a statement he’s excited to add to the history of a program that’s won seven national titles and had seven Heisman Trophy winners. He also said he’s embracing the Sooners’ eventual move to the Southeastern Conference, which is set for 2025.

“There’s no question we are equipped to compete at the very highest level and attract the best players from across the country,” he said. “The OU logo has never been stronger.”

Under Venables, Clemson led the nation in scoring defense in 2018, and his 2020 unit tied for the lead in sacks. This season, Clemson ranks second nationally in scoring defense, ninth in total defense, eighth in rushing defense and sixth in pass efficiency defense.

Oklahoma was caught off guard when Riley took the job at USC. Stoops took over on an interim basis to calm things down during recruiting.

Venables quickly emerged as a fan favorite for the job. Many had hoped the Sooners could lure him back from Clemson as defensive coordinator after the Sooners fired coordinator Mike Stoops in 2018. The Sooners chose Alex Grinch, who left to join Riley at USC.

Venables’ first concerns will be to prevent players from transferring and salvage as much of the recruiting class as possible. Several players announced their intentions to enter the transfer portal after Riley’s decision, including quarterback Spencer Rattler. Numerous recruits decommitted, including Malachi Nelson — a five-star quarterback who now says he is heading to USC.

Riley set the bar high. He went 55-10 in five seasons with the Sooners and led them to three College Football Playoff appearances. Quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both won Heisman trophies and were No. 1 overall picks in the NFL draft.

The Sooners went 10-2 this season and fell just short of competing for what would have been a seventh consecutive Big 12 title. They lost their regular-season finale 37-33 to Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione believes the Sooners are primed to achieve more under Venables.

“There is no doubt in my mind he is the right man to lead OU football into its next great era,” Castiglione said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited for Brent to return to OU as our head coach.”

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AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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