Oklahoma is targeting Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables to be its new head coach, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
Oklahoma was “going hard after” Venables and an agreement could be reached, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not done.
Venables would replace Lincoln Riley, who left last week to take over at USC.
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 coach.
Venables’ Clemson defense led the nation in scoring defense in 2018, and his 2020 unit tied for the nation’s 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. The Sooners quickly made Stoops interim coach to calm things down during recruiting. Stoops reassured the fan base that things would be fine at a program that has won seven national titles and had seven Heisman Trophy winners.
Venables quickly emerged as a favorite among fans for the job. Many had hoped the Sooners could lure him back from Clemson as defensive coordinator after the Sooners fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in 2018. The Sooners chose Alex Grinch, who now has joined Riley at USC.
Venables’ first order of business will be to save as much of the recruiting class as possible. Several players announced their intention to enter the transfer portal 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 playoff appearances. Under his direction, 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.