OU football: Facing Wildcats for first time as head coach, Venables reflects fondly on KSU

·3 min read

Sep. 23—After Oklahoma's 49-14 win over Nebraska last Saturday, OU head coach received a text message.

It was from Bill Snyder.

The former Kansas State coach made sure to congratulate Venables on getting his third win as a head coach and wished him luck on getting No. 4. About an hour later, Snyder sent him another message.

"Except not this week," Snyder wrote.

That's because the team Venables will need to beat this weekend is Kansas State.

Saturday's game represents more than just the beginning of conference play for the Sooners. It's also a reminder to Venables of how his coaching career started.

He landed at Kansas State as a player in 1991 before becoming a graduate assistant in 1993 under Snyder. Venables became the team's linebackers coach in 1996 before joining Bob Stoops at Oklahoma as the co-defensive coordinator prior to the 1999 season.

For Venables, the move to Norman was an incredibly tough decision.

"That might have been the hardest of all of them," Venables said. "Because of relationships and loyalty and the opportunities that were presented for me there. I knew I needed a tremendous amount of more growth. And I worried that if I had to just figure it out on my own, it was going to take longer. I'll just be honest. It's what I said. I wasn't ready to be the defensive coordinator [there] at that time. I needed a lot of growing still."

Mainly, it was tough because of his relationship with Snyder. Venables frequently points to him as a significant influence throughout his coaching career, and he even checked in with Snyder prior to the Nebraska game for advice.

"For me as a young coach, he created a belief in me, made me feel valued," Venables said. "When I would have a suggestion, a question, or an observation, he always listened to me. He created an environment where I felt welcome to have input. He said any questions, any thoughts, I'd raise my hand, 'Yeah, I've got one over here.' I'm sure the older coaches were perturbed, but I wanted to learn. He always made me feel valued.

"So I learned that. People want to feel valued."

Venables faced Kansas State plenty of times as an OU assistant, but Saturday brings a new chapter in his relationship with his alma mater.

It won't be Snyder on the sidelines when the two teams take the field, as he retired from coaching in 2018. Chris Klieman now leads the team and has the Wildcats in position to contend for a Big 12 title.

Klieman was a successful coach at North Dakota State, winning four FCS national championships in his five seasons as head coach.

"Starting with Coach Snyder years and years ago, they've maintained the same types of philosophies," Venables said. "That's probably why Coach Klieman was hired, one of the many reasons. He's been ultra successful, he's a national-championship coach, so he knows what he's doing."

Despite their 17-10 loss to Tulane last week, the Wildcats still present a challenge to the Sooners. Their secondary ranks in the top 15 nationally in passing yards allowed, and the defense has surrendered just under 10 points per game through three contests.

The Sooners are nearly 13-point favorites to beat the Wildcats in Norman, but they nearly lost last season in Manhattan. Venables has stressed the need to not overlook his alma mater.

Venables is focused on gaining that fourth win as a head coach and continuing to propel his team forward. But he'll always look back fondly on his time in Manhattan.

"I reflect about my opportunities and my relationships all the time. When I think about Kansas State, I go back to when I played there, the mentors I had and the wonderful experience I had there in Manhattan," Venables said.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580