By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
There must be a different feeling coaching and playing at schools like Georgia, knowing that, historically, you are one of the 10 most successful programs in major college history. Arrogance would be too extreme and self-confidence doesn’t suffice.
Attracting the best and brightest doesn’t require a lot of energy at a school where success builds upon success. People prefer affiliating with winners, and Georgia’s track record – five national championships, 14 conference titles and two Heisman Trophy winners – passes any litmus test.
That’s the monster Clemson hopes to slay Saturday night. To Clemson fans this is a rivalry. For 11 seasons it was standoff, but when you own a 41-17-4 advantage in a series 116 years in the making, rivalry is not what Georgia calls it. Maybe a nuisance.
Brent Venables spent 13 seasons on the staff at Oklahoma. Whereas Georgia won 65 percent of more than 1,200 games placing it behind Alabama, Tennessee and Southern Cal at No. 10 ahead of LSU, Penn State and Auburn, Oklahoma won at a 72 percent clip and begins the seasons behind only Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame and Ohio State. The Sooners claim seven national championships, 43 conference titles and produced five Heisman Trophy winners.
“I think you’d be lying if you said, over time, there comes a certain point where it’s 10 wins, 11 wins it isn’t enough. Maybe winning isn’t enough,” Venables said. “How you win can become overly important. That happens at some places when you have a consistent level of success.”
It’s one of the prices for supreme success, and most are willing to write the check – coaches, players, fans, administrators – if it means an invitation to the party. Rolling with the rich kids can be seductive, perhaps even addictive for schools like Clemson which had a taste with a national championship followed by a decade of unparalleled success. Georgia couldn’t get out of the relationship fast enough.
At Oklahoma, Venables recalled, it became part of the vibe, the DNA. The staff understood and they in turn could show recruits that winning wasn’t cosmic, that it was tangible in the 47 straight wins under Bud Wilkinson or in watching Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson on Sunday.
“As a coach I have the same expectation. I expect to win. I expect to invest. I expect to practice well,” Venables said. “I expect to spend the same amount of time in the office that you do anywhere else. You’re not going to wave any magic wands and create any new schemes or inherit new players.”
Some are unable to handle success. They fear it or choose to peck around the edges for an occasional taste. Venables craved it, which was why after playing and coaching for Bill Snyder at Kansas State he jumped at the opportunity to join Bob Stoops at OU.
“Every week was the Super Bowl when I played and coached at Kansas State,” he said. “It was us against the world.”
There are times, I’m sure, when Clemson people feel that way, which is why beating LSU served as reassurance that Clemson is nearer the “A” list than the wait list, and why beating Georgia means so much more today than it did the last time they played here 10 years ago.
Most critical factor for the team at the moment is ignoring us – you and me and the Gameday set.
“Not allowing the outside distractions,” Venables said, “because that is not what wins for you. Whatever (Lee) Corso chooses, it doesn’t matter. It has zero effect.”
Venables recognizes he has been fortunate as well as good at his job. He isn’t a nibbler, he coaches without fear, and he recognizes signs when he sees them.
“Whether I’ve been fortunate to be at places that expect to win or not, I don’t know,” he said. “I think that same vibe is here without reservation.”