By Will Vandervort.
The last time Bob Stoops contacted Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was a few days ago via a text message. The two contemplated the possibility of Stoops Oklahoma Sooners playing Venables and the 17th-ranked Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
But neither one of them actually thought it was going to happen. Though Stoops’ team appeared more likely to go the Dec. 29th bowl game Clemson seemed destined to be invited to the other Orlando, Fla., bowl game – the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
But then the College Football Playoff Committee pulled an okeydoke in their playoff poll on Sunday and Clemson suddenly found itself in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Now good friends Stoops and Venables are facing off against each other as Clemson, the ACC representative, will face Oklahoma of the Big 12 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“We were wondering about this matchup for sure, but hey, the longer you are in coaching you are bound to run into some of your good buddies,” Stoops said on a teleconference Sunday. “Brent has done a great job so for about four hours we will have to go against each other.”
Venables played under Stoops when he was a starting linebacker at Kansas State from 1991-‘92. Under the guidance of Stoops, Venables became an All-Big Eight caliber linebacker as he recorded 124 tackles his senior year. When his playing career was over, he stayed on board as a graduate assistant coach, helping Bill Snyder turn what was once one of the worst programs in college football into a consistent winner.
With Snyder as the head coach and Stoops guiding the defense, Venables learned more about football than he thought was possible from two men that one day most assuredly will be in the College Football Hall of Fame. Stoops eventually went to Florida as defensive coordinator and helped Steve Spurrier win a national championship there.
He then took the head coaching job at Oklahoma in 1998 and asked Venables to join him.
“I felt very confident in Coach Stoops, his leadership and his vision and knowing it was Oklahoma, though they had not had a winning season in five years,” Venables said.
In just their second season in Norman, Okla., Stoops and Venables guided the Sooners to a National Championship. Over the next 13 seasons, they won 139 games together, including seven Big 12 Championships, while coaching in a bowl game every year. During that time, Oklahoma recorded one 13-win season, five 12-win seasons, three 11-win seasons, one 10-win season and two 8-win seasons.
After serving as Stoops linebackers coach for eight years and his defensive coordinator for five years, Venables left the security of Stoops’ wing and left the nest to be his own coach.
He has proven he can be.
After taking over a Clemson defense that gave up 70 points to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl—still the most allowed by any team in a bowl game—Venables has slowly built one of the best defenses in the country. The Tigers currently lead the nation in total defense at 259.6 yards per game and rank in the top 10 nationally in nine other categories.
“He has done an awesome job,” Stoops said. “Just watching his guys, they play with a lot of discipline like always and are playing hard and are playing well. Again, that is no surprise to me.”
Venables defense will try to slow down an Oklahoma offense that ranks 11th in scoring (38.9 pts/gm) and 20th nationally in total offense (480.5 yds/gm). The Sooners’ rank ninth nationally in rushing offense (268.9 yds/gm) as well.
Clemson not only leads the nation in total defense, but are ranked seventh in scoring defense (17.6) and rushing defense (97.7).
“It will be a little different, but we are still great friends, all of us, and share ideas in the off-season and still pull for each other,” Stoops said. “Yeah, it is a little bit different, but the longer you are in coaching the more people you know, I guess.”