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Brent Venables' Catch 22: Comfort or more money?

by Jenni Carlson Published: January 16, 2012

Brent Venables is discovering one of the dangers of coaching football at a place like Oklahoma.

Life can be so good that you don't want to leave.

Just ask Merv Johnson.

The Sooners' director of football operations chatted with me last season, and this past weekend, I couldn't help but flash back to that conversation as Clemson's flirtation with Venables became a full-blown courtship.

The Sooner defensive coordinator is considering whether to stomach sharing duties that he long called his own and stay at OU or accept a bump in pay, get a defense to call his own and move to Clemson. It's a decision that might seem simple to most of us. Of course you go where the money's better, where the head coach hasn't hired his brother to take over part of your job, where the fans might appreciate you.

But all signs indicate this choice won't be easy for Venables.

When he arrived back in Oklahoma on Sunday night, all reports are that he looked tired and haggard. No doubt flying all over the country in a tiny plane will have that effect on you, but so will the prospect of making a gut-wrenching, heart-rending decision.

Don't be surprised if Venables stays.

Johnson did.

When he came to Norman in 1979, Johnson never intended to finish his coaching career there. He coached at Arkansas and Notre Dame before that. He figured OU was just the next step on the path to being a head coach.

But he's been on the Sooner payroll ever since.

Johnson had opportunities to go elsewhere, but he could never convince himself to leave. He could never persuade himself that where he might go would be as good as where he was.

“I think that's one of the dangers of this place,” Johnson said. “It's a pretty good place to be, a lot of fun things going on, always got a chance to win big and be successful.”

And he would always weigh that against other programs that came calling. If they were powerhouses, OU was often on par if not better. If they were lower-level programs, even ones with head coaching vacancies, Johnson struggled with the idea of going to a place where it would always be a struggle to win.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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