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.
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.
Staying with the Sooners was always a better option.
“It's a little bit of a trap,” he said.
It's a snare that might snag Venables again.
He's been too good — regardless of what harsh verdicts you've heard handed down in the court of public opinion — not to have had opportunities to go other places over the past 13 years. Most, he squashed before they ever became serious. Some, he considered. All, he ultimately turned down.
Maybe he believed that the best way to one day return to Kansas State and become head coach at his alma mater was to stay at OU.
Or maybe he figured life couldn't be any better anywhere else.
And considering the way he's become a punching bag for the Sooner Nation — some of it totally validated, some of it completely ridiculous — Venables must believe he has it very, very good. The environment at work. The people who he calls co-workers. The chance to win. The availability of resources. The quality of life.
Those were the same things that always convinced Merv Johnson to stay.
Things worked out pretty darn well for the man who transitioned from coaching to being part of the Sooner radio broadcast team. But still, what might have been? What would've happened if he had taken a chance and left OU? How might his career have changed had he broken out of his comfort zone?
“I blame myself for not going ahead and making that kind of decision,” he said. “That's hindsight; there's no point in second guessing yourself. You made the best decision you felt like you could make at the time.”
That's what Brent Venables is trying to do now, though the best decision might not be so obvious.