There was Brent Venables, the 13-year veteran of Bob Stoops’ Sooners coaching staff, smiling as he was introduced as Clemson’s new defensive coordinator. He was wearing an orange pullover, something that would have elicited contempt — or something worse — in his previous location.
Sporting orange is as official as it gets that you’ve moved on from OU.
“There couldn’t be a better place to be right now than Clemson,” Venables said at the Friday afternoon news conference in South Carolina. “I’m incredibly excited to be here. What a great opportunity. I think the stars aligned to make it happen.
“I was compelled to be here when there was an opening.”
So compelled, in fact, that Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said he was initially contacted by Venables on Jan. 12 — the same day Kevin Steele was fired.
Swinney said he sent Venables a text message that night — and Venables responded immediately with a phone call. The two spoke until about 2 a.m., Clemson time, and Venables was on a plane to visit with his wife by Saturday afternoon.
The 41-year-old, on Stoops’ OU staff since it was formed in 1999, spent the day Sunday touring Clemson’s facilities and campus. He returned to Oklahoma City on Sunday night.
“When I left (Clemson on Sunday), I knew this is what I needed to do, what I wanted to do,” Venables said. “The last hurdle and obstacle was dealing with things back in Norman.”
A part of that was an effort on OU’s part — on Stoops’ part, in particular — to keep the valuable recruiter and linebackers coach. At Clemson, he is expected to receive about $800,000 a year, making him the third-highest-paid assistant coach in the country.
He has said this week that OU was willing to get close to that number. His most recent contract was for $440,000 a year.
And then there was the recent return of Mike Stoops, resulting in a share of the defensive coordinator title.
On Friday, Venables went beyond saying he was OK with the arrangement. He said he was “actively recruiting” Mike Stoops after he was fired as Arizona’s head coach.
“Hey, it’ll be just like the old days,” Venables said he told him, referring to their successful run from 1999-2003 sharing the coordinator responsibilities.
Despite Venables’ eagerness to look elsewhere for another job — West Virginia was in the mix before the Clemson job suddenly opened — he insisted people, and especially reporters, have the wrong idea when it comes to his response to the perceived demotion.
“People that assume that have no idea how I’m wired,” he said.
Venables said his deference to the Stoops family, for their role in starting his career at Kansas State, and his dedication to the team concept were more important than sharing a job title.
“I told Coach Stoops (bringing Mike back) would improve us, make us better,” Venables said, adding the “dynamics” of Mike Stoops’ return were in the works “before the end of the season.”
“This happened obviously well after that,” Venables said. “This was a chance of fate.”
Swinney was at a function Thursday night in Houston, and he said several coaches — Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Baylor’s Art Briles, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Stanford’s David Shaw among them — couldn’t stop complimenting him on his hire.
“We had some great candidates for this job that would have been home runs,” Swinney said Friday, “but Brent is a grand slam. We hit a grand slam.”
It didn’t come up Friday, but Venables said Thursday in a radio interview that he felt like Clemson was a better path to one day becoming a head coach. He had interview for a handful of head coaching jobs while at OU, including Clemson in 2008.
“We hate saying goodbye to such a close colleague and friend, but if we truly are close colleagues and friends, we want what is best for him,” Bob Stoops said in a statement. “He has determined that his career goals might be better met in new surroundings. We can be nothing but supportive to someone who has been so loyal and supportive of us.”