Brent Venables’ first game just what he & Sooners needed

Norman – Brent Venables started his daily run Saturday.

Shortly before the new OU head coach and his team hopped on a bus at the team hotel for the Gaylord family at Memorial Stadium in Oklahoma, Venables was working out when his phone rang.

He is not going to send the call to voicemail.

It was Dabo Swinney, one of Venables’ mentors and his boss for the last decade at Clemson.

“Hey, what do you think I need to know on game day as a head coach?” Venables asked.

Swinney had no major advice on Saturday. In the nine months since Venables was named head coach of the Sooners, he’s done a lot of that.

So Swinney just offered encouragement until OU’s 45-13 victory over UTEP kicked off the Venables era.

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“He’s amazing, man,” Venables said. “He was positive and he was happy. He was just a breath of fresh air for me. Sometimes I was more stoic, but not as happy.

“It’s so cool to connect with him on game day. … He has a unique way of setting you free.”

Swinney’s Clemson team didn’t play Saturday, but it was still a big day for him, with Venables being his long-term defensive coordinator and Tony Elliott over the past 11 seasons Both coached on the Tigers’ offense, making their head coach debut.

In the locker room after the game, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione held a football above his head.

“Game ball, Coach Venables,” Castiglione bellowed as he handed the ball to the coach he brought in in early December after Lincoln Riley’s surprise departure from USC.

After hugging Castiglione and OU President Joseph Harroz Jr., Venables addressed his team.

“It’s special, and I want everyone to be here,” Venables said, before choking a little.

He looked down at the ball in his hand, tears welling up in his eyes.

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When Venables turned his head, there was nothing left to say.

Tears vanished for Venables as his players burst into applause and a smile spread across his face.

“Coach, I’ll go through the wall for you,” one player shouted.

Venables also reciprocated his kindness and gave the match ball to Castiglione and Harrods.

“Because believe me,” Venables said. “This is Oklahoma. They don’t have to hire me. I don’t take that for granted at all.”

Between the call with Swinney and the emotional post-match moments, there was more positivity in what Venables called a “special day.”

When that bus pulled up on Jenkins Avenue, about two hours before the game, Venables and Suna were greeted by thousands of fans who lined up in dozens of people along rope barricades , a glimpse of Venables and his team.

Then the game started almost as Venables had hoped — a 21-0 first-quarter lead, three quick touchdowns, and a suffocating aggressive defense that kept the Miners off balance.

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UTEP picked up in the game and things were far from perfect, but for the first game, more than just the action between the kick-off and the final whistle, Venables would take it.

“It looks like the dog years many times,” Venables said. “In some ways, it’s gone by very fast over the past nine months, and in many ways it feels like the Year of the Dog, like, ‘When are we going to play games?’ But everything has its time.”

Saturday is Venables time.

“We really got off to a good start together, and that’s what you have to do,” Venables said.

Linebacker Danny Stutsman said the only bright spot for Venables that day was the coach’s dance moves.

“That guy can’t dance,” Stusman said. “But that’s okay because he can really coach. I’m going to make this slide.

“I love his intensity. I love everything about him. Seeing him after that game, I’d do anything for this guy. …Everyone on this team is totally behind it, we’re all for it Excited for what he has brought, what he has done and what we are going to do in the future under Coach Venables.”

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