Inside the remaking of Oklahoma football

NORMAN, Okla. — Perhaps no image better encapsulates the eye-popping intensity of Brent Venables than the pictures of Clemson’s get back struggling coach to tug the school’s longtime defensive coordinator back to the sideline.

It’s fitting that in his first season as a head coach at Oklahoma, Venables’ go-to “Good to Great” analogy references pushing toward a breaking point for intensity. In the quest to keep the entire Oklahoma program at the top echelon of college football, Venables wants everyone affiliated with the program to find the extra degree between 211 and 212, the boiling point for water.

“Steam is what moves a locomotive,” Venables told ESPN recently, his motor running typically high. “A little more time and energy and focus and effort and money and more efficiency. It takes a little more.”

The difference between 211 and 212 represents an apt convergence point for Oklahoma, where Venables takes over a program in an enviable purgatory. Oklahoma is lodged firmly amid the sport’s elite programs, with one of the game’s top-five overall winning percentages over the past five, 10, 15 and 20 seasons. No program has won more total games — 215 — in the past 20 years.

By nearly any metric, Oklahoma is preposterously successful, as the Sooners have won an astounding 14 conference titles since 2000.

Oklahoma also hasn’t won a national title since 2000, and the crux of the early part of Venables’ tenure will be to both keep OU in College Football Playoff contention and simultaneously prepare the program for the competitive upgrade that will come along with joining the SEC in 2025. Not surprisingly, Venables is preparing to both stay hot and push things to a boil.

“Why wait to be great?” he said. “Sometimes, you just have to have the faith and courage to say, ‘Let’s go all in.’ To me, that’s what it takes. To be bold in leadership and courage. To think enormously big and be unapologetic about it.”