football Edit

Venables: Washington running the room

The message has been said time and time again the last few days for Oklahoma football – move on and move forward.

It’s still going to take a while to realize former assistant Cale Gundy won’t be part of the program anymore, but first-year head coach Brent Venables accepted the resignation, agreed with the decision and is ready to get back to the camp grind.

Gundy surprised the OU world by announcing his resignation Sunday night, following the use of a racial slur in a position meeting last week.

Venables sent out a press release Monday trying to get things back on track, and in his first press conference since the news, Venables was focused on Team 128 and guys like L’Damian Washington, who is taking over as wide receivers coach in an interim role.

“I couldn’t be more excited about L’Damian Washington and the opportunity that he has with these guys this season,” Venables said. “He’s already had incredible relationships built with these guys and trust and really a deep understanding of who they are as young men, certainly their skill sets and their strengths and weaknesses. He’s incredibly bright and smart and articulate. He’s got deep trust with these guys.

“When I announced to the team that he would be on an interim basis, however long that is, that he would be stepping in to help us out there and be the receivers coach, the players were excited for him and this opportunity.”

Washington was hired as an analyst back in January, after spending the 2021 season as the wide receivers coach at Southern.

Venables can relate. He said when he got hired by Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Venables was an interim coach. You have to start somewhere.

Washington won’t be alone in handling the room. Former Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells and former OU wide receiver Nick Basquine will be among those giving their assistance.

Everybody is going to do their part, but in the end, it’s going to be Washington’s room.

“Now he’s running the room,” Venables said. “He’s been shadowing in that respect since he got here. He’s been the assistant that can’t coach, that can’t watch film. But he’s been paying attention for eight months. He’s done it before. It’s not his first rodeo. He’s played the game for a very long time.”

Washington was a standout receiver at Missouri, and his Missouri years is what got the ball rolling for him to join OU.

Venables said he didn’t know of Washington personally when Washington was hired in January as an analyst. But tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley did have time with Washington at Missouri, and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby also knew about Washington.

It didn’t take long for Venables to become a believer.

“The first five minutes you visit with him, you go, ‘That guy’s the real deal.’ He’s got an amazing testimony, very real,” Venables said. “He’s very honest, high energy, sharp, articulate and easy with the players. Very easy.

“But he’s honest with them. Not a buddy. He’s honest with them. He’s just got a lot of natural skill and ability. I checked with some testimonials from some other people he worked for, people can’t say enough good things about him. He’s got this track record of people saying great things about him wherever he’s been.”

Venables said many people have already reached out and knows it’s a position that will be highly sought after. In the end, though, it’s going to be what’s best for the players. Washington is that guy right now.

Still building the culture

Venables has spent the last eight months talking about being united, about building a culture. All that talk was obviously put to the test after what happened with Gundy, with someone so beloved within the program for essentially the last 30 years.

He practiced what he’s been preaching.

“This won’t be the last time there’s a crisis and issues you got to deal with head on,” Venables said. “Nobody asked for this issue to happen, but we respond. Ultimately, we know it’s going to help determine how we’re defined.

“Sometimes what’s best for them (the players), they don’t like. I’ve said that before, as well. That’s called wisdom and judgment. How we got to this point aligns with the vision of the program. It’s difficult and challenging and hurtful as all of it’s been.

“But I really believe that somehow, some way, I’m a strong believer that this will … we had a three-hour meeting on Saturday afternoon. My feeling that it was amazing. Really, really, really transparent and just vulnerable. And it was terrific. Trying to find a good in a dark place and in a dark moment.”

Venables praised the team for how well it’s been connected throughout the ordeal. He stressed the team isn’t in a good place after five practices. No, it’s in a great place.

Head coach decisions

Venables had mentioned before that eventually there was going to be that welcome to being a head coach moment. It wasn’t always going to be rainbows and butterflies.

He’s learned from some great ones in Bill Snyder (KSU), Bob Stoops (OU) and Dabo Swinney (Clemson), and he knew this could be and will be part of the job.

“I'm talking about life. I've been able to watch some amazing men respond, so you learn from all of that,” Venables said. “But certainly, this is one of those. Without question. But it's one I feel very comfortable and prepared for.

“Is it fun? Absolutely not. But do you have to be strong and be at your best in these moments? No question about it. As I told the team, I'll stand firm and stand in the gap for them. This is what it's about. If I don't, I promise you they won't. They're going to follow my lead from that standpoint.”