College football’s firing habits reached a new level of madness over the weekend when opposing coaches lost their jobs within 36 hours of their game. It seems like a reasonable time to ask one of our state coaches “Why do this?”
NORMAN — Jimbo Fisher and Zach Arnett, the two coaches in Saturday night’s Texas A&M-Mississippi State game, did not have jobs Monday morning. Both were fired.
There are riches to being a college football coach, as Fisher’s $77 million buyout proves grotesquely.
There is also madness, as the Texas A&M donors, administrators and regents just proved by failing to even blink at $77 million.
Mike Gundy touched on it Monday in Stillwater, referencing athletes’ ability to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness, the transfer portal, and concluding that “money causes problems everywhere.” He is a coach on the back end of his career.
The guy in Norman has been a coach for over a quarter century but is less than two years into his life as a head coach.
I wondered what Brent Venables, his eyes likely wider than Gundy’s, thought about the mechanisms perpetually grinding away at his profession, machinery fueled by money and powered by the notion there is always someone better out there. So I asked about it on Tuesday.
He thought I was asking about his job security. That wasn’t my point, but his answer was so telling it’s worth sharing here.
“Let me just say this: I don’t worry, by nature, at all. I just get really busy in the doing,” Venables said. “I’ve shown up at my job every day that I’ve had a job, starting from the first day I was hired as a graduate assistant at Kansas State, showing up like my job is on the line and everyone else’s job is on the line based on my work, my attitude, my thoroughness.
“I’ve always had that sense of urgency, but never out of fear. Just as something that I think comes from an appreciation of having what I have. I’m confident in who I am and whose I am, and I don’t worry about things that I can’t control.”
That attitude should serve Venables well when his day of reckoning arrives, assuming it ever does at OU or anywhere else. In the meantime, he’ll reap the benefits of his fortune, even if that means buying a timeshare as opposed to Fisher’s private island.
He’ll reap something a whole lot more important than that, a fact he crystallized after I clarified what I wanted to know.
Why do this? What is it about coaching that outweighs the madness?
“Golly, that’s a long list,” Venables began. “You love what you do when you’re passionate about what you do. Like all jobs, all professions, there are challenges. But it’s all worth it.
“You’re making an impact. You’re bringing joy. You’re bringing out the best in people. You’re creating life-long habits. You’re helping these young guys, and coaches and staff, take advantage and use the game… All the amazing transferable skills to be better human beings, to be better coaches, to be better husbands, to be better fathers, to be better competitors, to help facilitate these young guys.
“I’ve got a locker room of 123 guys. To be able to be a part of helping facilitate their dreams that they know, and maybe the other passions beyond the game that they don’t know yet. You’re helping become a vessel for them to use the game to connect and give back. When the game has been so good to all of us.”
This isn’t anything necessarily new. Venables has preached about the football and personal development of his players since he touched down at Norman’s Westheimer Airport on Dec. 5, 2021. All coaches pay at least lip service to balancing their players’ lives. Very few speak it into doctrine like Venables.
What’s different right now, why it’s worth giving Venables the latest forum to enunciate his value, is the madness.
Coaches getting fired isn’t novel. Coaches getting fired in November isn’t either. Coaches getting fired because of stakes raised by NIL, the portal and the pursuit of television/conference money might have been novel around the time Covid struck. It isn’t any longer.
But it’s still OK to be shaken when you see two men across a field from each other one night in College Station, then discover them vaporized 36 hours later.
It’s OK to ponder not only whether that kind of job is healthy for a person, but whether it is even worth having in the first place.
“I love coaching,” Venables said to complete his answer. “It’s a way for me to compete with myself, but I love bringing out the best in people. I love watching our players become grown, confident, strong men through the game.”
That is a sentiment we have come to expect from OU’s second-year head coach.
That is a sentiment we should probably appreciate a little more this week.