Choice to leave KSU wasn't easy for Venables

Wednesday, October 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Brent Venables knows what it looks like to Kansas State football fans _ that he bailed out on a program that had given him his start, spurning a nice promotion to instead make a lateral move, and that he did it without so much as a second thought.

Some will never be convinced otherwise, he knows, but Venables says it couldn't be further from the truth.

The truth, he says, is that the weeks that passed from the time he accepted Bob Stoops' offer to coach at Oklahoma and the time he left Manhattan, Kan., were the most difficult of his life.

``Oh boy, it was unbelievable, the emotions that I went through over the course of a month,'' Venables said.

There are four Oklahoma coaches with strong ties to Kansas State.

Stoops served eight years under Bill Snyder, leaving in 1996 to become defensive coordinator at Florida. After three years there, he was named head coach at Oklahoma.

Mike Stoops joined the KSU staff in 1992 and replaced his brother as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator. He was promoted to assistant head coach in 1998.

Mark Mangino had been at KSU since 1991. He was running game coordinator, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach when he chose to join Stoops.

Then there is Venables. He grew up in Salina, Kan., played two years at a Kansas junior college and two more at Kansas State. His first season as a player at KSU was 1991, and he contributed to the Wildcats' first winning season in nine years. His senior year, he was an honorable mention All-Big Eight linebacker.

After that, he served three years as a graduate assistant at KSU, was promoted to linebackers coach in 1996, and in 1998 became defensive run game coordinator and linebackers coach.

All four men, working under Bill Snyder, played a part in transforming Kansas State from a football laughingstock to a powerhouse. That transformation reached its apex in December 1998.

A victory over Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game that year would have sent the Wildcats to the national championship game. But A&M rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter and won the game in overtime.

Three days later, with the program and its fans reeling from the most devastating loss in school history, it was announced that Mike Stoops and Venables would join Bob Stoops' staff.

``The timing stunk,'' Venables said early this season. ``No question, that was a very sensitive time and a very difficult time in many K-Staters' lives.''

Mike Stoops' decision made sense _ he was getting a chance to coach with his brother. But Venables?

Here was a Kansas-bred guy who, after Mike Stoops decided to leave, was offered a promotion to assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. And he was only 27.

``I had a number of conversations with coach Snyder regarding the matter. I sought advice elsewhere,'' he said. ``It was very, very hard, but I felt I needed to leave so I could grow and learn and become stronger as a coach. I felt that that would help me. Whether or not I'm right or wrong, that's the way I felt. But it was very hard.''

Venables felt loyalty to Snyder, who had given him a chance to play and coach for the Wildcats. But he also felt loyalty to Bob Stoops, who ``went to bat for me to be a graduate assistant,'' and later, while defensive coordinator, urged Snyder to hire Venables as the linebackers' coach.

``People say, 'You owe coach Snyder, he gave you your chance,' and I do, and I'll never be able to repay him,'' Venables said. ``And he understands that I was never not grateful to him.

``But at the same time, I'm indebted to Bob as well, and I'm very fortunate because of him. I'm here today because of him.''

As he deliberated his decision, Venables sought advice from several coaches. More than a few mentioned Oklahoma's tradition, and how the timing seemed right to get the struggling program turned around.

Venables estimated that in the weeks between the loss to A&M and the Wildcats' appearance in the Alamo Bowl, he received 100 letters from fans. Most of them supported his move, he said. All of them made him think about his decision.

Then there were his players.

``You tell your kids, 'You've got to stick it through, you've got to do this, so many people are counting on you, you've got to find a way to overcome a tremendous, great deal of adversity, a very difficult time of your life,' '' Venables said. ``Then what, was I just going to leave in the middle of it?''

The answer, as it turned out, was yes.

As he hoped, the move has been a good one. Last year, Oklahoma had its first winning season since 1993. This season, the Sooners are 5-0 and ranked No. 8 heading into Saturday's game with the second-ranked Wildcats.

Venables said he didn't lose any friends as a result of his move. He said he knows ``without question'' that he didn't burn any bridges with Snyder. But early this season, long before the hype surrounding this week's game began, it was easy to see in talking to Venables how tough a choice it was.

``I felt so bad, like I let other people down,'' he said. ``That's just me. I care about other people, and so that's probably been the toughest part, feeling as though I let Kansas Staters down.''