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Thursday, April 14, 2011
Football coaches have reason to be guarded

By David Ubben

NORMAN, Okla. -- Texas' spring game was televised nationally by ESPN, one of a handful of teams invited to put their annual scrimmage on the air.

Oklahoma, the defending Big 12 champion, isn't among them. Don't expect that to change any time soon.

Brent Venables
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables says he'll watch news conferences and coaches shows to see if opposing coaches give away any helpful information about their teams.
"I don’t see the benefit," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "When it’s all said and done, I think we’re on TV as much if not more than anybody, and get plenty of exposure. I don’t’ think we need the added exposure. This is a time for our guys to continue to go out and improve on the little things."

Nebraska apparently shares a similar sentiment. The Big Ten Network wanted to air the Huskers' spring game, but Nebraska declined.

Venables doesn't like the idea of playing a dumbed-down defense or offense for the sake of not giving teams a summer to break down any new wrinkles, and the idea of being mic'd up live for the course of a game isn't too appealing, either.

"They’re going to ask you questions and you try to give a little insight, but you try to be guarded," he said. "Guys will be listening, so why do you want to give somebody a competitive advantage?"

Think he's paranoid? Venables is only watching out for what he does himself.

"I’m lookin’. I’m lookin," he said. "There isn’t anything that’s earth-shattering, but it’s like, in their own house, what’s their perceived weakness? You know what I mean?"

He'll watch coaches' news conferences before games. He'll read a bit of what's going on around the league.

And teams with open practices?

"It's feast time," he said. "It's foolish not to look."

He won't watch tape of those practices, but he'll read practice reports and blogger observations looking for an edge.

"This guy’s doing a lot of pre-snap motion and shifts? Oh? Well that’s nice," he said. "Oh, they continued on third down and got it to 87? Oh…OOOOK. Just stuff like that. The backup center is having a hard time snapping the ball?"

Any of that sound familiar? Maybe the pre-snap motion or backup centers having trouble snapping the ball? It should.

By now, you're probably curious, but the only schools left in the Big 12 who leave spring and/or fall practices open to media and/or fans are Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

Texas, for all its spring game openness, rarely lets media into practice and kept it out for all but 30 minutes of their 15 spring workouts. Did Venables watch the Longhorns' spring game?

"I don't know if I did or not," he quipped.

Oklahoma, at most, opens up the first hour of one or two practices in the fall for fans and media. Those sessions will rarely include 11-on-11 work. During the season, no team allows media into more than warm-ups or stretching in the very early periods of practice. Some don't allow any access at all during the season.

"I’ll watch coaches shows myself," Venables said. "There’s time. That’s what you do the last 20 minutes you’re here before you turn the light out, for example. You’re just looking for something extra that might help you."

It was a fascinating look inside Venables' mind, and something I, and I'm guessing most people, didn't know occurred. But for coaches like Venables, it could be tougher to be guarded in the future. Texas plans to launch its own 24-hour network in conjunction with ESPN in August. Oklahoma hopes to have its own network as well, but is still in the planning stages of making it a reality.

What happens if they're forced to host in-depth coaches' shows to fill 24 hours of programming?

"There’s a lot to sell in our program, so it’s a good opportunity to sell your program in a very positive way. Coaches shows, we do them now, whether it’s on TV or not. So that’s something to think about. We do a coach's show every day on SoonerSports.com, and that’s a fabulous site in terms of interviews and coaching and teaching. That’s as good as there is," he said. "If they want us to do them [on the new network], we’ll do them. If they’re not asking us to do them, we’re not asking to do them."

Venables says there are "absolutely" coaches who give too much away about their teams in interviews, but balancing the line between insight and providing opponents too much access is a must.

"It’s important," he said. "There is a delicate balance and it’s our job to manage it the right way. You want to give insight, but don’t make things easy for your opponents."