I’ll start this off with full disclosure. I grew up in South Carolina and graduated from Clemson University. I write for Clemson’s SB Nation website, Shakin the Southland, and am a huge homer when it comes to my Tigers.
I’m in the unique position of writing for two schools interested in the same coach. Clemson wants to hang on to Venables and Kansas State desperately wants him to return to Manhattan and lead the Wildcats in the post Bill Snyder era (whenever that may occur).
This is my argument for Venables staying at Clemson. I’ll give you guys an argument for him leaving Clemson for Kansas State next week.
Dabo Swinney has made the defensive coordinator position at Clemson the best coordinator job in college football. After the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle that saw Clemson give up 70 point to West Virginia, Coach Swinney fired Tommy Bowden holdover Kevin Steele and began searching for a proven, aggressive defensive coordinator to match the Tigers’ aggressive offense.
Clemson wants to run as many plays as possible on offense, but that isn’t possible if the defense spends the majority of the game on the field. Dabo’s new defensive philosophy was to get the defense off the field as quickly as possible, even if that means giving up a few big plays along the way. In essence, he was looking for a coach with the intestinal fortitude to run a high risk / high reward defense.
As luck would have it, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops decided to bring his brother Mike Stoops (fresh off of his firing as Arizona’s head coach) back into the Oklahoma fold after a few less than stellar performances by his defense. Coach Swinney seized the opportunity move in on then-Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables with the promise of giving him complete autonomy to run an aggressive scheme. He also offered Venables a contract somewhere between between 750 and 800K, which was a hefty sum for a defensive coordinator at the time. After what Venables described as “a really gut-wrenching process...”, he decided to pack up and head to Clemson, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Clemson Defense 2013 - 2018
Note: I use 2013 as the starting point b/c the NCAA provides me with a handy reference that starts in 2013. All rankings used are national rankings.
Total Defense: ‘13 (25), ‘14 (1), ‘15 (10), ‘16 (8), ‘17 (4), ‘18 (2)
Scoring Defense: ‘13 (24), ‘14 (3), ‘15 (24) ‘16 (10), ‘17 (2) ‘18 (1)
Team Tackles for Loss: ‘13 (1), ‘14 (1), ‘15 (5), ‘16 (3), ‘17 (12), ‘18 (2)
Team Sacks: ‘13 (13), ‘14 (6), ‘15 (4), ‘16 (10), ‘17 (5), ‘18 (3)
Since Venables took the reigns, the Clemson defense has been one of the best and most aggressive units in the nation. They live in the opponent’s backfield, with the goal of making drive stopping TFLs and Sacks and getting the offense back on the field. He can run any blitz at any time. He sends players from all angles, and has no problem dropping defensive ends and tackles into coverage while firing his linebackers, safeties and corners into the line. Whatever he wants to do, he does it, and it usually works. Occasionally, this aggressive mentality leads to coverage busts and big plays, but that’s part of the deal as well. Dabo wants Clemson’s offense on the field as much as possible, and if that means giving up the occasional big play, so be it.
In order to facilitate his aggressive defense, Venables is given a virtually unlimited recruiting budget. If Brent wants a player, Clemson is going to provide him the resources to go after that player. Between 2016 and 2017, Coach Venables ran up the highest travel bill in the state of South Carolina, spending 111,394 dollars on out of state travel (don’t worry, that all comes out of the Clemson athletic departments budget, which is completely self sufficient).
The talent level on the Clemson defense is truly incredible. This season, the star rankings for his depth chart (using 247 aggregate rankings) looks like this (starters listed first, followed by 2nd and 3rd string):
DE: 4*, 5*, 4*
DT: 5*, 4*, 4*
DT: 5*, 4*, 4*
DE: 4*, 4*, 4*
SLB/NB: 3*, 2*, 3*
MLB: 4*, 2*, 4*
WLB: 3*, 2*, 4*
CB: 4*, 4*, 4*
CB: 4*, 4*, 4*
FS: 3*, 3*
SS: 3*, 2*
Looking at the depth chart, it looks like there is a drop off at the linebacker position, which is strange, because Venables is a linebacker through and through. This is a little misleading though, and shows the flexibility given to Venables in recruiting. He has a specific type of player in mind for each position, and when he finds a guy with that skill set, he makes his move. If he wants the 5* guy, he has the resources to try and get him, and if he likes what a 2* or 3* guy brings to the table, he has the green light on them as well. He has access to the entire recruiting menu at Clemson.
Family is stressed at Clemson, and in some respects, the Clemson coaching staff assembled by Dabo and the K-State coaching staff assembled by Coach Snyder has a similar feel. In terms of position coaches, Clemson uses a defensive tackles coach (Todd Bates), a defensive ends coach (Lemanski Hall), a safeties coach (Mickey Conn), and a corner back coach (Mike Reed). Venables is the linebacker coach. Out of the four position coaches, two played with Dabo at Alabama (Hall and Conn), one played at Alabama (Bates), and one came highly recommended by Clemson Hall of Fame player Brian Dawkins.
Dabo likes to keep all his coaching hires in the family because he gives them all an incredible amount of freedom. Looking at Clemson’s entire coaching staff, only three coaches, Venables and OL Coach Robbie Caldwell (who grew up in South Carolina and played college football just down the road at Furman), and Mike Reed, are the only coaches on staff that didn’t play at Clemson or Alabama. This is rather interesting because the one thing Dabo doesn’t give Venables control over is his defensive coaching staff. While I’m sure Brent has some input on who is on his staff, ultimately, all coaching staff decisions are made by Dabo, and subsequently, are loyal, first and foremost, to Clemson and Dabo.
Speaking of family, Clemson has several players with links to either Clemson or Alabama. One player in particular may make leaving Clemson difficult for Brent Venables. That player is 3* linebacker Jake Venables. Jake is currently taking a red shirt, but should factor into the Clemson depth chart over the next four years at WLB. Right behind Jake is 2020 Clemson 3* recruit Tyler Venables, who stars for local football powerhouse DW Daniel High School (NFL players Nuk Hopkins (Hou), Jarvis Jenkins (KC), DeShawn Williams (Mia) and Shaq Lawson all attended DW Daniel). Tyler hasn’t pulled the trigger on his Clemson offer quite yet, but Clemson is the obvious leader.
Finally, Clemson has made Venables leaving more difficult by signing him to a 3 year, 2 million dollar a year contract extension last summer, making him the second highest paid assistant in college football (behind Dave Aranda at LSU). The idea that a team could simply drop a dump truck full of money off at his house and get him to leave isn’t really in play. At 2 million a year, I’m assuming Brent lives a pretty comfortable lifestyle in the upstate of South Carolina. He won’t jump at the first job that throws a bunch of money his way because he already has money. He’s already rich and has a job he loves. He’s not going to leave so he can become even richer at a job he doesn’t love.
The case for Venables staying at Clemson is strong.
He has full control over the Clemson defense and has a seemingly unlimited amount of money to go after the players he wants for his defense. In terms of coaching, there may not be another program in the country that allows him to focus almost 100% of his energy on football.
As a head coach, his actual football coaching responsibilities drop while his outside of football obligations increase drastically. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a coordinator that appears to love coaching as much as Brent Venables, and giving that up for a head coaching job may be tough for him.
He is also the second highest paid assistant coach in college football. Clemson has taken care of him over the years and rewarded his stellar defenses with stellar contracts. Money won’t be a major concern for him moving forward. It will take more than just a lucrative offer to pry him away from Clemson.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, he has one son on the Clemson team and another son with the potential to join the 2020 recruiting class. Based on everything I’ve read, family comes first for Brent. At Clemson, he has the opportunity to coach his sons at one of the best programs in college football. I feel like there is only one program he would listen to at this point, and it’s Kansas State, but it would have to be one heck of a conversation.
P.S. Don’t forget to tune in next week when I argue for Venables leaving Clemson to accept the head coaching job at Kansas State.