Brent Venables: The "simple man" turned into Dabo Swinney's best hire


by - Senior Writer -
Brent Venables is worth every penny he's paid.
Brent Venables is worth every penny he's paid.

Back in January of 2012, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney faced one of the biggest decisions of his young coaching career as he looked for a defensive coordinator to replace Kevin Steele. One long phone call changed the direction of the Clemson program and turned into Swinney’s best hire.

The decision followed the decision to part with Kevin Steele after three seasons and one of the program's worst defensive performances, as Clemson suffered an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. The 70 points were the most points scored by a team in any bowl game.

Swinney needed to move quickly and had a list of candidates in mind, but one name kept sticking out: Brent Venables. Venables was 41 at the time and had been a full-time defensive coach at the FBS level for 16 years. All 16 years the teams played in a bowl game, including eight in BCS Bowls. Four of those bowl games were for the National Championship. Swinney knew Venables had a winning pedigree. What he didn’t know was if Venables would mesh with the Clemson program.

The two connected on an early-evening phone call, and like two lovestruck teenagers who couldn’t bear to say goodbye, the conversation lasted until the wee hours of the morning. A few hours after hanging up, Venables was on a plane to Clemson with his wife and the conversation reignited.

The decision was an easy one for Swinney, who loved Venables’ winning ways.

“We are getting one of the top coordinators in the nation,” said Swinney. “I appreciate the commitment from the Clemson administration. This hire shows that everyone at Clemson wants us to be the best we can possibly be. Coach Venables has the experience of coaching in four National Championship games. He has had to compete against the best offenses in the nation over a long period of time. His resume speaks for itself, but it is certainly impressive that he has coached in eight BCS Bowls, four National Championship games and been a part of seven Big 12 Conference Championship coaching staffs.”

Swinney has made several good hires during his time as Clemson’s head coach and no one can argue with names like Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott and Mike Reed and Marion Hobby and Robbie Caldwell and Dan Brooks and others. Scott has taken over his own program at South Florida and is one of the up and comers in the head coaching ranks, and Elliott will be a star head coach one day.

Venables was the best of them all and the numbers speak for themselves.

Clemson finished 64th nationally in total defense in Venables’ first season of 2012, but he was laying the foundation for the groups that were to follow. The Tigers finished 24th in 2013, first in 2014, 10th in 2015, 8th in 2016, 4th in 2017, 5th in 2018, and 6th in 2019. Clemson has finished in the top three in scoring defense three times during that span.

Clemson has racked up a nation’s best 874 tackles for loss since the 2012 season.

That means Venables’ name has come up when head coaching jobs come open, but he understands what he has at Clemson. He makes a good salary ($2.4 million in 2020) and doesn’t have to be the front man for the program. He doesn’t have to do a ton of interviews. He coaches football and then goes home at night to be a husband and a father.

“The rumor mill is everybody else spending the time on it. I know where my focus has been,” Venables said. “Once in a while, somebody calls and you accidentally picked it up and they talk to you and then you either decide to continue it or you don’t. Just like I tell recruits all the time, you’re in control of this process, it’s not the other way around. I’ve got an incredible job. I work with incredible young people and an incredible staff. What we have at Clemson is not the norm in a profession, let alone college football. The foundation, the alignment, the players, the healthy culture, the consistency, the focus, Coach Swinney and his leadership. He’s not looking over his shoulder at what’s better.

“He really embraces what we have as well. He does a great job of setting the temperature, letting our guys have fun, loving them and hugging on their neck and still disciplining them and getting after them and getting the best out of them and holding them accountable in every part of their life. Like I’ve said, myself and my family, we’re incredibly fortunate to be here. Coach Swinney believed in me and gave me and our family the opportunity to be a part of his family. I value that and I fight every day to keep it and fight to do our job on defense and me as a coordinator to do a good job for these players and these fans and this administration and this staff. It’s been the recruiting, that’s the stressful part.”

He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome, he says, but Clemson fans will make sure he has a job as long as he wants one.

“So, I get it and you don’t ever want to overstay your welcome anywhere but I feel like if the right people are keeping the right focus, good things don’t have to come to an end,” he said. “I don’t believe that. Everyone says all good things must come to an end. I don’t think so. I do think that the focus and having a guy like Coach Swinney with the relentless leadership he provides, he takes nothing for granted. Not his position, not the opportunities, not the next group of great players.”

The simple guy is Swinney’s most crucial hire.

“I am a simple guy. I feel like I am a smart guy, too, to recognize a great situation,” he said. “You want to be somewhere where you are valued, you feel like you are contributing and people recognize that. We have the best of the best here. Players, coaching staff, people, administration, facilities, location, you can go on and on.”

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