Venables by the numbers

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – The hiring of defensive coordinator Brent Venables in January has created an optimistic buzz, a cautious yet hopeful optimism that actually surrounds the entire Clemson program this spring.

Clemson is a football program that has always prided itself on defense, but last season’s run of games in which opposing offenses ran up and down the field at will left a sour taste in the mouths of most Clemson fans, a sour taste that was even further exacerbated by an embarrassing showing in the Orange Bowl.

Clemson head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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went out and got his man in Venables, an enthusiastic teacher of the game who had a proven track record at Oklahoma, all while playing in a conference with some of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

Venables has been, at least to date, as good as advertised. His energy rivals and maybe even surpasses that of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and it has been good to see him actually physically walk his players through assignments and plays. During one practice, I actually saw him grab one of the young linebackers and take him through the steps of a play.

Of course, the proof of how much an impact Venables will make won't be known until the Tigers line up against another school, but the early reviews have been good.

When Venables was hired, I went out and looked to see if there was a way to statistically compare coordinators – wins and losses isn’t really enough, not like with a head coach. I grew up with a baseball background, so I’m a numbers guy, so I figured that someone had come up with a statistical analysis that could rate coordinators.

I found it at I like their formula because it takes into account scoring defense, total defense, third down efficiency, turnovers gained, tackles for loss per game and sacks per game. In other words – is your team getting to the quarterback, creating turnovers and keeping the opponent out of the end zone.

You can customize the ranking for just one year or the past decade, so I started with the past decade and the ratings showed Venables to be – statistically speaking – the fourth-best defensive coordinator in the country during that time frame, behind Kirby Smart (Bama), Bud Foster (Va. Tech) and Randy Shannon (Miami, Fla.). If you take out non-active coaches, he would be third-best. Granted, Smart hasn’t been defensive coordinator at Alabama for the past decade – just four years – but his and head coach Nick Saban’s defenses have been statistically the best.

1  Kirby Smart		Alabama			4	93.89
2  Bud Foster		Virginia Tech		11	92.12
3  Brent Venables	Clemson			11	89.61
4  Mike Stoops		Oklahoma		3	87.19
5  John Chavis		LSU			11	84.37

Of course, football is a sport of ‘what have you done for me lately’ so I narrowed it down to the last three years, and Venables still cracks the top ten.

1    Kirby Smart	Alabama		3	94.44
2    John Chavis	LSU		3	89.04
3    Luke Fickell	Ohio St.	1	83.04
4    Pete Kwiatkowski	Boise St.	2	82.83
5    Greg Mattison	Michigan	1	82.54
6    Bud Foster		Virginia Tech	3	81.26
7    Brent Venables	Clemson		3	79.31
8    Dick Bumpas	TCU		3	77.94
9    Gary Patterson	TCU		3	77.94
10   Todd Grantham	Georgia		2	77.25

Interestingly enough, former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin SteeleKevin Steele
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
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ranked 46th-best over the last three seasons, and actually ranked 87th in the nation in the formula a year ago. Venables came in at 26th on the list. Over the last decade, Steele came in at 65th on the list, compared to Venables’ fourth-place spot.

And just in case you were wondering, offensive coordinator Chad Morris comes in at 13th in the offensive coordinator rankings over the last decade, a ranking that takes into account scoring, offense, total offense, third down efficiency and turnovers lost.

1 Todd Monken		Oklahoma St.		1	493.92
2 Pep Hamilton		Stanford		1	490.67
3 Chip Kelly		Oregon			5	488.73
4 Mike Leach		Washington St.		7	388.07
5 Dana Holgorsen	West Virginia		6	385.05
6 Greg Davis		Iowa			10	384.84
7 Jarrett Anderson	TCU			3	482.46
8 Josh Heupel		Oklahoma		1	382.04
9 Kliff Kingsbury	Texas A&M		2	481.73
10 Bryan Harsin		Texas			6	380.12
11 Ed Warinner		Ohio St.		3	377.65
12 Kennedy Pola		Southern California	2	377.33
13 Chad Morris		Clemson			2	376.98

The head coach rankings take into account winning percentage, strength of schedule rank, average scoring offense, average scoring defense, turnover margin and penalties. Head coach Dabo Swinney ranks 32nd on the list based on those criteria. If you just do the rankings since 2009 – his first full year as head coach – he comes in at 25th.

So, if you are also a numbers person, you can go to the website, customize it by year, by active or non-active coaches or by a particular timeframe. There are also a ton of other statistical categories you can look at in the drop-down box, from FCS coaches to how coaches do against the spread to graduation rates.

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