CLEMSON — When Brent Venables visited Clemson two weekends ago, he took a tour of the West Zone complex at Memorial Stadium and saw sleek offices, a spacious locker room and a state-of-art weight room. What Venables saw was a commitment to football.
When Venables agreed last week to depart traditional powerhouse Oklahoma for the same position as defensive coordinator at Clemson, it marked another example of Clemson’s interest in elevating its football program.
Venables’ new $800,000 per season contract with the ACC champions ranks in the top five nationally of all assistants and nearly doubles his 2011compensation.
Never has the commitment in compensation and infrastructure been greater in the history of Clemson football. Clemson will enter next season with its football staff combining to earn $6 million. Tens of millions of dollars were required to build the West Zone complex, where the football operations phase was completed in 2009, and the program hopes to be in a $10 million indoor practice facility by early next year. In spending and architecture, Clemson now has the look of a Southeastern Conference program.
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said the ACC title and two Atlantic Division titles since 2009 are examples of progress warranting increased commitment.
“Right now our program is on the upswing,” Phillips said. “It’s not where, ultimately, we want it to be ... What we have to do is take advantage of our momentum.”
Clemson has more than doubled its football staff compensation since 2009.
By paying its assistants a combined $3.8 million for 2012 Clemson joins elite company. Last year, just six football programs spent $3 million or more on assistants. Five of those teams were in the cash-rich Southeastern Conference. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the nation’s highest paid assistant at $1.3 million per season.
Clemson will also begin paying a $1.6 million buyout to former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele this year.
Clemson’s total staff compensation is projected to rank among the top 10 nationally, higher than several programs in the SEC.
It’s a significant commitment considering Clemson ranks in the middle tier of power-conference programs in football revenue.
“You get some criticism on the compensation side and I understand that, and we work to try to have balance,” Phillips said. “But at the same time if you have outstanding people that other people will want to hire, you need to secure them because when you lose continuity that can break down your program.”
While the Clemson athletic department showed a $200,000 profit in 2010-11, Phillips points out that the athletics reserve fund totaled $9.6 million entering the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Clemson is also enjoying the ACC’s new television dollars, a deal which figures to grow in value as it is being renegotiated with ESPN. The conference will also get a financial boost from producing its first at-large BCS berth.
“You look at it as an investment. You can’t look at it as an expense,” Phillips said of the contracts and facilities. “As soon as you quit investing that’s when you start drifting backward.”
In addition to paying for coaching talent, Clemson has made arguably its greatest commitment to athletic facilities since opening Memorial Stadium in 1942 and expanding the stadium in the 1970s and 1980s.
Clemson has spent $120 million on athletic facilities over the last decade and has another $50 million planned in spending, half of which will be spent on the West Zone’s final phase and the indoor football practice facility. Phases I and II of the West Zone were completed for approximately $60 million and the third phase is estimated to cost another $16 million.
“Football has only been in (the West Zone) three years,” Phillips said. “I’m not saying the West Zone is what brought us the ACC championship, but it sure didn’t hurt. I have to believe it’s helped in the recruiting and in the training of our kids. Along with that you have to have really excellent coaches.
“They are all investments.”
Coach Dabo Swinney said after Venables was hired that he “appreciated the commitment” from Clemson higher ups and that it shows “everyone at Clemson wants us to be the best we can possibly be.”
Clemson president James Barker has presided over the increased commitment. Barker said he believes athletic success can translate to university-wide success.
“The number of (student) applications this year are up and hopefully attributed to our success academically, but I’m fairly sure some factor in that is a result of the football team,” Barker said. “Our Facebook fans number at 84,000 and increased 1,000 per week during football season. That gives us some idea of the exposure football gives to us.
“I think success between the two is linked together.”
Clemson’s total football staff compensation
2009 - $2.7 million
2010 - $4.1 million
2011 - $4.6 million
2012 - $6 million
$60 million - Cost of first two phases of Memorial Stadium’s West Zone
$50 million - Additional money committed to athletic projects through 2016
$15.3 million - Projected cost of third phase of West Zone
$10 million - Cost of indoor football practice facility set to open next year