New Tigers assistant: 'We'll win'

Newly hired Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables held the same position at Oklahoma since 2004.

Mark Crammer

CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney was assured he made a quality hire to fill Clemson's defensive coordinator vacancy while attending an event in Houston on Thursday as coach after coach approached the Tigers' head coach to congratulate him.

"I thought they were talking about (me) at first," said Swinney, who was a finalist for the Bear Bryant Award presented at the event. "They were talking about our defensive coordinator."

Baylor coach Art Briles approached, and, according to Swinney, said: "You have the two best coordinators in the country."

Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin were other Big 12 coaches who congratulated Swinney -- and perhaps thank him -- for hiring away rival Oklahoma's defensive coordinator.

Clemson officially introduced Venables on Friday two days after Venables agreed to a multi-year deal paying him $800,000 per season.

Unlike last year when Swinney began his search for an offensive coordinator by researching program rankings for total offense, with this search Swinney said he was overwhelmed with calls from coaches interested in the job. Swinney said he received a text from Venables last Thursday around 11 p.m., hours after it was announced Kevin Steele would not return to Clemson.

Swinney called Venables, and the two spoke for three hours.

"I was juiced," Venables said. "I felt like I was on the phone for 20 minutes. ... (Swinney's energy) is infectious." To leave Oklahoma, where Venables was for the last 13 seasons and the defensive coordinator since 2004, the Kansas State alum said "stars were aligned."

The Salina, Kan., native will be compensated as a top-five assistant, nationally.

Venables conceded he'll be perceived as running a defense with autonomy at Clemson, though he insists he "never felt the (Bob) Stoops shadow" at Oklahoma. Venables denied that Stoops hiring his brother Mike as co-coordinator had anything to do with his decision to leave the Sooners.

He raved about the commitment to football at Clemson.

"We'll win," Venables said of Clemson. "The needle is pointing up that is very evident … Growing up, I was scared thinking about what it would be like to compete against a place like Clemson. There's a mystique to it ... it's beautiful. Great facilities. It's as good as it gets."

Venables said it was "difficult" to leave Oklahoma.

On a personal level, it's been a difficult year for Venables, whose brother, Kirk, died of a seizure this summer a day after Sooners middle linebacker Austin Box's death.

Venables has some familiarity with Clemson. He knows AD Terry Don Phillips, who spoke to Venables about the Clemson head coaching job in 2008.

Venables has not had a chance to examine Clemson's personnel but knows Clemson had a highly-regarded linebacker freshman class this season. He will employ a 4-3 scheme like Steele but hopes to have the linebackers playing more "downhill."

Swinney said he spoke to other candidates over the phone but said he did not conduct any other in-person interviews because he felt so strongly after Venables and his wife visited Clemson last weekend.

Venables has many attributes Swinney was seeking in a defensive coordinator, calling his resume "impeccable."

For starters, Venables has experience defending spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks in the wide-open style of play that has proliferated throughout the Big 12. Schemes and personnel Clemson struggled with at times the last several seasons.

Venables also has experience in being paired with an up-tempo offense, as the Sooners have ranked in the top five of total offensive snaps the last three seasons. While Venables' defenses ranked 55th and 53rd in total defense the last two years, Venables has produced top-10 defenses the last four years, according to Football Outsider's defensive rankings, which adjust for opponent strength and tempo.

One of the first traits Swinney mentioned was Venables' ability to develop linebackers, an area where Clemson has struggled the last several seasons.

Venables has also been loyal. Clemson will be just the third program for the Kansas State grad who also coached at his alma mater. Swinney said the rest of the defensive staff will remain intact.


Name: Brent Venables

Position: Clemson defensive coordinator

Hometown: Salina, Kansas

Birth: Dec. 18, 1970

College: Kansas State

Coaching experience: 16 seasons

Family: Wife Julie and children Jake, Tyler, Laney and Addie