CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney cited a growing philosophical rift as the primary reason Kevin Steele is now the former defensive coordinator at Clemson, a divide the Tigers football coach said developed long before 70 points were allowed to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Swinney is moving quickly to fill the void, telling media members Friday he has already contacted one candidate for the vacant coordinator post. Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables was contacted by Swinney on Thursday night, hours after Steele's dismissal, according to various reports.
Steele was not fired and did not resign, according to Swinney, but will receive a full buyout. Steele will be paid the final two years of his contract plus a longevity bonus, a payment totaling $1.35 million.
When including Steele's buyout along with offensive coordinators
Chad Morris's contract and a contract for a new defensive coordinator, Clemson could pay its coordinators -- present and former -- more than $5 million over the next two seasons.
"He and I just have some differences of opinion," Swinney said of Steele. "It's not as much about scheme as other things."
How much did the nine touchdowns allowed in the Orange Bowl influence Swinney's decision?
"Not a lot," Swinney said.
Steele told Phil Kornblut on his radio show Friday evening that Swinney asked him to come to his office at 7:30 a.m. last Saturday morning for a meeting.
"You go to bed thinking this might not be good," Steele said.
When asked about philosophical clashes, Steele admitted there were "intense discussions in the football staff meeting room," but added that is not uncommon.
Swinney declined to elaborate on his philosophical differences between himself and Steele.
Clemson's defense ranked in the top 25 in scoring in 2009 and 2010 under Steele, but fell to 81st in the country this season, capped by the 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
Clemson allowed 34 or more points in six of the team's final eight games, after allowing more than 30 points just once in the first six games. The early season point totals correlated with more efficient offensive play.
Swinney said his expectations for defensive play have not changed despite hiring an offensive coordinator whose up-tempo philosophy increased possessions, thereby inflating yardage and points allowed while testing depth. Clemson's defense was on the field for a program-record 986 snaps this season. Swinney said Clemson's poor third-down defensive performance helped keep teams on the field.
Steele also said he simplified the defense this year because of the unit's youth. Clemson replaced six starters from the 2010 team.
"At the end of the day, I'm the guy who is responsible," Steele said.
Swinney said he planned to meet with Steele to discuss concerns even before the bowl game. Steele's defenses have struggled at times to defend spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks.
Swinney met with Steele on Saturday and again on Thursday morning.
"There were already things I wanted to talk to (Steele) about before the (Orange Bowl), things we needed to get on the same page with," Swinney said. "Both of us agreed a change was the best thing. … It's perfectly OK for two people to sit down and agree to disagree."
Despite the change in staff, Swinney said he is not going to alter philosophies.
Swinney said he still wants an aggressive, attacking defense, attributes which led him to hire Steele after the 2008 season, one of his first major decisions as head coach.
Swinney did not elaborate on why he lost confidence in Steele after giving Steele a raise and new contract following the 2009 season.
"(The change) wasn't about scheme as some other things he's got his feelings on," Swinney said.
Swinney said in hiring his next defensive coordinator "it's important" to find a coach who has experience successfully defending spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks. And the Big 12 -- where Venables coaches -- has featured numerous spread offenses.
Venables has also reportedly been approached by West Virginia to fill its defensive coordinator position. Venables has incentive to leave Oklahoma since Sooners coach Bob Stoops hired his brother Mike Stoops on Friday to be the co-defensive coordinator and it was unclear who would be the defensive play-caller next season.
Swinney has a list of five candidates he's interested in and said he will consider elevating a coach on the staff, though the expectation is Swinney will fill the void externally.
Swinney said he did not plan on making any other staff changes and that strength coach Joey Batson and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, who have come under fire from some fans, have his full support.
"We can't let disappointment of one night allow us to lose sight of what we accomplished," Swinney said. "I really believe we have a chance to make a run at Clemson over the next four, five, six years that Clemson hasn't seen in a long time."