CLEMSON — – When looking for a new defensive coordinator, Dabo Swinney said he encountered several candidates whom he believed “would be a home run.”
Brent Venables, he said, was even better.
“He’s a grand slam,” Swinney, Clemson’s head coach said.
Friday afternoon, Swinney enthusiastically introduced Venables, Oklahoma’s co-defensive coordinator, as the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator.
He replaces Kevin Steele, who the school announced last week would not return for the 2012 season.
“Growing up, I was scared about what it would be like to compete against a place like Clemson,” Venables said. “There’s a mystique to it. But to see it, the beautiful facilities, it’s very special. This is as good as it gets.
“The needle is pointing in one direction – up. That’s very evident.”
Venables has served as the Sooners’ defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator continuously since 1999. He was the sole defensive coordinator from 2005-11. He has coached in eight BCS bowl games, including four national title games. He was co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach when Oklahoma won the 2000 national title.
In his 16 years as a defensive coach, his defenses have ranked in the top 20 nationally in defense 11 times, the top 20 in scoring defense 10 times, in pass efficiency defense and rush defense 10 times, ranking in the top 10 nationally in total defense seven times.
Two years ago, the Sooners were No.7 nationally in both scoring and total defense, but slipped to 53rd nationally in 2010 and 55th nationally in 2011, allowing 241 yards passing per game (79th nationally).
However, those numbers could be a function of going against stronger offenses as a whole. This year, Big 12 offenses averaged 34.5 points per game, best among BCS leagues. They averaged 76.2 plays per game, which was also a BCS-high.
“He brings some great things with defending the spread and athletic quarterbacks, different things you have to defend,” Swinney said. “Hopefully we’ll have a few different things in our defensive and offensive systems that are unique. The part that really excites me is playing against the option, which is an element in this league (with Georgia Tech).
“From football knowledge, a schematic standpoint, how he’ll teach it, and the personality to go along with it, as well as the chemistry he brings and the development of players, he’s incredibly impressive.”
When asked, Swinney said Venables was one of several candidates he talked to, but the only one who visited Clemson; he and wife Julie spent last Saturday and Sunday here.
When Venables originally texted Swinney expressing interest in the job, Swinney texted right back. Five seconds later, Swinney’s phone rang. It was Venables, and the two talked for three hours.
“When I got off the phone,” Venables said, “it was 2 a.m. and I was juiced up.”
When Swinney hung up the phone, he thought to himself, “This guy is sharp.”
When he left campus Sunday night, Swinney said, “my gut instinct was: this is the guy.”
Swinney did his “due diligence,” talking to several other candidates and talking to other coaches about Venables, daring his staff to find something bad about him; they couldn’t.
Wednesday night, in a plane about to take off, Swinney extended the offer.
“I called him from about 2,000 feet and asked, ‘Do you want to be a Tiger?” he said. “I was jacked up.”
So was Venables.
“The stars aligned in the right way,” he said.
With Chad Morris’ recently signed contract extension that will pay him $1.3 million annually, Clemson has two of the top three highest-paid coordinators in the nation. Venables’ contract details were not immediately available, but he is expected to make $800,000 annually. Morris is the nation’s highest-paid coordinator, and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (who makes $850,000 annually) is No.2.
Last week, former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, Bob Stoops’ brother, was hired as the Sooners’ co-defensive coordinator alongside Venables. The two shared the same position from 1999-2003, when Mike left to become Arizona’s head coach, but Venables had been the lone DC for the last seven seasons
This fueled speculation that Venables was upset and looking for a place where he could be fully in charge of a defense, which he flatly denied.
“The dynamics were something I embraced,” he said. “It goes to Bob, (Oklahoma AD) Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma’s president to showing how good things were for me. They were going above and beyond to make sure I understood my place, my value and how much they appreciated me. I was humbled by it.”
Swinney said Clemson would remain a 4-3, attacking defense with zone principles, much like Steele used.
“What I’m trying to do is put a consistent product on the field, a great defense that plays with passion, intensity, passion, physicality,” Venables said. “I feel I can come, bring another perspective, more insight and develop a core, inside-out, with linebackers that play downhill. Timing is everything in this profession, and there couldn’t be a better time to be at Clemson than right now.”