Five possible names to replace Brent Venables as Clemson’s defensive coordinator

·4 min read

After spending 10 years at Clemson as the defensive coordinator, Brent Venables is getting his first shot at being a head coach with the University of Oklahoma. The level to which he elevated the standard for the Tigers’ defense, which included a top-10 statistical finish in the country in 2021, cannot be understated.

Now, Clemson and head coach Dabo Swinney are faced with the challenge of finding someone to fill large shoes left by Venables. Here are five potential options for the Tigers:

Mike Reed, Clemson cornerbacks coach

Clemson is no stranger to internal hires. While most of the defensive staff came to the Tigers from other schools, the bulk of the offensive personnel are former Clemson players who have worked their way through the ranks. It might make sense to start a somewhat similar trend on the other side of the ball. Mike Reed has been on the Tigers’ coaching staff for eight years and shared FootballScoop Defensive Backs Coach of the Year honors with colleague and safeties coach Mickey Conn in 2019.

The former Carolina Panther helped Clemson rank fifth in pass defense efficiency in 2017 with at least one cornerback making the all-ACC first team for the past three years. This year, the Tigers’ group ranked fifth in the ACC in interceptions with 11. Reed could potentially have a first-round NFL Draft pick this year with Andrew Booth projected to go in the top 10.

Clemson defensive backs coach Mike Reed
Clemson defensive backs coach Mike Reed

Marion Hobby, Cincinnati Bengals defensive line coach

Already with two stints at Clemson, the third time could be the charm for Marion Hobby.

During his first go-around in the Upstate, he served as the defensive line coach and helped the Tigers give up only 17.6 points per game, the 11th-best scoring defense in the country, in 2005. In his second stint six years later, Hobby stayed for five years and served as the co-defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach, working with Venables before leaving for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. In that time, he coached future NFL players like D.J. Reader, who’s also currently on the Bengals squad, Shaq Lawson (New York Jets) and Vic Beasley, a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and Clemson’s all-time quarterback sacks leader (2011-14).

In his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals this year, the defense ranks fifth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,110), 11th in points allowed (267), 12th in takeaways (17) and turnover percentage (12.5%) and 13th in fewest total yards allowed (4,193).

Marion Hobby of the Cincinnati Bengals NFL football team
Marion Hobby of the Cincinnati Bengals NFL football team

Manny Diaz, former Miami head coach

It’s not as crazy of an idea as it seems. Yes, it’s hard to go back to being a coordinator after being a head coach, but not impossible. After all, before being promoted to Miami’s head coaching job, Manny Diaz was the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator. After his first season in 2016, the unit went from 69th to 20th nationally in total defense.

Two years later, the Hurricanes’ defense ranked fourth in total defense and first in tackles for loss, third down conversion percentage and passing yards allowed. Diaz already has familiarity with the ACC, albeit in the Coastal Division, which would bode well for a quick incorporation.

Randy Bates, Pitt defensive coordinator

On the heels of a 2021 ACC championship, Pitt’s defense held opposing offenses to 23.1 points per game under Randy Bates’ leadership. The 2020 AFCA FBS Assistant Coach of the Year has also helped the Panthers to nationally rank sixth in rushing defense (91.8 yards per game), a tie for sixth in defensive touchdowns (4), seventh in third-down conversion percentage (.319), 33rd in red zone defense and 40th in total defense (349.2 ypg).

Last season, the unit tied for a nation’s-best 46 quarterback sacks while taking the No. 1 spot in tackles for loss with a school record of 111.

Pitt’s program has had a level of success, especially this season, but making the jump to Clemson would give Bates, who coached former NFL’er James Harrison at Kent State, a new challenge with a program that has been in the national spotlight for almost 10 years.

Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Randy Bates
Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Randy Bates

Zach Arnett, Mississippi State defensive coordinator

Described as a rising star in college football, Zach Arnett could catapult into the limelight as Clemson’s new defensive coordinator. Arnett is in his second year with Mississippi State and, much like Venables with the Tigers, coaches linebackers in addition to serving as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. He brings a West Coast flair after spending nine seasons at San Diego State.

The former University of New Mexico linebacker had a hand in the Aztecs finishing second in the country in rushing defense (75.4 yards per game), third in scoring defense (12.7 points per game), fourth in interceptions (18), fourth in first downs allowed (198), sixth in total defense (287.8), sixth in passing efficiency defense (110.25) and eighth in takeaways (27) following the 2019 season. He had a brief stint in Syracuse before going to Starkville, Mississippi in 2020.

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