Where are they now? Checking in on Clemson’s 5 defensive coordinators before Venables

·4 min read

It’s official. Former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the new head coach at Oklahoma.

Venables, 50, takes his first head coaching job following 10 seasons as the defensive coordinator under Dabo Swinney. He returns to Norman after working as defensive coordinator under longtime Sooners head coach Bob Stoops from 1999-2011.

Where did the Tigers’ last five defensive coordinators go after their stint at Clemson? Here’s where they are now.

Kevin Steele (2009-11)

Steele is receiving a pretty penny from multiple contract buyouts after the 2020 season.

Steele, 63, who was Swinney’s first defensive coordinator, stopped at Alabama and LSU for short periods of time before working under Gus Malzahn as Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2016-20.

Malzahn was fired in December 2020, and new Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin did not retain Steele, who would be owed about $5 million in buyout payments over the next two years, according to Knox News.

Steele was then brought on in January 2021 for a two-year contract to work as a defensive assistant at Tennessee under Jeremy Pruitt. Less than a week after Steele’s hiring in Knoxville, Pruitt was fired with cause amid a recruiting scandal. This left Steele to be the interim head coach at Tennessee.

Steele was not retained when the Volunteers hired Josh Heupel in March, but Tennessee agreed to pay Steele the full $900,000 salary he had been promised through his contract, according to ESPN. The buyout from UT would be mitigated if Steele landed another job, ESPN reported, but Steele hasn’t been hired to a new position since he was let go.

Vic Koenning (2005-08)

Koenning has flown under the radar since July 2020, when he and West Virginia agreed to part ways as the school conducted an investigation into allegations Koenning had mistreated players. He had worked as the Mountaineers’ defensive coordinator for the 2019 season.

This year, a report from NBC 15 in Mobile, Alabama linked Koenning, 61, to the defensive coordinator job at a high school in Alabama under former Austin Peay head coach Mark Hudspeth, but Hudspeth told AL.com in March 2021 “that just didn’t work out.”

Koenning left Clemson after the 2008 season to work as a co-defensive coordinator under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. After one year, he moved to Ron Zook’s staff at Illinois and worked there for two seasons, finishing as interim head coach in the Illini’s 2011 bowl game after Zook’s firing.

Koenning was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina from 2012-14 before taking the same position at Troy from 2014-18 under head coach Neal Brown. Koenning moved with Brown to head up West Virginia’s defense in 2019.

John Lovett (2002-04)

Lovett, 71, last worked as the special teams coordinator/linebackers coach at Sam Houston State in 2018.

After a three-year stint as Clemson defensive coordinator under Tommy Bowden, Lovett worked in brief spurts at multiple schools.

He was the defensive coordinator for Bowling Green State (2005-06), special teams coordinator at North Carolina (2007-08), defensive coordinator at Miami (2009-10) and defensive backs coach at Texas Tech (2012).

Lovett then made a quick stop in the NFL, working from 2013-14 as defensive backs coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned to college football in 2015 to coach cornerbacks for two seasons at California before spending one season at Sam Houston State.

Reggie Herring (1997-2001)

Herring has spent the last seven seasons (2015-present) coaching linebackers for the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

Herring, 62, coached linebackers at Clemson for three years before taking a five-year role as defensive coordinator under both Tommy West and Tommy Bowden. He made his first move to the NFL after his stint at Clemson, coaching linebackers for the Houston Texans from 2002-03.

He bounced back to the college rank for a few years, working as N.C. State’s defensive coordinator in 2004 and holding the position at Arkansas from 2005-07.

Herring then made another move back to the NFL. He went back to the Texans to coach linebackers from 2011-13, worked for the Chicago Bears in 2014, and eventually headed to Denver in 2015.

Ellis Johnson (1994-96)

Johnson’s last stop was under Will Muschamp at South Carolina, where he worked as an analyst from 2016-18. It was his second stint in Columbia, previously working as defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier from 2008-11. He was part of the Gamecocks’ SEC championship appearance and recruited Jadeveon Clowney to Columbia in 2011.

After leaving Clemson, Johnson, 69, also worked as a defensive coordinator at Alabama (1997-2000), Mississippi State (2004-07) and Auburn (2013-14) in addition to head coaching stints at The Citadel (2001-03) and Southern Miss (2012).

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