Koenning returns to Death Valley for second time

Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA;  Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) drops back to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight week, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will play one of his former defensive coordinators when the second-ranked Tigers host Troy on Saturday in Death Valley.

Vic Koenning, who is in his second stint at Troy and in his fourth season overall there, coached under Swinney in 2008 when Swinney replaced Tommy Bowden as the interim head coach in mid-season. Koenning coached under Bowden for three years prior to Swinney, and then helped Swinney land the head coaching job as the Tigers went 4-2 down the stretch to become bowl eligible.

Swinney decided not to retain Koenning after he landed the Clemson job full-time because of a difference in philosophy.

“He is a good football coach and even though it was an awkward situation here with a midseason coaching change, in that time, I always have a great appreciation for Coach Vic and how he handled himself in those seven weeks that we worked together in a different role,” said Swinney, who was the wide receivers coach on Bowden’s staff prior to the change. “He could have walked away, said no, but he really was professional and did a heck of a job down the stretch here.

“I always have an appreciation for the role that he played in helping us at that time.”

After he left Clemson prior to the 2009 Gator Bowl, Koenning landed at Kanas State for one year where he was the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for Bill Snyder. He then went to Illinois and was the defensive coordinator for Ron Zook for two seasons. He also served as the interim head coach for the bowl game after Zook was let go at the end of the 2011 season.

Koenning then went to North Carolina where he was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for three seasons. Koenning joined Neal Brown’s staff at Troy in 2015 and serves as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach.

“I think Vic has been very consistent as far as who he is and what he believes in. He is a good coach,” Swinney said. “If you are going to be a good coach in anything you have to have an identity, something to hang your hat on, something you believe in. That is the only way that your guys are going to buy into what you do.”

Koenning’s 2007 Clemson defense finished ninth in the country and in 2005, ’06 and ’08 his units ranked in the top 25 nationally.

“Coach Vic is a heck of a coach, and he did a lot of good things here,” Swinney said.

Swinney said his wide receivers always had a tough time going against Koenning’s defensive backs in practice.

“It was a challenge going against him a lot of times out here on the practice field with a lot of the things that they do and he has had a long successful career at a lot of really good places,” Swinney said.

This is not the first time Koenning has had to try and defend one of Swinney’s teams. His North Carolina defense gave up 435 yards and six touchdown passes to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson in the Tigers’ 50-35 victory over the Tar Heels in 2014.

It was Watson’s first career start as his six touchdown passes set a Clemson record for a single-game, while his 435 yards rank second all-time for a game. He finished the night 27 of 36 and was picked off once.

Wide receiver Mike Williams caught six passes that day for 122 yards and two touchdowns, while Artavis Scott hauled in eight receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.

However, that September night in 2014 was not the norm for a Vic Koenning led defense.

“He has a scheme that he believes in,” Swinney said. “There is a lot of carry over, but that’s why he has been successful. They will have some things I’m sure they will try to attack our protections, certainly they will have some things to try to minimize Mike Williams, that’s just what good coaches do, but we will have to answer that.”


— Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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