Who might Swinney target as Clemson's next defensive coordinator?

Who might Swinney target as Clemson's next defensive coordinator?

Football

Who might Swinney target as Clemson's next defensive coordinator?

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Brent Venables is on his way to the University of Oklahoma to take on his first head coaching job, ending a highly successful decade-long run as Clemson’s defensive coordinator. That means Dabo Swinney has one of the more critical hires of his career on his hands.

Who might he target to replace Venables?

Some are more realistic than others. Some are longshots. But Clemson is willing to spare no expense for its next defensive coordinator, a source told The Clemson Insider. Venables ($2.5 million salary) was college football’s highest-paid assistant coach this season.

Here are some names that could be on the list:

Pete Golding, Alabama defensive coordinator

Why it makes sense: Look no further than Swinney’s most recent defensive coordinator hire in 2012 when he plucked away a proven Power Five coordinator (Venables) from one of the sports’ high-profile programs (Oklahoma). Might he try to swipe another one from his alma mater?

While Golding (previously the defensive coordinator at Texas-San Antonio) has only been at Alabama for four seasons, first as co-defensive coordinator before becoming Nick Saban’s full-time defensive coordinator, the Crimson Tide have owned a top-20 scoring defense nationally during that span, which is in line with the production of Venables’ defenses in recent years. And if Clemson is truly willing to pay its next coordinator the kind of money Venables was making or more, there could be a significant raise in it for Golding, who’s reportedly making $1.5 million this season.

Why it doesn’t: Beyond Golding possibly viewing it as a lateral move, the success Alabama’s defense has had under his watch has him on a trajectory to be a head coach sooner rather than later. Would Swinney want to hire someone that might not be around long?

Dan Lanning, Georgia defensive coordinator

Why it makes sense: A budding star in the coaching industry, the 35-year-old Lanning has turned Georgia’s defense into a juggernaut. Saturday night wasn’t a particularly good showing for the Bulldogs, but they are still allowing less than 10 points per game — fewest in the country — and rank in the top 5 nationally in virtually every other major defensive statistical category.

A Missouri native, Lanning is in fourth season on Kirby Smart’s staff and has also spent time as an assistant at Memphis and Alabama within the last seven years, so, like Golding, he also knows this part of the country well from a recruiting standpoint.

Why it doesn’t: Much like Golding, the job Lanning has done at Georgia seems to have him on the fast track to be a head coach. He was reportedly in the mix for the Oklahoma job before the Sooners went with Venables.

Manny Diaz, Miami head coach

Why it makes sense: Diaz hasn’t yet officially been let go at Miami, but with the Hurricanes reportedly making a run at Oregon’s Mario Cristobal to be their next head coach, it seems inevitable. And if it happens, what’s widely considered one of the top defensive minds in college football would be on the market. 

Diaz began at Miami as defensive coordinator in 2016 before taking over as head coach in 2019 after Mark Richt stepped down. Throw in stops at Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State (two stints) and Texas, and Diaz has more than a decade of experience as a defensive coordinator at the FBS level.

Why it doesn’t: Diaz reportedly makes between $3 million and $4 million per season at Miami. Is Clemson willing to match that? More importantly, would he want a coordinator job after being a head coach?

MONDAY UPDATE, 10:53 a.m.: Diaz has been fired at Miami in anticipation of Cristobal taking the job

Mike Reed, Clemson assistant coach

Why it makes sense: If Swinney were to promote from within, Reed might be the most likely candidate. With Venables gone, Reed, who was hired by Swinney as defensive backs coach in 2013, is now the longest-tenured defensive assistant on staff.

Reed previously coached defensive backs at North Carolina State and has NFL experience, playing for the Carolina Panthers in the mid-1990s before coaching defensive backs and special teams for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2002-06. He’s helped recruit and develop some of Clemson’s most recent all-ACC performers in the secondary, including Isaiah Simmons, A.J. Terrell, Derion Kendrick, Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich.

Why it doesn’t: Like all of Clemson’s assistants, Reed, 49, has never been a defensive coordinator

Marion Hobby, Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach

Why it makes sense: Hobby may currently be in the NFL, but he’s all too familiar with Clemson. He and Swinney were assistants together on Tommy Bowden’s staff before Swinney took over as head coach permanently in 2009. Swinney then brought Hobby back as defensive ends coach in 2011.

Swinney also gave Hobby the title of co-defensive coordinator, and it’s believed Hobby was being groomed to be Clemson’s next defensive coordinator had Venables left for a head coaching job earlier. But that didn’t happen, and Hobby left to join the Jacksonville Jaguars’ staff following Clemson’s 2016 national championship season.

Another Alabama native, Hobby is in his first season as the Bengals’ defensive line coach, but the opportunity to run his own defense, should Swinney reach out again, could be enticing. It would also come with a bump in pay.  Keep an eye on this one.

Why it doesn’t: Despite being 55 years old, Hobby has been a full-time defensive coordinator just once in his coaching career (Duke from 2008-10). And after five consecutive seasons coaching at the highest level of the sport, does he even want to return to the college game at this point?

Rex and Rob Ryan

Why it makes sense: These are admittedly the longest of longshots, but we’re including them here because there is a Clemson connection with the NFL coaching twins. Both have sons that played for Swinney at Clemson recently.

Beyond that, they’ve got a wealth of coaching experience. Rex and Rob were both longtime defensive coordinators in the NFL while Rex even got a couple of head coaching jobs along the way, first with the New York Jets and, most recently, the Buffalo Bills. Before Rob coordinated defenses with the then-Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, he was Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator in the late 1990s.

Why it doesn’t: Even if either one actually piqued Swinney’s interest, it’s been decades since they’ve been involved in the college game. And it would likely take a bunch of money to try to lure either back. Rob is still coaching in the NFL as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens while Rex has served as an analyst for ESPN since 2017. At 58 years old, they’re also the oldest names on this list.

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