Dabo Swinney didn’t know who Wesley Goodwin was back in 2009, but that quickly changed.
After filling in as Clemson’s football coach following Tommy Bowden’s midseason firing the year before, Swinney had the interim tag removed heading into the 2009 season. One of his first hires was Woody McCorvey, a 30-year coaching veteran and Swinney’s position coach at the University of Alabama who would serve in an off-field role as his chief of football administration. And there was one other person McCorvey thought Swinney should bring in, too.
At the time, McCorvey was fresh off a five-year stint as Sylvester Croom’s offensive coordinator at Mississippi State, where he worked with a young graduate assistant named Wesley Goodwin. McCorvey was adamant about his potential, Swinney recalled.
“If Woody tells you something, you better listen,” Swinney said. “He didn’t tell me anything about anybody other than, ‘Dab, I’ve got one guy, and you’ve got to find a way to bring him.’”
So he did. Goodwin was a defensive graduate assistant that season for Clemson, where he’s been on and off ever since.
“I didn’t know who he was, but when he got here in ‘09 and I got a chance to start watching him, it was like, ‘OK, this kid is pretty special.’ And then he’s just blossomed.”
To the point that Goodwin is now in charge of the Tigers’ defense, replacing perhaps college football’s top defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, who took the head coaching job at Oklahoma earlier this month. Safeties coach Mickey Conn will also serve as co-defensive coordinator, but Swinney said Goodwin is the one who will be calling the defensive plays.
It’s a significant jump in responsibilities for Goodwin, who’s also been an analyst and, most recently, an off-field assistant for the Tigers. In fact, this is Goodwin’s first on-field coaching role, but Swinney and the rest of the program believe he’s more than prepared for it.
“There’s nobody more respected than Wes Goodwin,” Swinney said. “Nobody.”
Goodwin has worked for some of the more recognizable names at the college and professional levels. Those include Ellis Johnson, Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator when Goodwin was on staff there; Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians; and two different coordinators at Clemson, Venables and Kevin Steele, who was replaced by Venables following the 2011 season.
“Had great relationships with both of those coordinators and learned a ton of ball,” Goodwin said Wednesday in his first public comments since the promotion. “That was very instrumental in my development from a coaching standpoint, just the Xs and Os, the organizational standpoints, the philosophies. Both aggressive mindsets and talking the fight to the offense. From a schematic standpoint, it was unbelievable tutelage during that time.”
Goodwin worked behind the scenes to help both coordinators scout opponents and develop weekly game plans among other tasks. After six seasons at Clemson, Goodwin left in 2015 to be an assistant to Arians, who was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals at the time. But when Arians stepped down from that job in 2018, Swinney wanted him back.
So Goodwin rejoined Clemson’s staff as an analyst before that season, bringing back what Swinney called a “gifted” mind to the Tigers’ defensive staff meetings. The way Swinney described it, Goodwin has the ability to see something and counter with the right defensive alignment immediately, almost knowing what’s coming based on the offense’s formation and personnel.
“He knows it. If you have a breakdown, he knows it right away,” Swinney said. “He’s just gifted. He’s worked at it. I’ve never been around anybody that’s worked harder to be great at what he does. This guy has prepared for a long time for this opportunity, and it’s going to be fun to watch him be who he is and take the reins.”
Swinney said it’s a “miracle” Goodwin is still at Clemson considering the opportunities he’s had to leave again. Goodwin has gotten offers in recent years to go back to the NFL as a linebackers coach, and Swinney said Venables wanted to take Goodwin with him to Oklahoma. But the plan has always been for Goodwin to take over as the defensive coordinator at Clemson once Venables left to be a head coach, something Swinney said he made Goodwin aware of a couple of years ago.
“That’s the only way I kept him,” Swinney said.
Goodwin, who’s married with children, said he was in no rush to leave Clemson.
“Great advice I learned from an early age: Don’t take a job just to take a job. Be patient and wait for the right opportunities,” Goodwin said. “Clemson is a special place. Obviously I’ve spent 10 years of my life here. Both of my girls were born here. A lot of factors. I’m a very loyal guy, and Coach Swinney has been loyal to me as well throughout my career.”
Now the coach that many inside of the program have nicknamed “Wes-lichick” – likening Goodwin’s football acumen to that of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick – has seen that patience pay off. He’ll get his first chance to put that display as a play caller Dec. 29 when Clemson caps its season against Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl as people start to get more familiar with some version of his name.
“Probably ought to go coach a game or two before we get that (nickname) public,” Swinney said with a smile, “but he’s going to be a great one.”
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