Nine years ago, when Charlie Harbison left Clemson for Auburn, a little-known defensive analyst by the name of Wesley Goodwin served as the interim secondary coach for the Tigers’ Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup against LSU.
Of course, Goodwin’s name isn’t a secret at Clemson anymore.
Goodwin is now at the forefront of the Tigers’ defense after largely working behind the scenes on Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s staff on and off since 2009. Almost all of Goodwin’s time at Clemson has been spent in an off-field role, but the 36-year-old’s patience paid off when he was promoted to defensive coordinator earlier this month after Brent Venables took the head coaching job at Oklahoma.
The move, which, like Venables, includes coaching the Tigers’ linebackers, puts Goodwin back on the field in an official capacity for the first time since filling in as the defensive backs coach in 2012.
“Getting back out on the grass was special in itself,” Goodwin said. “That’s why we do this, to be on the field with our players.”
But ask Goodwin or some of Clemson’s other coaches and players, and they’ll tell you there hasn’t been much of a transition from Venables to Goodwin, who’s spent the last four seasons as Venables’ right-hand man as senior defensive assistant. Clemson’s newly minted co-defensive coordinator, Mickey Conn, admitted Venables is a “big piece to lose,” but Conn, who’s also coached Clemson’s safeties since 2017, has seen Goodwin work closely with Venables in recent years.
Count Conn among those in the program that give Goodwin just as much credit for the success Clemson’s defense has had over the years.
The Tigers have had a top-25 scoring defense every season since 2013. Clemson, which enters Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl matchup against Iowa State second nationally in points allowed and ninth in total defense, has been in the top 10 five times during that stretch.
Conn said he hasn’t seen much of a difference between Goodwin, the support staffer, and Goodwin, the on-field coach.
“When he was given the reins to take control, he’s taken control,” Conn said. “He’s drawn up the plays. He’s controlled and signaled those plays. He’s been very aggressive and very confident in coaching his players, getting them ready and hasn’t backed down at all. I saw a guy that was very confident and ready to go. He’s definitely been prepared for this moment.”
Said Goodwin, “I’ve got a lot of on-the-field experience, so it was like getting back in the saddle the first day. Just picked right up and started rolling from there.”
The biggest difference is an obvious one, particularly for the position group Goodwin is responsible for coaching. One of his new pupils, veteran linebacker James Skalski, said a new voice brings change in how the linebackers are coached, but “the method of how we get ready, that’s not really changing.”
Continuity within the coaching staff is also helping Goodwin feel more comfortable in his new role. Venables took a couple of off-field staffers, Ted Roof and Miguel Chavis, with him to OU, where they will be moving into on-field roles. But Conn and the rest of the Tigers’ on-field defensive assistants have stayed put, including defensive line coach Todd Bates, who also had assistant head coach recently added to his title, and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed, who will also coach the special teams going forward.
“We know the process. Know the roles,” Goodwin said. “So it’s just been a great opportunity for us to embrace the new roles and new challenges.”
Skalski said it’s been “really cool” for him to see the new ideas Goodwin has brought to the defense without a complete overhaul. With most of the bowl practice time behind them, the Tigers are ready to display what they’ve been working on under Goodwin in his new role.
“I can’t wait for all of this to show up and to put on a show,” Skalski said.
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