Which direction will Swinney go to fill his latest staff vacancy?

Which direction will Swinney go to fill his latest staff vacancy?


Which direction will Swinney go to fill his latest staff vacancy?


Clemson’s football program has yet another vacancy on its coaching staff that Dabo Swinney could go about filling multiple ways.

It’s not exactly a small one either.

Todd Bates is leaving to join Brent Venables’ staff at Oklahoma after five seasons at Clemson. Bates not only coached the Tigers’ defensive tackles, but he also served as Swinney’s recruiting coordinator and was recently promoted to assistant head coach, a void left by former offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.

The same day that promotion for Bates became official last month, Swinney referred to him as a “future head coach.” But unlike Venables and Elliott, who’s now calling the shots at Virginia, Bates isn’t leaving Clemson – and a roughly $250,000 annual raise – to be a head coach. He’ll take on a similar role with the Sooners, though he is expected to assume some co-coordinator duties as well.

The question now is in which direction does Swinney go to find Bates’ replacement?

Given Swinney’s propensity for promoting from within his coaching staff, it only seems right to start with possible internal candidates, though there are fewer viable ones.

Clemson’s top off-feld defensive assistant, Wesley Goodwin, was promoted to defensive coordinator and linebackers coach following Venables’ departure and went through his first game in his new role in Clemson’s Cheez-It Bowl win over Iowa State. Former Clemson defensive lineman Miguel Chavis, who was working in a player development role at his alma mater, might’ve been the most natural fit to coach the defensive tackles given his experience playing the position, but Venables took Chavis with him to OU, where he’ll be the defensive ends coach.

One current off-field staffer that could transition to an on-field coaching role is John Grass, though going from a head coach to a position coach might be a stretch. Grass recently joined Clemson’s staff as an analyst after spending the last eight seasons as an FCS head coach at Jacksonville State, where he accumulated a 72-26 record. 

Before his time at JSU — where, ironically enough, Grass was Bates’ boss from 2014-16 — he coached in the Alabama high school ranks, spending time as an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and head coach. So maybe a return to the defensive side of the ball isn’t completely out of the question for Grass.

If it is, or it that’s simply not the route Swinney wants to go, Swinney could try to lure Chavis back to Clemson, where Chavis was a defensive tackle from 2007-10. There’s also the possibility that Swinney could reassign positional coaching duties within his current staff – he recently added special-teams coordinator to cornerbacks coach Mike Reed’s title, for example – and bring in another assistant to coach a position other than defensive tackles.

That’s part of Swinney’s second option, which is to make an outside hire. And if Swinney wants to hire an established defensive line coach to handle the interior linemen (Lemanski Hall is still coaching the defensive ends for the time being), there are three candidates with Clemson ties who could be in the running, though one is far less likely than the others.

Former Clemson defensive lineman Nick Eason has eight years of experience coaching at the college and professional levels after a decade-long playing career in the NFL. Eason just finished his first season as the defensive line coach at Auburn, where he coached second-team all-SEC lineman Derick Hall.

Before that, Eason helped coach defensive lines for the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals. He was an assistant defensive line coach for the Browns and Titans before being promoted to the Titans’ full-time line coach after his first two seasons in Tennessee. Eason, a two-time captain at Clemson and a first-team all-ACC performer as a senior, spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons as the Bengals’ defensive line coach before being hired at Auburn.

Brentson Buckner has followed a similar path into the profession.

A second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Clemson in 1994, Buckner played 12 seasons in the NFL before transitioning into coaching. Currently the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive line coach, Buckner has been coaching in the NFL since 2010 and has told The Clemson Insider when previous vacancies have come up on Clemson’s coaching staff that he has no interest in coaching at the collegiate level.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Da’Quan Bowers is coaching Jeff Scott’s defensive line at South Florida. The nation’s former No. 1 overall recruit, Bowers was a star defensive end at Clemson from 2008-10 before being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of 2011 NFL Draft. He returned to Clemson in 2018 to work with the defensive line as a student coach and has been on Scott’s staff at USF since 2019.

Another name worth mentioning: Marion Hobby, who’s worked on Swinney’s staff before as a defensive line coach.

Hobby, who coached Clemson’s defensive ends and also served as co-defensive coordinator from 2011-16, replaced Eason as Cincinnati’s defensive line coach this season. Before that, he coached in the same role for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.

Any of their credentials would certainly be appealing on the recruiting trail, where Bates was named Rivals.com’s Recruiter of the Year for the 2020 recruiting cycle. Bates helped the Tigers land consensus top-10 recruiting classes nationally in 2020 and 2021, which included blue-chip defensive linemen Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy and DeMonte Capehart.

Bowers doesn’t have nearly the coaching experience of Eason, Buckner and Hobby, but Buckner doesn’t have any experience recruiting as part of a collegiate staff. Like Buckner, though, it’s hard to envision Hobby leaving the NFL for college if it’s not going to be for a title higher than a position coach.

Of course, Swinney could also go off the beaten path to find Bates’ replacement. It’s another important hire for Clemson’s head coach whichever route he ends up taking.

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