Clemson pays assistant coaches top dollar, gets top results
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney makes sure his assistants get everything they need to succeed. And they’re well paid for their services, a nice incentive to stick around.
That’s especially true of the Tigers’ trio coordinators, who have guided Clemson to one national championship and are in position to capture another.
The top-ranked Tigers (12-1, No. 1 CFP) face No. 4 Alabama (11-1, No. 4 CFP) in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day with the winner advancing to the College Football Playoff title game a week later in Atlanta.
There’s little doubt Clemson buys into the adage: “You’ve got to spend money to make money.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is college football’s second highest-paid assistan t at $1.7 million a season. Clemson’s co-offensive leaders in Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott make $800,000 apiece, meaning that more than half of the Tigers’ $5.7 million salary for its nine football assistants goes to its position leaders.
These days, that big investment looks like a bargain for the Tigers.
Earlier this month, last year’s Broyles Award winner in Venables handed the trophy to his Clemson colleague Elliott for an honor given to the game’s top assistant.
“It was a really neat moment,” said Venables, 47.
The consistency and familiarity among Clemson’s coordinators have helped them engineer many top moments in Swinney’s nine full seasons.
The Tigers have won four Atlantic Coast Conference titles since 2011, won 10 or more games in seven straight seasons and reached the playoffs each of the past three seasons. It advanced to the championship game before falling to Alabama two years ago, then topped the Crimson Tide for last year’s crown.
Venables, Elliott and Scott all led a team that lost half its 22 starters from a national championship team back into the hunt.
All three were approached about head coaching openings, particularly Venables at Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee. But all three remain at Clemson and locked into another title run.
“Dabo makes sure those guys are taken care of,” said Tommy Bowden, the former Clemson coach who now is part of the ACC Network’s ACC Blitz preview show.
So much so that Venables wondered earlier this month if he’d ever leave the Tigers to be a head coach job.
“You never say never, but man, it doesn’t get much better, if at all, than what we have” at Clemson, Venables said. “Like I said, I’m thankful for what I have and I just have a very good perspective on what we have. There are thousands of guys that would love just the opportunity to be a very small part of this program, so it’s a great situation.”
Swinney needed rock-solid leaders he could depend on and found Chad Morris in 2011 to lead the offense and, a year later, convinced Venables to leave his gig at Oklahoma to revamp the Tigers.
When Morris left for SMU after the 2014 season (Morris was recently hired at Arkansas), Swinney elevated running backs coach Elliott and receivers coach Scott — both former Tiger receivers — to take charge of the attack.
“I wondered if that would work,” said Bowden, who coached Elliott and Scott.
It has worked — Clemson is 41-3 with its three current coordinators in place.
Venables’ defense is once again among the game’s best with a fiercesome front of ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. The Tigers are second nationally in points allowed at fewer than 13 a game.
Elliott, 38, and Scott, who’ll turn 37 on Dec. 28, were expected to get exposed some this season with All-Americans like quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver Mike Williams off to the NFL. Instead, the mix of former reserves like QB Kelly Bryant and new faces like freshman tailback Travis Etienne has Clemson averaging 35 points a game, among the top 25 in the game.
Swinney is grateful to hold onto his staff, a factor he thinks is essential to Clemson’s success.
“I think it’s rare, it’s uncommon in this business that we’ve had great continuity,” Swinney said.
Alabama has been able to sustain a level of success though there has been more turnover on Saban’s staff.
Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was on his way to Georgia after his final game at Alabama against the Tigers in the 2015 title game. Last year, Alabama offensive coordinator Lake Kiffin left for Florida Atlantic the week before facing Clemson for the championship. This time, Alabama defensive leader Jeremy Pruitt is off to Tennessee as head coach after the Tide’s playoff run.
It looks like Clemson’s organizational chart won’t change down the road.
Venables son, Jake, is committed to Clemson for next season with a younger son, Tyler, a rising high school sophomore pointed to the Tigers.
Elliott and Scott both believe they’ve got growing to do before moving on.
“I’m still trying to be the best offensive coordinator I can be,” Elliott said. “Clemson is home.”
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