Tough­est job in to­day’s game might be de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor

The Tribune (SLO) - - Sports - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

Clemson de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brent Ven­ables be­gan his coach­ing ca­reer at Kansas State in the mid-1990s, try­ing to come up with ways to stop Ne­braska’s power op­tion. The Corn­huskers were pre­dictable, but of­ten darn near un­stop­pable.

So as far as Ven­ables is con­cerned, coach­ing de­fenses has al­ways been chal­leng­ing. Over 25 years in the busi­ness, the chal­lenges have only in­creased as of­fenses have be­come more var­ied and mul­ti­ple. Touch­downs and yards have never been more plen­ti­ful. FBS records for yards per play, touch­downs per game and points per game set last sea­son are again be­ing chal­lenged in 2018.

“I love the chal­lenge,” said Ven­ables, who has had a top-20 de­fense each of the last five years at Clemson. “Doesn’t mean I al­ways like the re­sult, but I love the chal­lenge.”

As of­fenses hum along, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor has be­come the tough­est job in col­lege foot­ball, of­ten the tar­gets for frus­trated fans whose teams just can’t seem to get a stop. No. 4 Ok­la­homa reached the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off, where the Soon­ers will face No. 1 Alabama on Satur­day in the Or­ange Bowl, after re­plac­ing its de­fen- sive co­or­di­na­tor half­way through the sea­son.

And when schools are look­ing for their next head coach, they have been far more likely in re­cent years to hire the up­com­ing of­fen­sive guru than a guy with a de­fen­sive back­ground. On the bright side for de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors, the pay is great. This sea­son nine of the 10 high­est paid as­sis­tant coaches in col­lege foot­ball were on the de­fen­sive side, along with 16 of the 21 as­sis­tants who made more than $1 mil­lion in salary, ac­cord­ing to USA To­day’s salary data­base.

Ven­ables is No. 2 on that list at $2.2 mil­lion, be­hind LSU’s Dave Aranda ($2.5 mil­lion). Ven­ables and No. 2 Clemson face No. 3 Notre Dame in the Cot­ton Bowl in Satur­day’s first CFP semi­fi­nal. The Fight­ing Ir­ish are on their third d-co­or­di­na­tor in three years in Clark Lea. In 2016, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fired de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian Van­Gorder dur­ing a 4-8 sea­son. Kelly hired Mike Elko away from


Clemson de­fen­sive coach Brent Ven­ables, be­ing pulled back by an as­sis­tant, has had a top-20 de­fense each of the last five years.

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