Brent Venables has been coaching college football since 1993 and has worked at only three different schools during those 25 years.
The reason he has not followed the path of many coaches in his profession and moved from place to place searching for a promotion? Venables has very specific standards when it comes to what he wants in a job.
The 46-year-old, who is serving in his sixth season as Clemson’s defensive coordinator, is a hot name for head coaching jobs right now and is rumored to be a candidate at Arkansas and Tennessee. Venables was in Arkansas for the Broyles Award ceremony Monday night and spoke with Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo about what he is looking for in a head coaching job.
“I think, for me personally, there’s got to be a lot of things that are right with the situation, and sometimes the reason those jobs are open is because things aren’t exactly right,” Venables said. “But I always look first and foremost at an alignment. There needs to be a strong foundation in regards to the alignment of the administration, whether that’s the president or chancellor or athletic director. Where there’s a vision, there’s a commitment, and obviously places where you have a great chance to have success if XYZ is there for you.”
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In addition to working at Clemson, Venables has also had lengthy stints at his alma mater, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.
He enjoyed incredible success at both schools, winning a national title with Oklahoma in 2000 and coming up just short in 1997 and 1998 at Kansas State as the Wildcats won 11 games both years.
Venables is a big reason why Clemson won its first national championship since 1981 last season and why the Tigers are in the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive year.
He credits the leadership at Kansas State, Oklahoma and Clemson for helping him be successful.
“I’ve just been at three places… and at all of those places ultra successful,” Venables said. “But the leadership at all three of those places was as good as it gets. So I think that that’s a deal breaker when you’re looking at those situations, and so I think what we have, what I have at Clemson now and what I’ve experienced is not the norm. And when you can get that now all of a sudden the stars are, quote, ‘starting to align,’ so that’s important to me if I’m going to pick up my family. And the Clemson move was easily the hardest thing I’ve done in my professional career. And the people were great but just very loyal.”
Timing is also important to Venables. He has been interested in head coaching jobs before in his career, but the timing was not right.
In 1998 when he was at Kansas State, the Wildcats were playing Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game as the No. 2 team in the country.
Venables interviewed for a job at Oklahoma the week leading up to the game, and the Wildcats ended up blowing a 15-point fourth quarter lead and losing in double overtime.
“Everybody goes, ‘Oh, they were distracted,’ ” Venables recalled. “And I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to leave Kansas State to go to Oklahoma. ... But my name and that time of my career has always been tied to that loss. It might’ve been the most devastating loss that I’ve been a part of because, had we won, we’re playing in the national championship probably against Tennessee. And I just did not like that association.”
A couple of years later when Venables was at Oklahoma, he had an opportunity to interview for the Missouri head coaching job as the Sooners were preparing to play for the Big 12 title, but he opted not to after the experience at Kansas State. He added that he has maintained that philosophy throughout his coaching career since the Wildcats lost the Big 12 title in 1998.
“I was like, ‘You know what, I just told myself don’t ever put yourself back in this position,’ and so I called him and said, ‘You know what, I can’t do it,’ ” Venables said of the Missouri job. “So we’ve had some opportunities. ... Even last week. And just my moral compass said be loyal to coach (Dabo) Swinney and Clemson and the people at Clemson that have been so good to me. So it’s not easy to juggle, and there’s probably no right or wrong answer, but that’s kind of how I’ve always handled the situation.”