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I’ve Been Convinced, Clemson’s Internal Promotions May Be Wise

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Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Have you ever gotten a promotion and felt energized? Have you seen someone who was a good performer at work get promoted and with the added responsibility and excitement become even better? Perhaps Clemson is about to experience this after the departures of Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Brent Venables and Offensive Coordinator/Tights Ends Coach Tony Elliott set off a spate of internal promotions.

On the defensive side, Wes Goodwin was promoted from senior defensive analyst to co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. He will be the primary play-caller. Safeties Coach Mickey Conn shed his special teams duties and added co-defensive coordinator responsibilities. Clemson’s outstanding cornerbacks coach, Mike Reed, added special teams coordinator to his role, and Defensive Tackles Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Todd Bates added Assistant Head Coach to his title.

Almost immediately after the news that Brent Venables was headed to Oklahoma broke, we started hearing that the replacement would be made internally, and very quickly we started hearing that a previously unknown staffer, Wes Goodwin, could be in line to not only become an on-field coach, but call plays as a co-defensive coordinator.

At first, hearing a senior analyst was going to replace the best defensive coordinator in the country was unsettling, but as I’ve read more and listened to Coach Swinney’s December 14th press conference, I can see how Coach Goodwin running the defense could work out very nicely for Clemson. Firstly, players – past and present – rave about him:

This is encouraging because, in addition to being a great coach, Goodwin must be a great recruiter. Losing Coach Venables has already hurt in this regard as three blue-chip recruits from IMG Academy in Florida de-committed following his departure. Nobody has the track record that Coach Venables has as a defensive coordinator, but if Goodwin can maintain Clemson’s defensive success of the past decade and connect with players and recruits, he can start building a track record of his own and bring in top tier talent.

Goodwin is an internal hire, but he worked under Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State before coming to Clemson. He also left Clemson after six years and diversified his resume by spending three years in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant to Head Coach Bruce Arians. Arians had the following to say about Coach Goodwin:

“Attacking defense,” you say? Goodwin says he wants his defenses to be “aggressive, attacking, and bring the fight to the offense.” After enjoying Venables' blitz-heavy style for so long, hearing this is encouraging.

Bruce Arians left the Cardinals following the 2017 season (he is now the Head Coach of the reigning Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers) and Wes Goodwin rejoined Clemson. Between his two tenures at Clemson, Goodwin has been a part of Swinney’s staff for 10 years. For those concerned that Coach Swinney was simply awarding tenure, that seems to clearly not be the case. The Post and Courier says he turned down assistant linebacker coach roles with both the Browns and the Giants. Furthermore, ESPN reports that Coach Venables wanted to bring him to Oklahoma.

Wes Goodwin is 36 years old and could be in line for a decade-plus of success coordinating at Clemson.

With Tony Elliott becoming the head coach at Virginia, QB Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Brandon Streeter was promoted to offensive coordinator. Kyle Richardson, who was the high school coach at Northwestern in Rock Hill, SC before serving in numerous roles at Clemson, including as the director of high school relations and special assistant to the offense, was promoted to tight ends coach/passing game coordinator.

I’ll admit, my first reaction to this news was one of disappointment. Clemson’s offense was downright pitiful for much of this season. Even in the last two games when they seemed to figure out the running game, the passing game was still paltry with DJ Uiagalelei throwing for just 99 yards against the Gamecocks. Promoting from within when the unit was struggling so badly doesn’t feel right, especially when there are so many talented outside hires that could be considered. Joe Brady, Willie Korn, Tom Manning, and even Dan Mullen were some of the coaches I was initially hoping to see.

Following Coach Swinney’s press conference, I’ve changed my tune somewhat. Based on Swinney’s comments, it sounds like Swinney and Streeter had the type of career-planning discussions great managers have with their direct reports in the corporate world. Coach Swinney observed and evaluated Streeter’s ability and character for years, much better than any job interview, and planned for Streeter to move up to offensive coordinator once Tony Elliott took the inevitable next step in his career and left to become a head coach. In his comments, Swinney shared that Streeter had multiple SEC offensive coordinator job opportunities as well as NFL opportunities but passed in anticipation of this role with Clemson.

Syndication: The Greenville News
Streeter has waited his turn for this opportunity at Clemson and his patience has now paid off for him.
Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Streeter played at Clemson and was a graduate assistant for the Tigers in 2004, but left to work at Liberty. He was there for six years and called plays for three seasons. He then went over to Richmond where he called plays for three more seasons. In all, he has six years of offensive play-calling experience. He left Richmond to come to Clemson in 2015 when the QB coach role came open following Chad Morris’s departure to SMU. Moving from offensive coordinator to QB coach is a step down, but the bump in program stature offset that and in hindsight, the move paid off for him. Coach Swinney says he is “overprepared for this opportunity and deserves it.”

Kyle Richardson, the new tight ends coach and passing game coordinator, won two state titles at Northwestern High School. He coached numerous future P5 quarterbacks including Mason Rudolph, who went on to be an excellent QB at Oklahoma State. He installed an air raid offense there and subsequently shattered the school’s passing records. He is 43 years old and has been with Clemson for six seasons. Given his history with football in the state and prior role with high school relations, one may surmise that he could be a plus recruiter. He will not coach in the bowl due to back surgery (Thomas Austin will coach tight ends), but hopefully will be out recruiting soon after.

All of this sounds great, but the proof is in the pudding and that’s what makes the upcoming bowl game against Iowa State so big. If Clemson’s offense sputters and play-calling looks bland and predictable, you better believe there will be a lot of worried fans. The same applies to the defense. Clemson’s defense has been outstanding all season and with word that Andrew Booth is not opting-out and the only new injury is LB Baylon Spector (hand surgery), there’s really no excuse for a let-down. An ugly loss could set off panic and even hurt recruiting which remains ongoing after a small, incomplete class signed during the early signing period. Conversely, a big-time win will harken back to the 40-6 Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma in 2014 and set the course for an off-season full of optimism and anticipation.