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A Dark Horse Texans Coaching Prospect: Brent Venables

He hasn’t gotten a ton of attention for the Texans’ head coaching job, but maybe he should?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 ACC Championship Game Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since the Houston Texans are still without a permanent head coach and the team is now (checks calendar) halfway through the regular season with no real hope of making the postseason, one’s thoughts turn lightly to potential new coaches.

Some are pretty well known candidates, like Eric Bieniemy, Greg Roman, Arthur Smith, and (shudders) Josh McDaniels. There’s also a whole slew of up-and-coming candidates like Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore, and Robert Saleh. There’s even talk about trying to lure Lincoln Riley or Dabo Swinney out of the college ranks and onto the biggest stage in football.

They’re all fine candidates and all far more qualified than Bill O’Brien...well, maybe not McDaniels. But none of them are the coach I have in mind. Instead, I cast my eyes in a different direction, toward a coach with a record of success at developing players, who has a previous connection with Deshaun Watson, and who would be a fit with the culture of the Houston Texans, whatever the [kitten] THAT is these days.

I’m talking about current Clemson defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Brent Venables.

Wait! Stop! Before you pick up your pitchforks, hear me out! I know he’s another college coach and the last guy we hired with college experience didn’t exactly work out too well. But consider this: When the Texans hired Bill O’Brien, he was fresh out of his second year at Penn State with an overall record of 15-9, this coming after being the offensive coordinator for the Patriots for all of one year. Not exactly a lot to hang one’s hat on.

Venables, on the other hand, has won three national titles as a defensive coordinator (two with Clemson and one with Oklahoma as co-defensive coordinator). He turned Clemson’s defense from a solid-if-unspectacular unit into one of the best defenses in football.

Clemson Pre- and Post-Venables

Year Average PPG Rank Total YPG Rank Passing YPG Rank Rushing YPG Rank
Year Average PPG Rank Total YPG Rank Passing YPG Rank Rushing YPG Rank
2009 20.4 23 314.3 20 162.8 7 151.5 67
2010 18.8 13 320.3 19 191.8 22 128.5 28
2011 29.3 81 394.4 70 217.5 49 176.9 83
2012 24.8 48 396.5 65 240.3 74 156.2 59
2013 22.2 24 356.7 24 201 16 155.7 53
2014 17.6 7 259.6 1 161.9 3 97.7 7
2015 20.2 18 295.7 7 166.9 5 128.8 23
2016 18.4 12 313.9 9 188.2 19 125.8 22
2017 12.8 2 277.9 6 165.1 8 112.8 13
2018 13.7 2 276.7 4 183.8 18 92.9 3
2019 10.6 1 244.7 1 138.5 1 106.2 9
Venables became Clemson’s DC in 2012, note the change after 2013 once Venables got his players into the system.

Venables became Clemson’s DC in 2012. As you see in the graph above (and the repetitive caption attached) the team’s defense improved dramatically once Venables was able to get his own players into the system.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Why Brent Venables? If we’re going to get a coach from Clemson, why not back a literal dump truck full of money onto Dabo Swinney’s driveway to get him to be the coach?”

That’s a fair point. I’d point to what passes for defense for the Houston Texans. Bill O’Brien didn’t so much leave the cupboard bare on defense so much as he tore it off the wall, burned it in the fireplace, and cooked potatoes in the embers. The Texans’ defense was great many years ago. Bill O’Brien, through incompetence or indifference, let the defense slide into the miserable state we see it in now. And while it’s important to have an offensive coach who knows how to use Deshaun Watson to his fullest potential, it’s equally important, I’d say even more so, to have a coach who has a proven track record as a defensive coach, can spot talent on defense, and hopefully pull off a quick turnaround to make the defense relevant again. Preferably before Deshaun Watson retires.

Why Venables, though? Why not get Robert Saleh or Wink Martindale if the defense is that important? Because Deshaun Watson. As Clemson defensive coordinator, Venables had a front row view of ow Dabo Swinney used Watson at Clemson. Because of this, I expect Venables would have a better idea about who to hire as an offensive coordinator. Someone who would be able to replicate the kind of offense Watson ran at Clemson, where he won a national championship.

Venables is a talented defensive mind and is long overdue to become a head coach. Why not in Houston?

Now, the question of whether he’d be interested and how many dump trucks full of money would it take to get him here, I have no idea. I’ve heard his name mostly mentioned for college head coaching jobs. But if I were the general manager, which I am running for and I have challenged Jack Easterby to a debate for control of the team, I would take a good, hard look at Brent Venables. After all, we’ve done a lot worse.