CLEMSON, S.C. – No. 7 Clemson enters the final two games of the 2013 regular season trying to wrap up yet another successful season. With a win over heavy underdog The Citadel Saturday, the Tigers would clinch their third consecutive 10-win season, something that the program hasn’t accomplished since 1987-90.
Wins in two of their last three games would mean back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time in program history.
And Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC) is in excellent position for its second BCS bowl berth in three seasons, either as an at-large selection or as the ACC’s Orange Bowl representative if No. 2 Florida State finishes unbeaten and makes the BCS national title game.
All that success is wonderful for Clemson, but it also brings added attention to Dabo Swinney’s coaching staff.
Such attention could bring significant changes to that staff next fall. Several Tiger assistants will likely be among the most sought-after candidates on the coaching carousel this winter, which begs the question: what are the odds that Swinney’s staff stays together for the 2014 season?
Swinney and Clemson have been generous with assistant pay: following a 6-7 season in 2010, Swinney made a move to enhance his staff, even if it meant taking less money for himself.
Clemson’s 2011 ACC championship triggered a contract clause that raised Swinney’s salary to the average at the time of the top seven ACC coaches, approximately $2.2 million. With incentives, he made $2.55 million in 2012.
However, Swinney used a clause in his contract to distribute part of that raise among his staff. He spread $265,000 of that raise among his assistants, and Clemson kicked in another $185,000 for a $450,000 raise pool.
When Ohio State approached Chad Morris about its assistant coordinator vacancy following the 2011 season, Clemson extended his contract and raised his salary to $1.3 million annually, tops nationally among assistants.
And when defensive coordinator Kevin Steele left following the Orange Bowl embarrassment at West Virginia’s hands, Swinney and Clemson paid $800,000 annually to lure Brent Venables from Oklahoma to fill his spot.
Together, Morris and Venables make $2.1 million annually, tops among FBS assistants. And according to a recent USA Today analysis, Clemson’s staff made $4.2 million collectively in 2012, also tops among FBS programs.
In other words, the Tigers’ assistants are hardly unappreciated.
So which assistants are the biggest targets for outside suitors? Let’s start with the obvious choice: Morris.
Clemson’s offense is putting together another sterling season under Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle system. Entering Saturday, Clemson averages 511.9 yards of total offense per game (ninth nationally), 41.3 points per game (11th nationally) and 337 yards passing per game (ninth nationally).
Those numbers are on pace, and then some, with 2012’s numbers. A year ago, the Tigers averaged 512.7 yards of total offense (ninth nationally), 41 points per game (sixth nationally) and averaged 321.6 yards passing per game (13th nationally).
|Highest paid college football assistants|
|Chad Morris||Clemson||Offensive coordinator||$1.3 milllion|
|Kirby Smart||Alabama||Defensive coordinator||$1.28 million|
|John Chavis||LSU||Defensive coordinator||$911,000|
|Todd Grantham||Georgia||Defensive coordinator||$825,000|
|Clemson, Alabama, LSU, UGA sports information|
In other words, Morris will be a hot candidate for head coaching positions again. He is highly unlikely to leave for an offensive coordinator position due to his buyout, which requires him to pay a sum equal to the sum of his annual total compensation multiplied by the years remaining on his contract. If he left after this season for an offensive coordinator job, his buyout would be a prohibitive $5.2 million.
However, he has no buyout to leave for a head coaching position. Morris interviewed with Texas Tech and N.C. State last December and was also connected to the openings at Auburn and South Florida.
The Texas native could get serious looks at ACC or Texas schools. SI.com's Pete Thamel wrote Thursday that Morris could be connected with the Virginia job if UVA fires Mike London, or at SMU if the Mustangs oust June Jones, calling him “the top candidate” for SMU’s job.
The resounding success of Morris’ mentor, Gus Malzahn at Auburn only helps, too.
However, Morris appears in no hurry to leave, and money is not a major consideration. Commitment to winning and success is.
“I think you’ve got to look at it, there’s a huge commitment to winning in Clemson. From my deal, my contract, I’m in a situation, it’s going to have to be the right fit before it can happen,” he said last December following the Texas Tech flirtation. “Just to say you’re a head coach, I have no desire to say I’m a head coach at wherever, I have no desire to do that. We’ve got a great situation here, we’re building something special and a great commitment to winning. That’s what’s happening.”
Could Morris bolt? Yes. With star senior quarterback Tajh Boyd graduating and standout junior wideout Sammy Watkins likely bound for the NFL as a projected first-round draft pick, Clemson’s offense could take a step backward next season. But his departure is by no means a done deal.
Venables could also be a candidate to leave the staff. Clemson’s defense has taken a step forward from 2012’s improved season. Through 10 games, Clemson is allowing 21.6 points per game (26th nationally), 372 yards per game (39th nationally), 220.5 passing yards per game (44th nationally), and 151.3 yards rushing per game (46th nationally).
It is no secret that Venables wants to be a head coach: as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator, he actually interviewed for the Clemson head coaching position that Swinney accepted following the 2008 season.
He has a BCS national championship on his resume with Oklahoma in 2000, and his success with Clemson could improve his head coaching stock.
Another coach to watch could be wide receivers coach Jeff Scott, who also serves as Clemson’s recruiting coordinator. Scott has done an excellent job developing wide receivers like Watkins, NFL first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins and junior Martavis Bryant, and has been a relentless recruiter.
Clemson’s 2014 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 11 nationally by Rivals.com, and the Tigers hope to close strong in February. He could be a target for a program looking to find a rising star at offensive coordinator or perhaps even a low-major that wants to take a chance on a head coach.
A year ago, the only departure from Clemson’s staff was defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison, who went to Auburn. This year, I’d say the odds of Swinney’s staff remaining intact are 50-50. The success of Morris and the Tigers’ roster as a whole make it an easy target for opponents, but the assistants’ compensation could make it more difficult for anyone to leave.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
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