Brent Venables wins 2016 Broyles Award, reflects on lessons from mentors

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Tuesday December 06, 2016

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is the winner of the 2016 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.

Venables received the honor at a banquet on Tuesday in Little Rock. It was the third time Venables was a finalist for the award — the second year in a row — and the third time was the charm.

Venables had to replace seven starters from last year’s defense, but the Tigers won the ACC and have reached the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. Clemson’s defense is No. 12 nationally in scoring defense and finished No. 3 in sacks per game and tackles for loss per game, despite four new starters in the front seven.

“This year’s group is incredibly special to me,” Venables said, “but these last four years, the foundation set was a big part of a success of our team.”

Clemson held 7 of 13 opponents to fewer than 14 points, including two shutouts. The Tigers have won at least 11 games in four of the last five years and had done it twice previously in school history.

The other finalists were Pitt OC Matt Canada, Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt, Michigan DC Don Brown and Colorado DC Jim Leavitt.

When complimenting the other finalists, Venables joked that Canada kicked his defense’s teeth in, in Pitt’s 43-42 win at Clemson. But sharing the stage with Leavitt was an honor.

Venables played at K-State from 1991-92, and Leavitt was his position coach. Venables then became a GA at the school for three years. When Leavitt became the South Florida head coach, he wanted to bring Venables if Bill Snyder didn’t promote the GA. But there was a catch.

“Coming from a single-(parent) home, coaches bridged that gap for me. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of strong mentors,” Venables said. “Coach Leavitt offered me my first full-time job. I was a GA at Kansas State for three years. Coach Leavitt was going to South Florida to start that program. What he did there was next to remarkable. It’s no surprise to me. He’s a winner, he’s a fighter, and kids love to play for him.

He offered me a job and said, ‘Look, if Coach Snyder doesn’t hire you to take my spot, I’ve got a job for you.’ He said, ‘I’ve got a job, but I can’t pay ya. You’re going to have to work for free.’ He’s going to hire me full-time. He says, ‘I might be able to get you a car.’ He taught me at a young age that you do this not for the money, but for the love of the kids to help shape and mold and influence their lives in a positive way.”

Venables did get promoted to linebackers coach. The time playing and then coaching with Snyder was eye-opening.

“I remember the first staff meeting I was in as a young GA,” Venables said. “I was in awe of how thorough Coach Snyder was. There’s nothing he doesn’t think of. His organizational skills, his attention to detail, the consistency, he’s never really high or low. A tremendous mentor and made a tremendous impact for me as a coach.”

Venables added that his 13 years under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma taught him to be a family man, and working with Dabo Swinney since 2012 has taught him to be more positive.

“Coach Swinney is as authentic as it gets in this business,” Swinney said. “He makes himself very vulnerable. He’s not afraid to have his guard down in a profession where we all have it up 24/7. He’s a glass half-full, a perpetuator of the positive. He loves life, he loves players and has a genuine love, concern and appreciation for players. If I’ve learned something, it’s that.”

Since the award’s inception in 1996, more than 20 percent of Broyles Award finalists became head coaches, including six of the previous eight winners (Kirby Smart, Kevin Wilson, Gus Malzahn, Bob Diaco, Pat Narduzzi and Tom Herman).

Venables’ name has been in the mix for head coaching jobs in years past, but as one of the highest-paid coordinators, he can afford to wait for the right fit to come along. For the time being, he’s got another national championship shot to get ready for. 

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to