Whenever people talk about the future of Kansas State football, the one that comes after Bill Snyder, they always mention a few of the same names.
One of those names is Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Right now, he might be one of the hottest names in the country.
But unlike so many other assistants who rise to the status Venables has over the past few years, the next step isn’t one that’s always on his mind.
Why isn’t Venables a head coach right now? It’s a hard question to answer. He’s 46, at the prime of his coaching career, and now he’s fresh off of a Broyles Award for the top assistant in college football and, oh yeah, a national championship-winning defense in his current post.
“You look at the best head-coaching jobs in the country,” said Venables told ESPN last month, “and I’ve got a very good DC version of it. I’ve got a great job.”
Venables is a Salina native. He played at K-State from 1991 to 1992 and then became an assistant coach as Snyder built the program into a more prominent position in college football. After serving as linebacker coach from 1996 to 1998, Venables left for a defensive coordinator position at Oklahoma and then stayed there for 13 years. And always, he’s been a name on the top of Wildcat fans’ tongues.
When Snyder retired in 2005, he was among a few fan favorite choices to come to the Little Apple and keep the program going. According to former K-State president Jon Wefald’s book, “The Transformative Years at Kansas State,” Venables wasn’t on a top three candidates list that included Jim Leavitt, Randy Shannon and Gary Patterson. Venables’ name again floated around three years later when Ron Prince was fired, but Snyder returned to the helm of the program instead.
In 2012, Venables’ time at Oklahoma seemed to have run out. Bob Stoops announced his brother, Mike, was returning to take over his old position as defensive coordinator. Venables was hesitant, but his wife helped convince him to leave a place he felt comfortable and take on the challenge of turning around the Clemson defense.
“He was going to do it, and then he wasn’t,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told ESPN. “I think she sold him on it, that it was the right decision.”
Clemson’s become a dominant force in college football since his arrival and made appearances in the last two national championship games. The defense was a big part of it. This year the Tigers put together a masterful defensive performance against Ohio State to reach the title game.
The same questions will linger now that Venables has his second national championship as an assistant. Why isn’t he a head coach?
Venables makes a hefty $1.4 million to coach the Clemson defense, comparable to some head coach salries, and it’s likely to go up. Then there’s the comfort factor. Venables reportedly hates change and prefers the stability he has at Clemson today.
It’s not that there haven’t been offers. When Gary Pinkel retired as Missouri coach last year, Venables was believed to be an early favorite. But he stuck on at Clemson. Head coaching offers have come and gone.
“My agent calls me and says, ‘These guys are interested,’ and I’m absolutely not,” Venables told ESPN. “I’m good.”
Swinney, the man he’s worked under for the past five years, doesn’t know if Venables could function somewhere he doesn’t have a chance to win. It’s not that he thinks Venables doesn’t want to be a head coach, but he believes it would have to be a special situation for him to leave where he is.
“I think he’d be a great head coach,” Swinney told CBS Sports. “I know he’s had opportunities to be a head coach. I just don’t think the right opportunity has come along that he’s wanted for whatever reason.”
K-State could be a special job for Venables if and when it opens. It would be a homecoming. But Oklahoma might be another job for which Venables is willing to wait. Or maybe the 46-year-old doesn’t want to venture that far out of his comfort zone.
The only thing for sure is when Snyder does call it a career, fans will still mention Venables as the potential next candidate.
And only Venables will know if he’s ready to take the next step.
“I just believe in simplicity,” Venables told ESPN. “Sometimes I think people go out of their way to complicate things.”