Clemson defensive boss Wes Goodwin gaining confidence in Year 2

CLEMSON — On the road recruiting, Clemson defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin had more than enough time on his hands to think.
Whether it was a night alone in a hotel room, or driving his car from one state to the next, Goodwin thought through his first season leading the Tigers' defense. He'd pull out his iPad and make notes in his journal, identifying concepts that worked and those that didn't.
It's safe to say the 38-year-old Alabamian, who served a decade in a behind-the-scenes role under Brent Venables, heads into Year 2 as Clemson's coordinator with a better understanding of what his job entails. As much time as he spent watching, envisioning himself in Venables' shoes, there is no replacement for having feet touching the soles.
"Until you’re thrown in the fire, you don't necessarily know," Goodwin said. "So it's definitely a learning experience every day."
Ex-OC Chad Morris expected to rejoin Clemson as volunteer consultant
Goodwin's lack of experience as a coordinator, and even as a position coach, made Dabo Swinney's choice to elevate the former analyst the more surprising of his two coordinator picks in December 2021. But the other choice, former quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter, didn't even get the luxury of a second season, replaced by Garrett Riley this offseason.
Swinney, a receivers coach turned head man who has established a practice of promoting within, when possible, continues to stand behind Goodwin, who certainly didn't have a bad first season, considering the circumstances.
What was believed to be a loaded defensive line was deprived of Bryan Bresee multiple times because of on- and off-field hardships. The ACC's reigning defensive rookie of the year, Andrew Mukuba, played beat up and out of position. The secondary, as a whole, suffered growing pains as sophomore Nate Wiggins settled into a starting role and senior Sheridan Jones missed time to injury.
Considering the circumstances, it was far from a bad season. The Tigers finished 28th nationally in total defense, surrendering just over 334 yards a game. They allowed just under 21 points a contest, which ranked 20th.
But Goodwin isn't shying away from improvement, personally, and for a defense that didn't quite meet the lofty standard set by Venables. Clemson ranked in the top 15 in total defense every other year dating back to 2014, including seven inside the top 10. It was just the third time in that span the Tigers allowed 20-plus points a game.
The main culprit was a pass defense that finished 76th, allowing nearly 232 yards per outing.
"It was a huge roller coaster last year from emotions and just challenges, injuries, guys playing banged up ... obviously, me being a first-year coordinator, inexperienced in the back seven," Goodwin said. "But really proud of the way that those guys really, really fought and gave it everything they got."
Goodwin gave everything he had, which was admittedly a lot. He learned how pressurized the job can really feel, not only presenting challenges as a coach, but also as a husband and a father of a young family.
A first-time coordinator doesn't know what he doesn't know. While he felt good in the headset during his first game, in the Cheez-It Bowl versus Iowa State, Goodwin learned it's different to call plays rather than just suggesting them, like he did with Venables. He had to stand on the sideline in front of players, offering adjustments and trying to find ways to instill confidence.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney upbeat on expectations, competition for 2023
And then there's recruiting. And managing a staff. And leading practices.
"You grow your character, you know? How to deal with all the stresses, tune out all the noise, and focus on the task at hand," Goodwin said. "But yeah, it definitely grinds you up."
It was a lot.
But throughout his first season, Clemson coaches and players noted signs of Goodwin's growth, hearing the cerebral and generally mild-mannered man become more fiery and assertive.
"It's funny, because he goes from being the guy at the back of the room, and now he's the guy at the front of the room," said cornerbacks coach Mike Reed, the most-tenured assistant on staff. "It's like watching a young kid who can't crawl. And then he crawls. And then the next thing you know, he's running.
"I think Wes didn't even crawl. He got up and started running."
If the Tigers are going to pick up their pace as a defense, they know what's required.
As far as Clemson's pass defense goes, he doesn't believe true coverage "busts" were responsible for opponents' big plays as much as poor fundamentals. The secondary's pieces have to apply techniques and maintain leverage.
Goodwin feels good about his rate of blitz pressure in 2022, but the Tigers could stand to get a more consistent rush from their front four; 18 of Clemson's 44 sacks came from second- and third-level defenders last season, and no defensive lineman eclipsed 6.5 sacks.
Turnovers, in particular, have also been an emphasis for Goodwin since spring. Clemson finished tied for 37th nationally in turnovers forced with 21.
"You never know when they're going to happen, but they make a huge, huge difference," Goodwin said. "And you get what you emphasize."
Goodwin has a better idea of what he wants and how he intends to get it as a second-year coordinator. Swinney believes his protege is more comfortable as this season gets underway, and that will only improve with time.
"Anytime you do something, you get better as you go," Swinney said. "I hired him because I really believed in him, and he's got a great future, for sure, in this profession."
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wants national NIL oversight
• Chad Morris, who was Clemson's offensive coordinator from 2011-14, is expected to rejoin the staff as a volunteer consultant this season. Since his stint with the Tigers, Morris was the head coach at SMU (2015-17) and Arkansas (2018-19) and spent one season at Auburn (2020) as a coordinator.
• Clemson has dismissed second-year reserve linebacker T.J Dudley due to a violation of team rules. Dudley has reportedly entered the NCAA's transfer portal.
Follow Jon Blau on Twitter @Jon_Blau. Plus, receive the latest updates on Clemson athletics, straight to your inbox, by subscribing to The Tiger Take.

Latest Player Notes

If that really was Drake Maye’s last game in Chapel Hill, it provided a fitting full-circle ending

UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2023 2:49 PMHere was Drake Maye in the middle of it all late Saturday night, in the middle of the kind ...

Shedeur Sanders closing in on CU Buffs single-season records through pain of all the sacks and hits

PUBLISHED November 13, 2023 at 12:38 p.m. | UPDATED: November 13, 2023 at 12:40 p.m.BOULDER — Shedeur Sanders is closing ...

Tenth Anniversary of Kick Six: Inside video, "Official" look at Historic Iron Bowl Shocker

Published Nov. 13, 2023, 6:00 a.m.By Creg Stephenson See and hear history behind Kick Six (excuse the ads, but this is ...

Goodman: Jimbo Fisher is out and Nick Saban wins again

Updated: Nov. 13, 2023, 10:00 a.m.|By Joseph GoodmanJimbo Fisher is out at Texas A&M, which goes to show that even when a ...

Huard on Huskies: Why a win over No. 10 Oregon St would be huge

The No. 5 UW Huskies’ quest to make the College Football Playoff went through the two-time defending Pac-12 champions on ...

USC’s loss to Oregon exposes clear flaws in program-building up front

EUGENE, Ore. — In January, Lincoln Riley was on the sidelines at SoFi for the College Football Playoff championship game, ...

Two years after winning school-record 12 games, Brady Hoke out as Aztecs football coach

Brady Hoke is out as San Diego State’s football coach.SDSU released a statement Monday morning saying that Hoke is retiring, ...

Oregon’s Bo Nix named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for third time in 2023

Oregon’s Bo Nix earned his third weekly honor from the Pac-12.Nix, who went 23 of 31 for a season-high 412 yards with four ...

Oregon Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning mentioned as a leading candidate for Texas A&M job

Oregon Ducks head coach Dan Lanning has been mentioned as a leading candidate to replace Jimbo Fisher as coach of the Texas ...

After ‘tough day,’ Boise State AD searches for a football coach; defensive analyst promoted

Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey was on the job for less than a week the last time he began a search for a football ...
See More Player Notes