Brent Venables and Tony Elliott: A Tale of Two Coaches

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

This is an over used line from “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens but I can think of nothing more appropriate to describe the situation surrounding Clemson offensive coordinator, Tony Elliott and former defensive coordinator, Brent Venables.

It is a time of immense change for Clemson, with Venables departure, and it looking like Elliott will do so as well. While Venables and his defense experienced the best of times, Elliott and Clemson’s offense are experiencing the worst of times. I guess the question by most within the Clemson family is, ‘how did we get here?’ and ‘how did it all happen so quickly?’

My point here is not to beleaguer the point of Elliott’s fate, and it’s not intended to pit his and Venables’ success against the other. It’s not to offer a solution, nor suggest the entire assessment of blame fall on Elliott’s shoulders. The point I will focus on is how the heck did we get here and where does this road take us. Also, why are Venables and Elliott viewed differently?

Three years ago this fanbase was in high cotton, basking in the glory of a second National Championship after smashing Alabama 44-16. Everyone was stumbling all over themselves to find the perfect adjective to describe such a near perfect, total performance. The road ahead appeared as smooth as glass.

Fast forward to this season. That once smooth road has become a back country, pothole strewn secondary highway. The once mighty, well oiled offensive machine is broken and has found itself, in the off-season entering the shop for a diagnosis.

Is it an easy fix or is it going to require a complete overhaul? The verdict is yet to be rendered but Dabo Swinney is a man of action, a man acutely aware of the problems and vows to correct them.

I think the real crux of the matter isn’t what actually happened with the Clemson offense but how quickly it, whatever “it” is, happened. The sense of urgency has not gone unnoticed. Fans have been paying close attention as this offense sputtered since that first Saturday in September against Georgia. Up until the last three outings of the season, this offense has been completely flat. Something was/is wrong, very, very wrong.

In the game of football or even badminton, you’re only as good as your last game or match. Fans with short memories and even shorter patience, like a winner, period.

For much of the season, the offense wasn’t clicking. Something was missing. Points, production and progress. Still believers, fans waited for this engine to fire. And waited and waited. Things just weren’t happening, leaving even the coaches scratching their heads. In someways, they’re still scratching.

Bluntly, many wanted change. Change in focus, change in schemes, change in playbooks and finally a change in coaching. It is unbelievable but that’s where we are and in Elliott’s own words, ‘it is what it is.’

So, after a tumultuous 9-3 season supported completely by Venables’ staunch, stingy defense, others would look at that record and scoff at those dissatisfied by labeling this fanbase as spoiled. That’s a fair assessment but at the same time is it unreasonable for this massively talented team to have struggled, stumbled and fallen without hard questions being asked.

So, here we are, this past week has been an emotional rollercoaster ride. Venables has left the building and his departure leaves some with a sense of impending doom. Elliott is a viable candidate at Duke, yet his possible departure seems less gloomy. How did we get here, at this moment in time? Honestly, It was simply inevitable.

Change, painful or welcomed, will happen. Things like complacency, routines and stagnation start to creep in and there comes a time for all involved, to re-access everything. Enter Swinney, proactive, mindful, passionate and protective of the program he’s created. He knows the deal.

It’s completely unfair to pin this past season’s struggles only on one person, or one group but that’s what a real leader does, he makes the hard decisions about the state of his program.

While never one to sit on his hands nor turn his back on a friend and former player, Swinney has been left to answer those questions that have been swirling around this offense all season. I think it’s safe to say, he has a plan and that plan calls for change on some or all levels. We the fans must trust and wait.

Finally, I’m struck with the stark difference surrounding Venables’ departure and Elliotts’s possible departure. With Venables, there was a sense of shock and disbelief. All knew, despite the loss, it was just a matter of opportunity, him leaving for a familiar place and the plan of building something of his own making.

With Elliott, it somehow seems different. It seems like it’s a ‘not if he leaves but when he leaves’ proposition. Though the same reasons for leaving certainly apply to him, his departure seems more urgent and less shocking. More acceptable and less dreaded. I’m as ambivalent as anyone and I don’t know whether to be sad or hopeful. I guess both would be appropriate.

Elliot, like Venables, is deserving of his own program and has done his job well at Clemson. He has been an exceptional leader, builder of men and has an impressive body of work. No one can deny that his fingerprints, along with Venables, are all over the massive amounts of success Clemson has had and neither will ever be forgotten, nor should they.

So, if this week ends like it began, with Venables departure and Elliott’s likely departure for bigger and better personal and professional opportunities, all within the Clemson Family will be forever changed. As we have learned so many times before, change, even hard change is difficult, but necessary.

If this change occurs, it will be a fresh, new beginning for all. Swinney, Venables and Elliott. At that moment, this change will be a good place to say thanks to both Brent Venables and Tony Elliott, for everything they have both done to leave Clemson better than each found it. Good Luck. These men, especially Elliott, regardless of the difficulties this past season, deserves no less.

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