Exclusive: Lincoln Riley Sees a Clemson Offense That’s ‘Primed for Success’

If Clemson and Dabo Swinney are expecting a big boost on the scoring side of the ball with the hire of Garrett Riley, there’s one sitting head coach who’s offering quick impact. 

USC Trojans’ Lincoln Riley, brother of Garrett, doesn’t think it will take long for the Tigers to feel the effects of an offensive change. 

“Garrett was in a great position at TCU and wasn’t certainly looking to leave by any stretch,” Lincoln Riley told All Clemson Tigers’ Brad Senkiw during an exclusive interview for 105.5 The Roar. “As he kind of took a step back and looked at this, and we had a chance to chat about it just a little bit, you could look at this situation and see it’s primed for success and I know he feels that and is excited to go in there and do his part.”

Lincoln, the older brother who learned the Air Raid offense at Texas Tech from Mike Leach just like Garrett did, said Garrett Riley, who hasn’t been made available to the media yet, is a great communicator who will instantly impact the players and staff on a Clemson offense that’s looking to get closer to the elite status it held during a six-year run of College Football Playoff appearances. 

“He’s going to communicate what’s necessary, but he also understands that you’ve got to be able to also find a way to keep it simple enough that these guys can really understand it and get confident in it, go produce,” Lincoln said. “And he’s got a great feel for where that line is and that’s, I think that’s critical.”

Lincoln certainly knows a lot about this offensive style. He rose up the ranks quickly to become the head coach at Oklahoma at age 33. He led the Sooners to four playoff appearances, one as a coordinator and had USC in playoff contention in his first year with the program. He’s coached three Heisman Trophy winners. 

The Tigers ranked among the highest-scoring teams in the country for several years with the likes of Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence quarterbacking the program, along with NFL-caliber receivers and running backs. 

But Clemson took a dip in production in the 2021 campaign, falling to 99th in total offense. After OC Tony Elliott left to be the head coach at Virginia, QB coach Brandon Streeter was elevated to playcaller in 2022, and the Tigers did show improvement, rising to No. 48 in total offense. 

However, even though then-QB DJ Uiagalelei got better, the jump wasn’t drastic enough, and Clemson struggled to produce explosive plays, even with young QB Cade Klubnik against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. 

That led Swinney to fire Streeter on Jan. 5 and immediately replace him with the run-heavy Air Raid OC from TCU who helped the Horned Frogs reach the national championship game in his first season with the program. It was a quick and impressive feat. 

“He’ll get (the offense) implemented quickly, and that won’t take long,” Lincoln said. “The good thing is he’s already done this at a couple of schools and done it with a large amount of success. He’s going to walk in that door knowing exactly what needs to be done and get everybody in the right spot.” 

Here’s what else Lincoln Riley had to say during the interview: 

On the fit for both Garrett Riley and Clemson

“Well, I think first with the staff and the culture there. We’ve gotten to know Dabo and know his family, that staff the last several years. Actually crossed paths randomly snow skiing with those guys a couple of times and I’ve got to be around them a lot and seeing just kind of how they run the program, you know how Dabo leads…that kind of the family first feel. Then competing at a high level but doing it with integrity and character I think was very very important to the fit for Garrett and for his family.

And so I think that’s a great fit. And then obviously you know there’s a lot of really talented football players there and they’re looking for a little bit of a spark offensively to get them ratcheted back up again. Garrett is excited about the opportunity to work with those coaches there, to work with those players.”

On the success of two small-town Texas brothers

“We’ve been able to coach some of the great places that we’ve been and now getting to coach at two of the most special college football programs out there, albeit, on opposite coasts, it’s pretty cool. We’ve been lucky. We’ve been in some great situations and worked hard and it’s been very special. Certainly, for me it’s been even more special, him being a part of the business and seeing his success and happiness doing that. And I know he’s ecstatic to be there at Clemson. The opportunity means a lot to him and he will do a tremendous job there.”  

What he sees watching Clemson

“My sense of watching Clemson is they were close and a lot of times probably not as far away when it wasn’t going well, as people thought. A lot of times it could just be a quick kind of philosophy change or a change in a coach or coordinator to just come in and give it that little spark to get it going. I see what you would expect: a lot of talented players on the field, a young quarterback that I think people should be excited about and obviously a history of a lot of great players.”

On Garrett Riley being a head coach one day

“I wouldn’t say in a hurry. I think he certainly wants to be, but not necessarily in a hurry. I think he’s more concerned with being in the right situations with the right people, having chances to have success and you keep doing that and you do a good job in the roles that you’re at, those opportunities will show up. So he’s not worried about that right now. He wants to do the best job for Clemson that he can. I can promise you that that will be his only focus.” 

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