Riley Hiring Sends Firm Message to Clemson Coaching Staff

(Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on January 17, 2023)

No head coach in college football is as loyal as Dabo Swinney.

Clemson’s architect of two national championships and eight ACC titles in the last 12 years will stand by his players and coaches to the bitter end if he has to.

Case in point, DJ Uiagalelei.

Swinney never stopped believing in Uiagalelei and gave him an opportunity to prove himself all the way through the ACC Championship Game.

When it comes to his coaching staff, no coach is as loyal or gives more opportunities. Chad Morris, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott built their careers thanks to Swinney’s compassion and loyalty to his coaches.

Billy Napier, Brandon Streeter and Wes Goodwin all got their shots because they were loyal to Swinney and helped build the dynasty that made Clemson Football one of the top programs in the country.

However, Dabo Swinney did not build the Clemson program because he is always a nice guy. He has had to make some tough decisions along the way.

After Napier’s scheme struggled in 2010, Swinney cut ties with his former graduate assistant coach. Swinney knew he had to get a more modern and explosive offense, especially with the highly touted playmakers he had coming into the program.

Clemson’s head coach later said it was one of the hardest things he ever did in letting Napier go because Napier helped him get the job at Clemson. But Swinney did it because he did what he felt was best for the program. And he was right.

Morris came on board and his tutelage to Elliott and Scott allowed the Clemson offense to be among the best for almost a decade. It played a major role in the Tigers’ rise in the college ranks.

Swinney also cut ties with veteran defensive coordinator Kevin Steele after the 2011 season, when it was obvious Steele did not like or want to work with Morris’ offensive scheme.

That move brought in Brent Venables as defensive coordinator and we all know how that worked out.

Last week, college football’s most loyal head coach, made another tough decision in the best interest of his program. He parted ways with longtime assistant coach Brandon Streeter to bring in a fresh and more dynamic offense.

Clemson’s offense had become stale the last two seasons, and at times predicable. Instead of dictating to defenses what they were going to, the Tigers took what the defenses were giving them.

The explosiveness in Clemson’s offense was gone. Granted, it was not all Streeter’s fault. He only coordinated the offense for one season. However, he was a part of the old offense. He cut his teeth learning the Clemson offense.

Also, the quarterbacks’ production dropped the last two years, and Streeter was the guy in charge of the quarterbacks.

Clemson needed new blood and new ideas on offense and Garrett Riley brings both of those to the table.

Swinney’s move to bring Riley on board was a bold move. Riley, the younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley, is an up-and-coming coach and will likely land a head coaching job should he do what Swinney hired him to come do at Clemson.

Firing Streeter and bringing Riley on board was also a message to Swinney’s other assistant coaches. He isn’t playing anymore. He can no longer just be loyal.

If Clemson wants to stay at the top, and get back to where it once was, Swinney has to make the moves that are in the best interest of his program.

Last year, Swinney hired from within when Venables and Elliott took off for head coaching gigs. He gave Streeter and Goodwin an opportunity to prove what they could do. He has also done the same for his former players – Tyler Grisham, C.J. Spiller, and Thomas Austin – the last few years.

However, as he proved with Streeter, Swinney isn’t being Mr. Nice guy anymore – every coach’s job is on the line this season. It is time to put up or shut up.

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