After a second consecutive three-loss season, Dabo Swinney is remaking the Clemson program. Last year, the Tigers head coach was promoted from within when former coordinators Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and Tony Elliott (Virginia) got head-coaching jobs.
But after firing offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter on Thursday, ESPN sources say Swinney will name TCU’s Garrett Riley to the same position. It is a shake-up at a program known for continuity — Swinney hadn’t fired an assistant coach since 2011 before this move.
Riley is fresh off winning the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant while helping guide the Horned Frogs to the national title game in his first season in Fort Worth.
What kind of playcaller are the Tigers getting? What does it say about the state of Clemson? And what’s next for TCU? David M. Hale and Dave Wilson break it all down.
What prompted this move from Clemson?
It’s hard to say Streeter was to blame for Clemson’s offensive issues in 2022. The truth is, in his first year as coordinator, Streeter actually steered the offense to markedly better numbers than 2021. But Streeter was also largely a continuation of Clemson’s past. He may not have been responsible for the downturn, but it seemed clear he wasn’t going to steer things in a new — and needed — direction. Instead, Swinney appears to have found someone in Riley who can add some serious spice to an offense that was, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, pretty vanilla. Vanilla worked with Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson and a host of NFL backs and receivers. Without them, vanilla has just looked … bland.
But perhaps the other big issue here is QB Cade Klubnik. After the failed DJ Uiagalelei experience, Clemson cannot afford to see another blue-chip QB fall short of expectations. That Klubnik could not win the job throughout the regular season despite Uiagalelei’s hiccups, and that his performance in the bowl game showed some serious freshman missteps, too, there has to be a thought that a change had to be made to ensure Klubnik’s talents aren’t ‘t wasted, and he can look more like Lawrence than Uiagalelei in 2023. Given Riley’s success in turning a solid-if-unspectacular QB in Max Duggan into a Heisman finalist, this is a “no excuses” move for Klubnik, too. — Hale
What does this say about where Swinney thinks the program is?
It’s hard to know exactly what Swinney’s mindset is. He bristled at even the slightest criticism last offseason when outsiders suggested his promotion of two in-house candidates to playcaller jobs — Streeter and Wes Goodwin — might have been too myopic. He spent nearly all of 2022 praising Uiagalelei, too, even lambasting the media for doubting the QB — then benched Uiagalelei three times during the season and admitted, after the ACC championship game, he’d been hoping Klubnik would take over for weeks. Now he’s finally backtracked on his insistence that Streeter was the right man for the OC job, and he’s gone out to land as big a fish as there is in the coordinator ranks. Perhaps the real takeaway here is that Swinney has a formula he believes in, but he’s also smart enough to know when something isn’t working. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this is the last of the staff changes and, perhaps more importantly, if he shifts his perspective on the transfer portal to address some roster limitations, too. — Hale
What kind of coordinator is Clemson getting in Garrett Riley?
Riley, like his brother Lincoln, was a quarterback under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, then started his coaching career in modest fashion, as a QB coach at a West Texas high school, then at places like Augustana, East Carolina, Kansas and Appalachian State. , where he was running backs coach. TCU coach Sonny Dykes believed he complemented his own passing philosophies with a detailed running game plan, so he elevated him to OC/QB coach and the primary playcaller at SMU. In his first season in 2020, with Shane Buechele at QB, the Mustangs averaged 38.6 points per game, 15th nationally. The following year, with Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai at QB, the offense ranked 10th, led the AAC in passing and averaged 38.4 ppg. Then, in his first year at TCU, he helped turn Duggan, a four-year starter who had never thrown for more than 2,100 yards or 16 TDs in a season, into a Heisman runner-up who had 3,698 yards and 32 TDs. Riley is a patient playcaller who isn’t all flash, but instead blends a power running attack — Kendre Miller ran for more than 1,200 yards between the tackles this season — with a simplified Air Raid passing scheme to wear defenses down and pop big plays. Riley has already worked wonders in just three seasons as a coordinator. — Wilson
What is the first order of business for Riley at Clemson?
Riley needs to evaluate everything. All five on-field offensive assistants, prior to Streeter’s firing, were without FBS coaching experience aside from their time at Clemson. Will Riley want to keep that staff intact? Clemson’s receiving corps has failed to develop young talent in recent years, and in each of the past two seasons, the offense has relied heavily on true freshmen. Might there be options in the portal to help add some veteran presence? Will Shipley is a budding star, but his usage under Streeter was always a bit odd. Riley will need to figure out how to maximize such a valuable weapon. The offensive line showed some flashes of improvement under first-year line coach Thomas Austin last season, but it also surrendered 26 pressures in the Capital One Orange Bowl against Tennessee. But again, no issue looms larger for Riley than turning Klubnik from a freshman with potential into another Heisman candidate. The fate of the Clemson offense will be as much about that relationship as any changes to the offensive scheme. — Hale
Where does TCU go from here?
Dykes has a vision for what he needs in a coordinator. In his first five years as a head coach, he had Tony Franklin, a longtime Air Raid assistant, running the offense. Since then, he’s mentored young coaches, like Jake Spavital at Cal and Rhett Lashlee at SMU, who both became head coaches. Despite Dykes’ own background as a playcaller, his assistants have freedom in game planning and playcalling, making the job an attractive one. In nine of the past 11 seasons, Dykes’ offenses have ranked no lower than 22nd, with three top-10 performances. He has a network of options as the Air Raid has proliferated across college football. This position is one he can manage with confidence. — Wilson