Dabo Swinney needed a few days to think.
With Clemson’s season over following the Tigers’ Orange Bowl to Tennessee, the Tigers’ veteran coach began the new year spending a lot of time pondering, analyzing and evaluating, particularly when it came to his offense. Shortly thereafter, he said he had come to a decision.
He was moving on from Brandon Streeter, a longtime assistant whom Swinney had promoted a year earlier from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator following Tony Elliott’s departure from the staff. That was the hard part, Swinney explained Wednesday for the first time publicly since making one of college football’s most notable staff changes this offseason.
“Especially when you love the people that are involved,” Swinney said. And I absolutely love Brandon Streeter and (his wife) Ashleigh, (daughter) Chamberlain, (son) Foard and (daughter) Mason. They’re family to me and always will be.”
But Garrett Riley will be calling plays for the offense next season after Swinney moved quickly to hire the reigning Broyles Award winner following his lone season as TCU’s offensive coordinator. Swinney said he and Riley had some brief interactions in Charlotte early last month at the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention, where Swinney was a guest speaker.
Swinney then reached out to Riley’s more well-known brother, Southern Cal coach Lincoln Riley, to get what Swinney described as trusted input. Satisfied with what he heard, Swinney said put in his first phone call to the younger Riley the day after the national championship game to seriously gauge his interest in joining Clemson’s staff. A day after Swinney informed Streeter of his decision to go in another direction, Riley was officially on board with the Tigers.
“And the best thing about it was nobody knew about it until they needed to know about it,” Swinney said. “And I think that says a lot about the people involved, especially Garrett.”
Clemson actually improved in most offensive categories under Streeter’s direction, averaging a touchdown more per game than it did in 2021 and jumping to 48th nationally (from 100th) in total offense and 66th (from 103rd) in passing. But it didn’t always happen seamlessly.
Swinney and Streeter lamented after multiple games the offense’s failure to stick with a running game that finished in the top 5 in the ACC and had a 1,200-yard rusher in Will Shipley. And there still weren’t enough points for Swinney’s liking, particularly in that Orange Bowl when the Tigers scored just 14 despite running a whopping 101 plays and racking up 34 first downs.
That, Swinney admitted, stuck with him during his period of reflection.
“We’ve got to score,” said Swinney, whose team averaged 33 points this past season. “That ultimately was one of those things that weighed heavily on me after that ballgame. And then in the totality of where we were, I just felt like it was the best thing for these players and this personnel, and it was the best thing for Clemson.”
Riley summed up his offense’s identity as “violent and fast,” an approach that Swinney believes fits with the balanced attack the Tigers are trying to find again. That will require Clemson to continue making strides in the passing game, Swinney said, but Swinney noted Riley’s willingness to run the ball despite being a disciple of the late Mike Leach’s air-raid scheme. TCU finished with the Big 12’s third-best rushing attack this season.
So while all the flashy stats and accolades were nice – Riley led the nation’s ninth-highest scoring offense en route to being recognized as college football’s top assistant – Swinney said Riley being a philosophical fit had just as much to do with him getting the job.
Riley will get his first chance to start implementing his offense March 6 when Clemson opens spring practice.
“It just really all added up,” Swinney said. “It had to make sense for him just like it had to make sense for him. And the more and more we talked, it was like, ‘OK, this is right.’ So we made the move.
“He’s just a great fit for us, and he’s going to do an amazing job.”
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