By John Falduto
CLEMSON, SC- New Clemson Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley provided a breath of fresh air for Clemson fans on Wednesday afternoon at his introductory press conference: “We’re going to be violent and fast, it starts there. Whether we’re in the run game or passing game, we’re going to attack and be violent, and we’re going to be fast. It’s about distribution- whether that’s running the football, throwing it to your tight end, or this receiver, or that receiver, or throwing it to the tailback- I think if you want to become a well-rounded offense that makes it tough on defenses, that’s the number one thing for me.”
Riley, a 33-year-old, Muleshoe, Texas native, joined the Clemson staff after serving as the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach at TCU for one season, where he was named the Broyles Award winner for the nation’s top assistant after transforming the Horned Frog’s 65th-ranked scoring offense in 2021 into the ninth-ranked scoring offense in 2022. Prior to TCU, Riley served in the same positions at SMU, where his offenses finished in the top 15 in both scoring offense and total offense in each of his two seasons with the program.
“I think he’s one of the bright offensive minds in the game,” said Dabo Swinney. “I think he’s a great fit for Clemson, he’s a great fit for me, for our personnel- I have no doubt he’s going to make us better offensively, and it's great timing for us to get him on board.”
Prior to starting his coaching career at Roosevelt High School in Texas in 2011, Riley himself was a quarterback for Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin. In his lone season at Texas Tech in 2009, he was coached by the late Mike Leach- the man recognized as a pioneer for the ‘Air Raid’ offensive scheme.
“It was a period of time where he was very cutting-edge with what they were doing at Texas Tech. I think more than anything, the way that he was an out-of-the-box thinker and did things his way was very appealing to me. To see his different style- a little bit different than the norm- that’s what piqued my interest there as a college student and young quarterback,” Riley said of Leach.
Before taking any questions on Wednesday, Dabo Swinney once again thanked former Offensive Coordinator Brandon Streeter, who had been with the program since 2015 in various positions. Streeter had moved to the Offensive Coordinator role for the 2022 season, a move that Swinney said he “absolutely deserved and earned.” Under Streeter’s play-calling, the offense improved in both total offense (+51.1 yards per game) and total points (+6.9 points per game) from the 2021 season, but Swinney still knew it was time to make the change.
“In totality, 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. And that’s my litmus test for all the decisions that I make- what’s best for the player, number one, and what’s best for Clemson. Once I had peace in that, I didn’t want to make a change just to make a change, it had to be the right change- this was the right change when the opportunity presented itself.”
Swinney said that the first time he and Garrett Riley talked was Tuesday night, about 24 hours removed from TCU’s 65-7 loss to Georgia in the National Championship game. From there, things quickly progressed, and the hire was made official by the Clemson Board of Trustees on Friday, January 13th. “This was kind of something that happened in short order, and the best part about it is that nobody knew about it until they needed to know about it. I think that says a lot about the people involved in it, especially Garrett.”
As for what it took to get him away from TCU after just one season, Riley credited the consistency and stability of the Clemson program, and the ability to be happy in a small, tight-knit community like Clemson. “People that know me know that I’m a very thoughtful person and that I want to think things through from all angles- so the more and more we learned about it and talked about it, the more this just made sense.”
Riley also talked about his excitement to finally work with Cade Klubnik, a player he had known about for years and recruited out of Westlake High School in Austin, where Klubnik was a three-time State Champion and No. 1 ranked Quarterback in his class. “I think he’s the full package. He’s very skilled and talented, but I just think between the ears and the way he carries himself- it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that that’s the Magic with Cade Klubnik, so I’m very eager and anxious to work with him.”
The Tigers start back up with on-field work next week and then return for Spring practice on March 6th. This year’s Spring Game will take place on April 15th, and the opening kickoff is set for Monday, September 4th at Duke.
Towards the tail end of the hour-long press conference on Wednesday, Dabo Swinney spoke extensively about the loss of perspective from Clemson fans who are unhappy with Clemson’s 21-6 record over the past two seasons: “We’ve won three National Championships in 127 years- and two in seven. Sometimes that can create a loss of perspective- and when you lose your perspective, you lose your joy.”
He continued, “When we signed that (2011) class if I would have said something to y’all coming off of six wins ‘Hey, here’s what’s gonna happen the next 12 years: I know we haven’t won 11 games in 31 years, but we’re gonna go do it eight times in 11 years. I know we haven’t won 10 games in 20 years, but we’re fixing to it 12 years in a row. I know we haven’t won a National Championship since 1981, but we’re gonna go to six Final Fours and we’re gonna win two National Championships. Oh, by the way, we’re gonna graduate 98% of our guys and we’re gonna have 13 top-15 recruiting classes in a row,’ y’all would have looked at me like I was crazy.”
“Our program has never been better, ever. We’re off to a better start this decade than we were last decade. We’ve raised the bar here, we’ve changed the standard, and I love that- but as we strive to meet and exceed those expectations every single year, we just got to keep the right perspective, and we’ve got to have joy in the journey.”
Watch Swinney's full speech to supporters Wednesday morning here.