New OC Riley looks to push Clemson offense into next gear
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Garrett Riley is almost familiar with his new facility at Clemson — emphasis on almost.
Riley, who led TCU’s offense on its run to the national title game this past season, took over as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach a few days after the Horned Frogs lost the CFP championship to Georgia last month.
Ever since, he warns recruits when taking them around Clemson’s massive operations center, “better not ask me where something is,” Riley said Wednesday at his formal introduction.
Clemson signed all of its 27-member class in December before the offensive change. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said the program was celebrating its newest members on national signing day, no newcomer more essential than Riley.
Riley, 33, is the reigning Broyles Award winner as the game’s top assistant for what he did at TCU, which went from five victories in 2021 to the College Football Playoff.
Things happened so quickly — Swinney and Riley spoke for the first time the night after TCU’s defeat — that Riley hasn’t had the chance to fully celebrate his accomplishments last season.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “It was a great run (at TCU), just like it will be at Clemson.”
Swinney praised his previous coordinator, Brandon Streeter, who led an attack that improved in yards and points from 2021 to 2022 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in his only season in charge.
“I just felt like it was the right time,” Swinney said. “We weren’t quite where we needed to be.”
Swinney talked to Riley’s brother, Southern Cal coach Lincoln Riley, about Garrett before talking to him directly. Garrett Riley was the only person he talked with about the job, Swinney said.
Garrett Riley played quarterback for Texas Tech and was groomed in the “Air Raid” offense of the late Mike Leach.
Riley said Leach, who died two months ago while he was Mississippi State’s head coach, had a profound impact on his coaching career — and not necessarily for the X’s and O’s.
Leach and his “out of the box thinking were very appealing to me,” Riley said.
More to Swinney’s liking was Riley’s use of the run. TCU finished 31st nationally at nearly 194 yards rushing per game. Riley is still learning new personnel but believes the base for success is there with Tigers runners Will Shipley and Phil Mafah.
Shipley, a first-time All-ACC selection, gained 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mafah had 515 yards and four TDs.
Riley gets dubbed with the “Air Raid” tag because of his background, Swinney said. “But if you study him, he runs the football,” the head coach continued. “I have no doubt he’s going to make us better offensively.”
Riley had recruited expected Clemson starting quarterback Cade Klubnik to SMU when he worked there a few years back and believes they’ll have a solid, productive partnership going forward.
Every aspect of Clemson’s program gives Riley confidence that the Tigers can land back where TCU was this year in the CFP semifinals, which Clemson has missed the past two seasons after making six straight from 2015 through 2020.
Klubnik became starter late in the season, supplanting DJ Uiagalelei early in the ACC title game, and led the Tigers to a 39-10 victory over North Carolina. Klubnik and the Tigers struggled in their Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee, 31-14.
Riley sees the potential ahead for his new group and sees Klubnik as a driving force.
“I know that kid’s foaming at the mouth just like the rest of our players, and trust me, us coaches are ready to get going, too,” Riley said.
Riley, who was born and raised in Texas, said he and his family were happy at TCU. He wasn’t looking to leave, particularly after the Horned Frogs’ landmark season. But Clemson offered a prime opportunity for Riley to advance his career. He received a three-year contract worth $1.75 million per year.
“It had to be something that was going to check the box in all areas,” Riley said.
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