Clemson senior quarterback Kelly Bryant announced Wednesday morning that he plans to transfer after recently being benched. He will depart the program after one full season of being the starter, though not without a bevy of weird comments to take with him from head coach Dabo Swinney.
On Monday, Swinney came out and did what everyone had been expecting him to do all offseason, naming freshman stud Trevor Lawrence as the starter for the upcoming game against Syracuse, and presumably the rest of the season. The decision came after Clemson alternated between the two quarterbacks through the opening four games; Lawrence came out pretty clearly as the better option thanks to an arm that can best be described as a gift from God.
As we covered during the Deadspin 25 back in August, this was largely the expected outcome based on Lawrence’s spring and summer showings and Bryant’s work as a starter. In his sole season as a the guy under center in 2017, Bryant threw for 13 touchdowns and eight picks—not a great split—though he did manage to add another 11 scores on the ground. However, in the playoff semi-finals against Alabama, Bryant seemed to hit a wall in terms of his ability to consistently push the ball down the field, and ultimately failed to register any scores. (In fairness, this is the case with most of the Crimson Tide’s opponents and Swinney’s openly covered for his quarterback’s performance in that game.)
Realizing that they have the defense and the skill players necessary for a(nother) title run, Swinney used the offseason and the opening four weeks to roll out a two-quarterback system that gave him some time to see how Lawrence could hold up against Division I defenses. So far, the rookie has found the end zone through the air nine times to Bryant’s two, and thrown for 600 yards on 61 attempts. Again, Bryant is the clearly superior ground threat and has two scores to his name, but only Lawrence can thread the needle like this:
After Bryant wasn’t present at Tuesday’s practice, rumors began to swirl of his transfer, rumors that were confirmed this morning in an interview with the Greenville News. Speaking with the News, the senior, who’s already graduated, said that while the decision to leave his classmates of four years was tough, he had to make the best decision for himself, noting his disappointment with the ultimate decision. (Swinney countered by telling ACC reporters, “I don’t think this is a great decision for him.”)
“They asked me how I felt about it,” Bryant said, recalling his meeting with Swinney. “I was like, ‘I’m not discrediting Trevor. He’s doing everything asked of him, but on my side of it, I feel like I haven’t done anything to not be the starter. I’ve been here. I’ve waited my turn. I’ve done everything y’all have asked me to do, plus more.’
“I’ve never been a distraction. I’ve never been in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face.”
The whole reason this discussion is even being had a third of a way into the season is thanks to a recent NCAA rule fix—football players can now compete in up to four games and still be able to transfer and not lose a year of eligibility. This means that as long as Bryant didn’t plan on playing a snap in the upcoming clash with the Orange, or any of the subsequent games, he can file for transfer and play for another program next year. Additionally, players no longer need to seek permission to transfer, meaning it didn’t matter whether Swinney thought it was a good idea or not. The changes, while still a half-measure in that they allow conferences to set rules on in-conference transfers, were great news for athletes.
Now, these rule changes and their immediate ramifications weren’t exactly a secret—as soon as they went into effect in June, anyone that covered or followed college football had their eyes on Jalen Hurts and Bryant, as they’re two top-shelf quarterbacks that have been usurped by younger, objectively superior alternatives. So, it was bizarre to see Swinney, in multiple press conferences on Wednesday, talk about how great a person and player Bryant is and then pivot to making his decision to inform Bryant before the fifth game out as some sort of Good Guy action and not something that any reasonable, non-asshole coach should do.
“If I was worried about that or I was deceitful in some way, I could’ve huddled the coaches up and said, ‘Hey, let’s make sure we start him for Syracuse. And that way he’s got no options.’ That’s not how I operate,” Swinney said. “We don’t operate that way. I’m just trying to do what’s right, and I’m not going to ever apologize for that.”
“I feel like Kelly would have continued to help us win and play a lot, but it’s not what he wanted to do. I certainly could have started him this week, which would have limited his options, but that’s not how we operate here. That’s not who we are.”
Setting Swinney’s decision to play the power card for nothing more than masturbatory self-praising reasons aside, Bryant is, obviously, an extremely talented quarterback that won’t have much trouble finding a Power Five team in need of a starter. The onus will now be on the Tigers’ Sunshine doppelgänger to go out and prove over the next eight games that they made the right decision.