It pains me to say this, but Dabo Swinney, you’re wrong for this one.
The Clemson football coach, whom I’ve written glowingly about over the last couple years, recently revealed that former Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant, now at Missouri, is not getting a championship ring after the team won it all last season. Bryant started the first four games of the season before being benched for Trevor Lawrence, which led Bryant to sit out the remainder of the year so he could transfer and keep a season of eligibility per NCAA rules.
Swinney reasoning was simple.
“There’s nothing else to comment on. What do you want me to say?” Swinney told The (Columbia) State after Thursday’s workout. “I mean, he wasn’t on the team. It’s as simple as that. We played 11 games after he left. We played 15 games.”
Problem is, he was on the team, albeit for only four of the Tigers’ 15 games. He was partially responsible for four of the 15 wins that culminated in a national championship game win over Alabama.
That should count for something, right?
Here’s where the problem lies — and where I think Swinney’s punishing Bryant for a move he felt he had to make. Yes, it is true that Bryant was not with the team after the first four games. However, had he been, he would not be able to play college football again.
If that wasn’t the circumstance, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Bryant stuck around and held a clipboard. But at that point he also had to look out for his own best interest.
On Friday, Bryant shrugged off the situation, saying “it’s not really a story.” Kudos to him for not stoking the flame.
Still, Swinney came off a bit petty while expressing his fondness of Bryant.
“What can I say that I haven’t already said? I love Kelly. But you’ve gotta be on the team,” Swinney told The State. “He certainly could’ve been here, but he wasn’t.”
Look, this isn’t some guy who simply lost a quarterback battle. Bryant led the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff in 2017 following a season in which Deshaun Watson brought them their first national championship in 35 years. Instead, he was an incumbent who lost out to a younger hotshot quarterback who went on to lead Clemson to its third national title.
All the while, however, Bryant had plenty left in the tank. I can’t blame him for sitting out the remaining 11 games to preserve his eligibility. After all, rules are rules.
There’s plenty of guys on the Tigers’ roster who now have bling despite never getting onto the field, let alone leading the team to any victories. I’m sure Swinney would reason that they were with the team. Well, for Bryant that wouldn’t have been the smartest option.
At a level where these guys aren’t getting paid, it’s still a business. And Bryant had to make the best decision for his personal future. I think Swinney should respect that and award Bryant for his role in the university’s third national title.
An old cliche best sums this one up: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.