CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday that the decision not to send former quarterback Kelly Bryant a national championship ring was simple and shouldn’t be construed as anything other than Bryant was no longer a part of the team.
“He wasn’t on the team. You’ve gotta be on the team to get a ring,” Swinney told ESPN. “I love Kelly and appreciate what he did for us, but he decided to move on.”
Bryant, now at Missouri as a graduate transfer, started the first four games last season for Clemson but was demoted in favor of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence following the Georgia Tech game. Bryant elected to transfer after being told by Swinney that Lawrence would move into the starting role and subsequently left the team in late September. At the time, Bryant called his demotion a “slap in the face.”
Swinney said he has not spoken with Bryant since he left Clemson but looks forward to doing so when the time is right. Bryant told ESPN last month that he still keeps in touch with several of his Clemson teammates and would certainly accept a ring if one was offered.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to visit and sit down and have a good conversation, but he’s focused on what he’s trying to do and we wish him the best,” Swinney said. “He’s a graduate of Clemson and always will be and was a heck of a player for us, but my job is to do what’s best for the team.”
Bryant and Lawrence split most of the reps through the first four games. Bryant passed for 205 yards in a 28-26 road win at Texas A&M the second week of the season. But after Lawrence passed for four touchdowns two weeks later in a 49-21 win over Georgia Tech, Swinney decided to go with Lawrence as the starter and informed Bryant of his decision that next Monday.
“It was close coming out of camp and I was like, ‘All right, we’ve got to take it to the games and see how it plays out,’ and after that Georgia Tech game, it was obvious,” Swinney said. “Trevor had to have an opportunity to be the guy. I didn’t anticipate Kelly leaving. I thought Kelly would stay and keep playing and compete. But he chose to move on. Trevor took it and ran with it and got better and better.”
Bryant, who will be a senior at Missouri, was 16-2 as a starter at Clemson after waiting his turn behind Deshaun Watson and led the Tigers to a College Football Playoff appearance in the 2017 season.
After taking over for Bryant as the starter last season, Lawrence led the Tigers the rest of the way to an unbeaten 15-0 record and their second national championship in the past three years. He finished his freshman season with 3,280 passing yards and threw 30 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He is already being mentioned prominently among NFL scouts as perhaps the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft when he becomes draft eligible.
“It was an emotional time for all of us,” Swinney said. “My hope for Kelly is that he has great success at Missouri.”