Note: The following appears in the Syracuse football gameday program.
Dabo Swinney has five Clemson graduates among his 10 position group assistant coaches. However, the only one of the 10 who came home from the hospital shortly after birth wearing a Tiger outfit is not one of the five who attended classes at Clemson.
The only member of Swinney’s staff who was a true Tiger at birth is 2001 App State graduate Kyle Richardson.
“My parents grew up in Clemson, and even though they moved to North Carolina before I was born, they were Clemson through and through,” said Richardson, who is in his first season as Clemson’s passing game coordinator and tight ends coach and his seventh year in some capacity with Swinney’s staff.
Richardson grew up in Belmont, N.C., which is not far from the South Carolina state line. So it was not far for Richardson and his family to come back to Tiger sporting events. When Richardson was asked to recall some of the top sporting events that he witnessed in person as a youth, the list seemed endless.
The list of games he rattled off dates to 1984, when he was just six years old.
“I remember going to a Wake Forest game in 1984. I remember the Perry brothers having great games.
“I was also at the Florida State game in 1988, when Bobby Bowden ran the ‘Puntrooskie.’ It was a terrible weather day, but that was a memorable game.”
Richardson did not limit his support of the Tigers to football. He was there the night Cliff Ellis’ Tigers defeated Duke to clinch the program’s only ACC regular-season men’s basketball championship. He also attended Ellis’ Tiger basketball camps as a youth.
“I was three years old when Clemson won the 1981 national championship. My dad framed the front page of the newspaper that was sold in the parking lot after the game and put it in my room. I still have it, and it now hangs in my office next to headlines from our 2016 and 2018 national championships.”
Richardson had to be patient to reach his lifelong dream of being a position coach on Clemson’s nationally renowned staff. He never played college football and did not work in any capacity for the football office at App State.
“I always wanted to coach football, but I didn’t start until I graduated in 2001. I got a job at a high school, then got a position at Southeastern Louisiana in 2005.”
After two years, he became offensive coordinator at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C. He did an outstanding job in that capacity, including running the offense in 2010, when Northwestern High School had a 15-0 record. That led to being named head coach in 2011.
In the 2012 season, just his second year in charge of the program, he guided the school to the state championship game. Then in 2013, he coached Northwestern High School to a 15-0 record and the state title.
During his time as head coach of the Trojans, Swinney and his staff, in particular Jeff Scott, took notice.
“Through recruiting, I got to know Coach Scott well, but I didn’t spend much time with Coach Swinney, except for one afternoon in 2005, when I was starting at Southeastern Louisiana as wide receivers coach and he was the wide receivers coach at Clemson. I called him and asked if I could talk to him for a few minutes about recruiting wide receivers.
“He spent two hours with me. He could not have been nicer. But when I left, it wasn’t like I kept in touch with him.”
But as we know, Swinney keeps tabs on everyone he meets. Richardson saw that first hand in 2013.
“Coach Scott let me come to practice at Clemson in December 2013 as the team prepared to play Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. We had just won the state championship with a 15-0 record.
“I was walking by the tombstone area on my way out and Coach Swinney stopped me before he was to meet with the media. He said, ‘Some day, you are going to be on my staff at Clemson.’
“I was blown away. I didn’t even think he remembered me.”
He stayed at Northwestern High School for two more years, including another state title season in 2015. About this time, Swinney had convinced Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich to add some positions within his staff. When he did, Swinney called Richardson.
“I was about to speak at a clinic at North Carolina and he called my cell phone. We had talked some earlier, but he offered me the job while I was standing in the endzone of Kenan Stadium. I accepted on that call.”
He came to Clemson in 2016 as senior offensive analyst, a position he held for four years, two of which resulted in national titles. He was director of player development and in charge of freshman transition in 2020 and was special assistant on offense in 2021.
Finally, when Tony Elliott left to become head coach at Virginia, positions opened up and Richardson moved to a position coach, the job he had wanted all along.
“Working on this staff has been terrific, but I always wanted to work closely with the student-athletes and coach a position,” added Richardson. “It was tough at times my first six years, but it has been worth the wait.”