A patient Brandon Streeter gets chance to put stamp on Clemson offense

·7 min read

This is the job Brandon Streeter always wanted, the one he turned down NFL and SEC opportunities for, and through eight months he’s loving 99% of it.

From freshening up terminology to juggling multiple position groups to returning to his playcalling roots, Clemson’s rookie offensive coordinator is relishing each and every challenge of his new role … minus one clerical adjustment.

“A lot of iPad work,” Streeter said.

He held onto his beloved system (printouts in manila folders) as long as he could, but the elevated responsibilities of a Power Five OC prompted a hard pivot from pages and pages of 8½-by-11 hard copies.

Now Streeter does 90% of his prep digitally on a tablet, something Gen Z quarterback DJ Uiagalelei jokingly calls a “big transition” for the 45-year-old.

And how’s it going so far?

“Well, I’ll just say this: Apple is calling me every day wanting me to join them,” Streeter said, grinning. “So my knowledge is pretty doggone good right now.”

Technology tiffs aside, he’s well aware that apps aren’t the only thing he’ll be navigating in 2022 as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator and playcaller.

Sky-high expectations for the No. 4 Clemson football team and coach Dabo Swinney mean sky-high expectations for the Clemson offense, and Streeter has the Herculean task of replacing one of the sport’s top minds on that side of the ball.

Tony Elliott was a perennial head coaching candidate while directing Clemson’s offense during a six-year streak of ACC championships and College Football Playoff appearances that included two national championships.

Swinney could have executed a national search when Elliott accepted Virginia’s head coaching job after the 2021 season. Instead, he turned toward an internal hire to replace the coordinator whose 2018 and 2019 offenses recorded two of major college football’s 22 650-point seasons.

Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter runs a drill with quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) during the Tiger’s spring practice Monday, March 2, 2020.
Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter runs a drill with quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) during the Tiger’s spring practice Monday, March 2, 2020.

It wasn’t a hard choice, Swinney said. “Street” has been in the room where it happens since replacing Chad Morris on Clemson’s staff in 2014. He coached the two signal-callers who established Clemson’s CFP legacy, and he’s recruited two more with a shot at extending it.

Deshaun Watson. Trevor Lawrence. Uiagalelei. Cade Klubnik. And seven years of patience as former co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott left to coach South Florida in 2019 and Elliott left to lead Virginia.

“We’re lucky Streeter’s still here,” Swinney said. “He’s turned down a bunch of jobs … he loves it here. He played here. He knew Tony would eventually get an opportunity, and he really wanted to be the coordinator here.”

Climbing the ranks

Streeter’s internal promotion to offensive coordinator, announced ahead of December’s Cheez-It Bowl, marked the biggest step in a football career that has taken him up and down the East Coast.

He grew up on the sidelines of Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College, where his father, Barry, coached Division III football for 42 years. He played three seasons of quarterback at Clemson, starting his last two under coach Tommy Bowden and breaking or tying 11 school records.

Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter unloads a pass on his way to a 28-19 defeat of USC in 1998.
Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter unloads a pass on his way to a 28-19 defeat of USC in 1998.

After a year of Arena League Football, he cold-called his way into an assistant gig at FCS Charleston Southern; overlapped with then-wide receivers coach Swinney as a Clemson graduate assistant; and built up an impressive résumé as Danny Rocco’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Virginia FCS programs Liberty and Richmond.

Streeter was a “very detailed, very organized, very structured person,” Rocco told The State in December, someone whose preparation pushed Liberty and Richmond into annual contention. Six of the seven teams Streeter coached as OC finished in the top 25 of the final FCS poll.

Now, for the first time since 2014, he’s back in that role.

Sophomore running back Will Shipley described the Streeter offense as “more simplistic and more genuine.” Streeter, he said, also welcomes feedback, especially from players in position groups that the longtime quarterbacks coach is still working to maximize (like running back).

“He’s the authority, but there’s respect both ways,” Shipley said. “Not saying there wasn’t with Coach Elliott, but stepping up from freshman to sophomore year and taking a bigger role. I’ve definitely noticed it.”

Clemson assistant coach Brandon Streeter at spring practice Friday, March 4, 2022.
Clemson assistant coach Brandon Streeter at spring practice Friday, March 4, 2022.

By soliciting player input and working with fellow offensive coaches, Streeter’s putting himself in a position to tackle some of the trickiest questions facing Clemson’s offense this season:

  • Flanked by solid tackles and guards, is converted guard Will Putnam the answer at center after the Tigers cycled through three different players at that crucial position in 2021?

  • Can Clemson maximize the talents of Joseph Ngata, EJ Williams and Brannon Spector — veteran receivers with track records but injury histories — while still finding spots for young explosive playmakers such as Beaux Collins, Will Taylor and Antonio Williams?

  • What’s the ideal balance at running back, where the dynamic Shipley is the preseason all-conference pick but Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah also deserve a share of the carries?

  • And, of course, the million-dollar one: Is junior quarterback DJ Uiagalelei capable of leading Clemson back into ACC and College Football Playoff contention? If he struggles early, how soon, if at all, do Swinney and Streeter turn to Cade Klubnik, his talented freshman backup?

Those answers are all the more important after Clemson’s offense hit a rare slump under Elliott in 2021. Amid Uiagalelei’s struggles and mounting injury woes, the Tigers averaged 15.2 points per game against their first six Power Five opponents and didn’t hit 30 points until Week 8.

Despite ending the season on a six-game winning streak, Clemson (10-3, 6-2 ACC) wrapped up 2021 ranked 82nd nationally in scoring offense (26.3 ypg), 100th nationally in total offense (359.1 ypg) and 103rd nationally in passing offense (191.2 ypg).

In that first stat, total offense, the Tigers also ranked No. 13 out of 14 ACC teams; in six previous seasons under Elliott, they’d only ranked below the No. 2 spot once.

“Obviously, in the end, it’s all about overall execution,” Streeter said. “So that’s what we’re striving to do, and that’s what we’re working on right now.”

Streeter’s offensive strategy

He isn’t alone in cracking these codes. Streeter’s more than confident in his assistants, from running backs coach CJ Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham to offensive line coach Thomas Austin and tight ends coach/passing game coordinator Kyle Richardson.

That group got a much-needed head start in December, with Streeter calling plays and other coaches assuming their 2022 roles for the Cheez-It Bowl against Iowa State.

A banged-up Clemson won 20-13 and offered some hints as to what a Streeter-led offense might entail. Using a modest but winning formula, the Tigers ran 40 times against 33 throws, converted 50% of their third downs and got Uiagalelei into a decent rhythm. He completed 21 of 32 passes, good for his second-best completion percentage (65.6%) of the year.

Spring practice and preseason camp have also been invaluable for Streeter and his staff leading into Clemson’s Sept. 5 Chick-fil-A Kickoff opener at Georgia Tech (8 p.m., ESPN).

Outside of simplified terminology, increasing Uiagalelei’s comfort with option routes and playing with a tempo Clemson lacked at times in 2021 are key points of emphasis. That goes for players, for assistant coaches and for the first-year offensive coordinator who stayed patient, stayed put and now has nothing but daunting yet enthralling opportunities ahead.

“When you’re working with great people — smart, great people — you’re in a great spot, right?” Streeter said. “We’re working together well. We’re all on the same page.”

Even if it’s digital now.