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Swinney, Clemson Show No Ill-Will Towards Kelly Bryant With No Ring

By Dave Holcomb
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Swinney nailed this situation -- which is quite common for the two-time national champion coach -- and may have set a standard college football will follow in the future.

There are instances where players haven’t been on the roster when the team won their title and received championship rings.

After winning Super Bowl LI in February 2007, the Indianapolis Colts sent running back Edgerrin James a Super Bowl ring despite the fact he signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency the previous year. Indianapolis argued James significantly contributed to the franchise placing the foundation needed to win a championship.

The San Francisco Giants made the same argument in 2010. The Giants traded catcher Benjie Molina to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline, but San Francisco awarded Molina a ring for the Giants’ World Series title that fall because he helped develop the team’s pitching staff and mentored future MVP catcher Buster Posey.

Coincidentally, the Giants and Rangers met in the World Series the year of Molina’s trade, so he was actually guaranteed a championship ring regardless of which team won.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t feel as generous when awarding his team its latest championship rings. Swinney told ESPN’s Chris Low that former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant didn’t receive a national championship ring because he was no longer part of the team at the end of the season.

“He wasn’t on the team. You’ve got to be on the team to get a ring,” Swinney said according to ESPN. “I love Kelly (Bryant) and appreciate what he did for us, but he decided to move on.”

If James and Molina qualified for a ring, then Bryant certainly could have. He went 16-2 as a starter during his career at Clemson and led the Tigers to a College Football Playoff appearance in his only full season as a starter. Last year, Bryant helped the team start 4-0 before announcing he would transfer.

Freshman Trevor Lawrence won the final 11 games, but he wasn’t ready to start in September. After the two quarterbacks split playing time during the first three quarters of Week 2, Bryant steadied the team in a 28-26 road victory against Texas A&M. Without that effort, Clemson may not have gone undefeated and maybe the projection of the team’s whole season changes.

Having said that, Swinney nailed this situation -- which is quite common for the two-time national champion coach -- and may have set a standard college football will follow in the future.

There’s no debating Bryant contributed a great deal while at Clemson, but the key part of Swinney’s statement is the last phrase -- “he decided to move on.”

It was Bryant’s choice to finish his career elsewhere after losing his starting job. Without the new four-game transfer rule, that wouldn’t have been possible. It also wouldn’t have happened without Swinney committing to a quarterback before Week 5.

Swinney could have easily dragged his feet with his quarterback decision until Bryant would have exhausted his final year of eligibility (after the fifth game). That way, Swinney would have possessed Bryant as a backup for the rest of the season. As it turned out, Clemson needed its backup quarterback to win in Week 5 against Syracuse.

But Swinney had the best interests at heart for not only his team -- when he announced Lawrence as the starter -- but also for Bryant, giving him the choice to transfer if he wanted.

Some fans and media unfairly criticized Bryant for quitting on his team. He didn’t quit, he made a decision that was in his best interest -- just as Swinney did. Clearly, it was the best decision for Clemson, as Lawrence led the Tigers to the national championship. Bryant will have his chance to make good on his choice at Missouri this fall.

But that decision does come with consequences, one of which should be that Bryant doesn’t receive a championship ring.

Bryant didn’t practice with the team after September. He didn’t go through the same grind or make the same sacrifices the other Clemson players did on the way the title. Bryant couldn’t have been the only unsatisfied Tigers player with a lineup decision last year. That happens on every team in all sports, but playing sports teaches one to respect the coach’s decision and contribute in anyway the team needs.

Again, by on means is this meant to rehash Bryant’s decision. The beautiful thing about college sports is it presents athletes with choices they don’t receive at other competitive levels. Bryant shouldn’t be persecuted for electing to use one of those freedoms.

But it does mean he shouldn’t receive a ring.

With the four-game transfer rule just taking effect last year, Bryant likely won’t be the last player in this unique situation -- contributing to a championship team but not finishing the season on the roster. It will be interesting to see how other programs handle this situation, but Swinney has set a more than reasonable standard.