CLEMSON — It was the Tuesday after Northwestern High started its 2014 season 0-2, and star receiver Dupree Hart dropped by his head coach’s office for their usual chat.
Conversations were always upbeat with Kyle Richardson, anything but what Hart expected coming out of college. He assumed that all the high school coaches were screamers, ruthless perfectionists. Richardson’s coaching was very focused on the moment, “Win Today”, which he posted all over the locker room.
Richardson also had a deep appreciation for 90s rap music, which surprised many of his players.
“We would do practice on Wednesdays, ‘Way-Back Wednesdays,'” Hart said. “He was playing Biggie and Tupac. Everything practical. He knows every word of those songs.
Hart always stopped by Richardson’s office. He enjoyed it. But that Tuesday, a coach and his star player had to find a way to win that day. The days leading up to this Tuesday proved that Richardson’s original choice to succeed Mason Rudolph at quarterback wasn’t working. An outside-the-box coach assessed his 5-foot-6 receiver — who was 60 catches to set a national career reception record — and decided Hart was the answer.
“I looked at him like ‘completely a quarterback?’ And he was like, ‘I’m going to ride with you,’” Hart recalled.
After this meeting, Hart did not question it. He hadn’t played quarterback since youth football, but Hart led Northwestern to nine straight wins after an 0-3 start. They won a regional title. The following year, Hart moved to College of Charleston to play baseball, but Northwestern won a state title with a team expected to return 18 of 22 starters in 2016.
Richardson has developed a reputation for finding the right answers.
“You have to get your players in position to make plays,” said Richardson, who became Clemson’s tight ends coach and passing play coordinator in December. “For the team, the best thing was Dupree going to quarterback. For Dupree personally, it was about staying at receiver and breaking records. He was always a team player, he was always a child who wanted to win.
“No different from what we do here. If you’re producing and making games, you’re going to find your way in the field. Then it’s our job to put you in position to make those plays.
A coach who was successful with pro-style passers Justin Worley and Rudolph, then adjusted on the fly with a double threat at Hart, is now a key voice in the room as Clemson tries to breathe some life into his passing game. It’s been six years since Richardson took an on-court coaching role, as he’s bided his time at Clemson in behind-the-scenes roles since his 2015 state title. But former players like Hart can jog the memory. from everyone about what Richardson brings to a game plan.
Northwestern used an “Air Raid” attack, knocking defenses on their heels with a rapid flurry of snaps and a dizzying mix of deep shots and short screens. But more broadly, Richardson’s offense has always had an answer, ways to regain abandoned open space defenses.
They used run-pass options and rollouts to get the most out of a 5-6 quarterback. Hart fondly remembers option routes that allowed him to dig into an opposing secondary with short passes. When cornerbacks inevitably slipped, those short runs converted into deep balls.
It was an attack that adapted to the movements of the defenses after the break.
“We knew our coach was going to put us in the best position to win,” Hart said. “It was refreshing for the players to know that you could come into a game and get 12 catches and the other receiver would get 10. And the running back would get two rushing touchdowns because we were going to run that many plays. It was a player friendly attack.
“I always knew it wasn’t like any other high school program, it was next-level stuff,” added Hart, who was a 2014 Mr. Football runner-up and passed AJ Green to the state’s career receptions record with 323. in this college system, I think “That’s what colleges do.”
There’s nothing groundbreaking about a college elective, or an offense that relies on the screen pass. But it’s hard not to be intrigued by what a two-time state title-winning coach can bring to new Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter.
While meeting with reporters after a March 30 spring scrimmage, Richardson deftly explained how offensive staff whittled down their play call list while simultaneously adding “question marks” for receivers to answer after the shooting, basing their routes on an opponent’s cover.
All the while, the famously personality coach was heckled by tight ends Luke Price and Davis Allen, who playfully asked their own questions.
Allen asked about Richardson’s beard grooming regiment. They were driven off when Allen tried to get Richardson started on “The Chronic,” presumably a reference to Dr. Dre’s 1992 album.
“The other day I gave them the (lesson) of West Coast rap, sort of late 80s early 2000s,” Richardson said. “You have to teach them more than what happens on the pitch, don’t you? We try to develop the whole tight end, on and off the pitch.
For the record, Richardson prefers Tupac to Biggie. Some of his musicians probably dislike neither, nor rap music in general. “But that doesn’t matter,” Richardson joked, “because it’s my bedroom.”
Richardson, who plays the music he wants, enjoys the interaction between a coach and an athlete. He loves it so much he almost couldn’t stay off the court at Clemson for six years. He won a state title in 2015, expecting to contest another with most of his returning roster. Then, a longtime Clemson fan was offered a dream opportunity by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Richardson has been on staff for two national titles in three years.
But the seasons passed and Richardson, who served as an offensive assistant and director of player development, grew restless. He even got himself chosen as a high school principal, telling himself that he would apply if he ever became free. That position was opened up in 2021 — shortly before Clemson offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Tony Elliott left to become Virginia’s head coach in December. When Richardson got Swinney’s call, he was lying in a hospital bed recovering from back surgery.
“Once I got the job, I still couldn’t coach,” Richardson said. “You have to be patient a little longer.”
Not too long, however. When future offensive line coach Thomas Austin, who was Richardson’s temporary replacement, was kicked out of the Cheez-It Bowl with COVID-19, Richardson was able to convince his doctor to let him coach. He just had to do it from the press box, where he couldn’t accidentally get knocked down.
Things worked out for Richardson. He made the most of an 0-3 start to the 2014 season, turning to Dupree Hart and running away. Now he can recruit more than the players in a high school hallway – and he has no morning bus service. He’ll sit in the bistro at Clemson’s indoor facility and remember that he doesn’t have cafeteria duty and won’t have to break up a fight.
The only problem Richardson faces is how to restore some confidence in Clemson’s passing game.
A trust that Hart and his teammates had in Northwestern.
“We don’t want to throw everything out the window, but the flip side is ‘Where do we want to go and develop this thing?’ I think the biggest thing is, ‘Let’s get back to basics where we put the ball in the playmakers’ hands in space?’ And they went and made plays,” Richardson said. “I wouldn’t say to reorganize the passing game, but get back to where we were and regain our confidence.