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Clemson Football Playcalling: Who Is Actually Calling Plays?

Idiotic announcers and bad graphics have stirred up quite a confusion over Clemson's offensive coaching responsibilities. Here's the real story on how the offense works.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There's been a lot of confusion on TV and here on STS over how Clemson's offensive coaching staff operates, specifically, who is calling plays. The sources of the confusion are some misinformed announcers and some less-than-helpful graphics. This article is meant to cut through some of the crap, give everyone a clear picture of how Clemson's offensive coaching staff operates, and try to answer some worries that have been raised.

There has been plenty of misinformation out there, and infographics that could very easily be misunderstood. First of all, during the second quarter of the Notre Dame broadcast, Chris Fowler stated that Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are "sharing the play calling duties." He said that Tony Elliott is the overall play caller and calls the run plays, while Jeff Scott calls the pass plays. He calls it an "interesting arrangement." Herbstreit then goes on to voice concern over having co-coordinators, noting that it's difficult to know who's really calling the shots when you have two guys running the show.

Secondly, during the Georgia Tech game, Dr. Jerry Punch claimed that Jeff Scott had been "deciding on pass plays on 1st and 2nd down, and Tony Elliott had been deciding on run plays" when game planning under former offensive coordinator, Chad Morris.

ESPN threw up a graphic at that same time to illustrate the point Punch was making.

Game Planning Graphic

In the game threads and post-game discussions, many here at STS were confused and outraged. Many were confused because no one knew that both Elliott and Scott had been calling plays. How does that even work? How do you decide to run or pass, decide on a play, and signal it in fast enough to run a HUNH offense? Who gets the final say if there's disagreement over the call? And this last question led to a lot of the outrage. Who, exactly, should be held responsible if and when things don't go well? When Davidson was getting the #2 RB snaps, who was making that decision? When we went super conservative a bit too early for some folks against ND, who made that decision? And who continues to believe that we're catching teams off guard on 3rd and short when we motion to an empty backfield and run the QB power? Who is running our injury-prone franchise-QB when we're up by multiple TDs in the second half of a game we have under control? These types of questions deserve answers, but they can't be answered when there's no clear authority to whom to direct the questions.

Without further ado, let me put some of these questions and fears to rest: Tony Elliott calls all plays for the Clemson offense. How do I know that? When the two were announced as co-coordinators, Dabo, Scott, and Elliott all said as much in very plain language. On Sunday, Dec. 7th, just days after making the announcement that Scott and Elliott would be co-coordinators, Dabo announced that Tony Elliott would be calling plays. A few days later, in a joint press conference, Elliott discussed how he plans on calling the plays and managing the game. Scott went on to joke that he proposed they divide the play calling duties so that he could call first and second downs and Elliott could call third and fourth downs, but ends by saying that, "We figured this [Tony calling plays] was probably the best way." Tony Elliott was announced as the play caller almost immediately by Dabo. Tony and Jeff have both, consistently, confirmed that Elliott is the one calling the plays. There has been nothing said by anyone directly associated with Clemson to the contrary, so we have every reason to believe that Tony Elliott is the one calling plays for the Clemson Tiger offense. If it's really that straight forward, why has there been so much confusion?

The fans are confused because ESPN is telling us confusing (and incorrect) information. Why ESPN is so confused is anyone's guess. In regards to the ND clip, were Chris Fowler and Herbstreit given information that no one else has been given? Or do all the media members have this information, but none have made it public? Both of those options are really hard for me to believe. Therefore, I have to believe that Fowler and Herbstreit either misunderstood the situation and thought they were speaking accurately or they understood the situation correctly and simply misspoke. Either way, those two guys are ESPN's creme de la creme, so to have them make such a ridiculous mistake is hard for me to understand.

In the clip from the GT game, Dr. Jerry Punch actually laid out how things operated last year pretty clearly. The graphic, too, is pretty interesting and helpful. The problem is, in light of the mistake by Fowler and Herbstreit just the week before, many people didn't realize that he was describing the game planning duties, not the play calling duties. If you weren't paying close attention, when Dr. Jerry Punch says that Scott was "deciding on pass plays" and Elliott was "deciding on run plays," you could have very easily understood him to be talking about current play calling duties. The graphic, too, is easily misunderstood. The graphic says, "Jeff calls:..." and "Scott calls:..." as if they are each calling plays. If you don't see that the graphic represents "Game Plan Duties" and represents last season's setup under Morris, then the graphic would, understandably, cause one a small heart attack. Maybe ESPN was actually trying to make up for the misinformation from the week before. If so, then good on them, but the way they went about it actually added to the confusion instead of clearing it up.

With the play calling duties cleared up, how does the rest of the offensive staff work? From everything that's been made public, it appears that Jeff Scott is primarily responsible for game planning for the passing game during the week. I assume that means he is looking at the opposing team's secondary, looking for what routes they have trouble with, and trying to create the kind of mismatches we can take advantage of.

Tony Elliott is primarily responsible for game planning for the rushing attack during the week. He will scout the opposing team's front seven, looking for ways to exploit weaknesses, and spring our RBs for big gains. Those are game planning duties that are handled during the week. During practices, Scott works with WRs, Elliott with the RBs, Streeter with the QBs, Pearman with the TEs, and Caldwell with the OL.

On game day, each coach is primarily responsible for their position group, watching their performance, hearing from them about what the other team is doing, etc. Scott, Streeter, Pearman, and Caldwell are on the sidelines feeding all this information up to Elliott in the booth. Elliott, then, calls all plays. That does not mean he won't receive information from other coaches, nor does it mean that the other coaches are not allowed to suggest plays. Heck, if you remember back to the win over LSU in the Chick-fil-a Bowl, Chad Morris admitted that Brandon Ford called the legendary 4th and 16 play. The coaches have all admitted that the process is more of a collaborative effort than many realize, but when all is said and done, Tony Elliott is the one calling plays.

Here are some other questions and worries that have been brought up:

1. Without one, single, strong-willed coordinator, is Dabo able to dab(ble)?

I have no inside information for you, but I feel safe assuming that Dabo gets a lot of input when it comes to overall game strategy. Dabo is almost certainly the one making the call on when to sit on a lead, like we did against Notre Dame, and he's probably making decisions on when to start subbing in reserves. It's also a pretty safe bet that Dabo has a say in certain play calls, like a pooch punt instead of a long field goal attempt. These are all decisions that every head coach makes, they're not unique to our situation.

Beyond Dabo, Scott, Pearman, Streeter, and Caldwell have all been named as guys who Elliott receives information from and will listen to throughout the course of a game. It just cannot be the case, however, that Elliott is conferring with anyone else between each and every play. ESPN timed some plays against UofL, and we were snapping the ball 15 seconds after the previous play was blown dead. There's just no way Elliott had time to consult with the other coaches, make a decision, run it by the other coaches, call it down to Jeff, have it signaled in to Watson, have Watson get everyone lined up, and then snap the ball, all in 15 seconds. Therefore, when all is said and done, I think there's plenty of evidence that Tony Elliott is calling the plays largely on his own.

2. Can we have a consistent identity with co-coordinators?

Yes. I'm not sure if this is a hypothetical concern or a concern born out of actual play calling. If it is the latter, I'd love to hear the reasoning and evidence for it. I haven't seen any inconsistency, but others surely have a higher football IQ than me.

If it is a hypothetical concern with these particular coordinators, then I can understand to a degree. Any young coordinator is going to have growing pains. When you have two young coordinators trying to figure it out together, it has the potential to either mitigate those weaknesses or exacerbate them. Both guys have weaknesses, but it's unlikely that they have the same weaknesses, so the hope is that they are able to make one another better. If it is a hypothetical concern with the system in general, then I think there are plenty of successful co-coordinators out there to quell those fears. FSU, TCU, Mich St, Ohio St, Utah, Auburn, Ole Miss, Miss St, and Texas A&M all operate with offensive co-coordinators. All these teams have a consistent offensive identity. Beyond consistency, they're also successful. Including us, 6 of the current top 10, 8 of the top 13 in the AP poll utilize offensive co-coordinators. Therefore, there's no reason to worry.

Excursus - I know this article is supposed to be about Clemson's offensive co-coordinators, but since the commentators are the main source of the problem, if you will humor me for a moment, I need to rant a little.

We've suffered through some bad commentators through the years. That being said, the GT game has to be a new low for color commentary the world over. The incompetence was almost too much to bear. Even if I don't enjoy the commentators, I listen because they'll throw out interesting stats and tidbits from time to time. However, I eventually just muted the computer. I couldn't take it anymore.

Here are some of my complaints, in no particular order: They showed the Dabo-dancing video from the UofL game, but introduced it as the video from after the ND game. Nit picking on my part? Maybe, but if something is obvious enough for me to notice, the guy getting paid to announce the game should know the difference. They showed the 2pt conversion stop and introduced the clip by saying that Notre Dame had scored on a TD on the same play "just three plays before." They did score a TD on the play earlier in the game, but it wasn't three plays earlier, it was three DRIVES earlier.

I realize that ESPN has been discussing and showing stats to prove that "Clemson-ing" is a thing of the past, which I can appreciate in a way. But even the work that's seemingly meant to dispel the myth is keeping the term active and in the national conversation. I firmly believe that if ESPN would just stop using the term all together, the rest of the national media would follow suit shortly thereafter. They said Gallman is a "fire hydrant plug" for the team? What the heck is that? Do you mean spark plug? On the third play of the game, they exclaimed, "Charone Peake with an awesome block.." Yeah right. When has Charone ever... wait... that was actually true? Well, my bad, it's still hard for me to believe. In all seriousness though, those are just the ones that come to mind off the top of my head. I can't even list all the times they either mismatched jersey numbers and names, or mismatched first and last names for players. I'm sure others could point out other idiotic and incorrect statements, but you get my point.