There has been another change on Dabo Swinney’s coaching staff. As many knew all season, this was Robbie Caldwell’s final year as the offensive line coach. Coach Caldwell turns 68 years old in a few weeks. He will transition into a role running high school relations and sophomore transition while also scouting prospects. Kyle Richardson vacated the high school relations role when he was promoted to tight ends coach and passing game coordinator.
Coach Caldwell has been the O-Line Coach at Clemson since the 2011 season. Prior to that he served one year as the head coach for Vanderbilt (2010) after being their O-Line Coach from 2002-2009. In the years preceding that he was the O-Line coach at Furman, NC State, and North Carolina.
Under Caldwell, Clemson’s offensive lines tended to be solid in pass protection. From 2015-2020 they ranked in the top 16 in sack percentage each year except 2017 when they were a run-heavy offense with Kelly Bryant at QB.
Although poor run blocking last season and through first nine games of this season stand out, Clemson has generally been able to run the ball with success behind Coach Caldwell’s offensive lines.
In short-yardage, success has been more limited. The goal line touchdown against Alabama in 2016 stands out as a shining success from the O-line, but generally speaking, Caldwell’s O-lines have been fairly pedestrian in short-yardage situations.
Clemson has never failed to win at least 10 games each season since Coach Caldwell joined the staff in 2011. His time with Clemson coincides perfectly with Clemson’s rise.
As he leaves this role, Caldwell won’t leave the cupboard bare. Last year, the Tigers brought in four offensive line recruits. Five-star Tristan Leigh (Fairfax, VA) headlined the group. The three others were four-star recruits and included Marcus Tate (Miami Gardens, FL) who started the Cheez-It Bowl, Dietrick Pennington (Cordova, TN) who tore his ACL but was in line for significant snaps before the injury, and center Ryan Linthicum (Demascus, MD). Two more four-star O-line recruits joined the fray in this December’s early signing period: Collin Sadler (Greenville, SC) and Blake Miller (Strongsville, OH).
Thomas Austin, a former Clemson player, has been promoted from offensive analyst to offensive line coach. He was a second-team All-ACC Center for Clemson in 2008 and 2009. He went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft, but stuck in the league for three years at various spots including the Carolina Panthers. In 2015 he joined Clemson as a GA. After four years as a GA, he became the O-Line Coach at Georgia State in 2019. After two years there, Coach Swinney — knowing Caldwell was entering his final season — brought Austin back to be an analyst and essentially the O-Line coach-in-waiting. Filling his spot as analyst is former Clemson lineman Tyrone Crowder, who was a GA. Another former Tiger lineman, Brandon Thomas, joins the staff as the new offensive line GA.
Looking ahead to next season, Clemson’s tackles are fairly well-established. Jordan McFadden was outstanding and while Walker Parks had some struggles, he started every game. The interior of the offensive line is a total unknown. Mason Trotter seemed to settle in at center, but missed the bowl game due to a violation of team rules. He will be a redshirt junior next season. Hunter Rayburn started at center in place of Trotter. He will also be a redshirt junior next season.
At the guard positions, senior Will Putnam is likely to hold a starting position. Over at left guard, rising sophomores Marcus Tate and Dietrick Pennington could compete with whichever of Trotter/Rayburn doesn’t win the center position. Additionally, with all the youth, a graduate transfer from the portal could come in a boost the group. This will be one of several interesting spots on the offense to follow during the off-season. Coach Austin will have a lot of decisions to make as he takes responsibility for the position group.
To Coach Caldwell we thank him for his time in the on-field coaching role and hope he enjoys and thrives in his new role. Clemson has enjoyed immense success with him on the staff. We’re also excited to see Clemson alumnus Thomas Austin join the staff. Congratulations to all!