CLEMSON — Hardly anyone expected Chad Kelly to stick around if he wasn’t the starting quarterback next fall.
Now he’s gone, and Tuesday it was confirmed that Cole Stoudt will be named Clemson’s starting quarterback during a team meeting on Monday.
Kelly took himself out of the competition with Stoudt and Deshaun Watson before it ended. Really, he didn’t give himself a chance to win.
Not that Kelly was incapable. A year ago, he nearly supplanted Stoudt as the backup, but Kelly tore a knee ligament during the spring game that required surgery. Stoudt went on to a third season as Tajh Boyd’s understudy.
So now, until freshman Watson can get back to business after the crack in his right shoulder heals, the job belongs to Stoudt, the senior, three-year backup and son of a former pro quarterback.
Kelly faces some decisions. Maybe, like Cam Newton between Florida and Auburn, he could spend a year at a junior college, or he could drop down a classification to play immediately.
That’s all he wanted. Like any kid he just wanted to play, but Kelly wasn’t like any kid. He arrived on a wave of hubris, the top prospect in New York his senior year in high school, the nephew of a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. “I’m coming to Clemson to play my freshman year,” he said two years ago. “I ain’t going just to sit on the bench.”
Kelly had a rap song and an attitude. Even before he enrolled at Clemson, he threw down the gauntlet challenging Stoudt, then the backup, on Twitter. “Your (sic) on the bench for a reason. And i (sic) come soon! Just letting you know.”
There were rumors of acrimony between them, and before the competition went public this spring, coach Dabo Swinney told them they had to bury the hatchet, that any inkling of a rift could rip apart the team. Publicly, they were teammates, partners for the greater good.
Some speculated Swinney was attempting to draw out the competition to keep Kelly engaged. There was talk Kelly was unhappy last season when he felt slighted after coming back to play fourth months removed from ACL surgery.
Swinney wanted Kelly to figure it out, hoped the tumblers would click into place so that Clemson might have the firebrand who could take Chad Morris’ offense to another level.
Even after his meltdown Saturday, when he challenged Morris and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott during the spring game, Kelly remained part of the competition. Kelly threw a pair of interceptions, but those alone wouldn’t cost him the job.
The incident last Thursday involving former Miss South Carolina Ali Rogers, a student at Clemson and an intern in the football offices, served as additional fodder for Swinney. Rogers explained on Twitter.
“With countless texts, tweets and inaccurate reports I would like to explain exactly what happened in regards to Chad Kelly, who was dismissed from the Clemson football team today.
“Last Thursday night he was riding with someone who backed into my car in my apartment complex. I said I was going to call the police to file a proper report, and Chad got out of the car asking me not to call. He became very agitated and was extremely disrespectful. As proud as I am to be part of the Clemson football program it was disheartening that he showed no remorse for his behavior.”
And that’s what likely pushed him off the cliff Monday when he met with Swinney, the absence of remorse. Rather than apologize for Saturday and offer to serve penance, Kelly reacted poorly, so Swinney dismissed him immediately.
Kelly said he never knew where he stood in the competition, though he seemed to be reading between the lines. When Morris said he wanted someone steady, with no extreme highs or lows, he seemed to be describing Stoudt.
One must wonder, too, how Kelly was managing the burden of dealing with the severe illnesses to his uncle Jim Kelly, the former pro quarterback, and his maternal grandmother.
Until last weekend, he’d lost a skirmish or two. The big battle was ahead, during summer conditioning and August practice. Now it doesn’t matter. Kelly took down his Twitter account Monday. A call Tuesday to his father was not returned.
Several weeks ago, a former teammate predicted that Stoudt would win the job and Kelly would transfer, just as many in the media speculated.
“He’s always had an edge,” said one coach.
This time Kelly cut himself.