Bryant started the past 18 games for the Tigers, but he was informed Monday that he had been demoted in favor of freshman Trevor Lawrence. Coach Dabo Swinney described their Monday meeting as "emotional" and gave Bryant the day off practice. But Bryant also skipped practice on Tuesday. He detailed his decision to the newspaper. Bryant didn't return phone and text messages sent by ESPN.
"They asked me how I felt about it," Bryant told the newspaper about his meeting with Swinney. "I was like, 'I'm not discrediting Trevor. He's doing everything asked of him, but on my side of it, I feel like I haven't done anything to not be the starter. I've been here. I've waited my turn. I've done everything y'all have asked me to do, plus more.'
"I've never been a distraction. I've never been in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face."
Swinney pushed back against that assertion on the ACC coaches teleconference Wednesday, saying he was as open and transparent as possible about where Bryant stood in the quarterback competition.
"He won the job after Deshaun Watson and beat out the No. 1 [high school] quarterback in country to do that in Hunter Johnson, and another recruited quarterback in Zerrick Cooper, both who have gone on to play elsewhere," Swinney said.
"He won the job, and he was the starter for us last year and did a great job, and he came out of camp slightly ahead, and so he continued to start these first four games, but I definitely feel he's been given a fair shot. But at the end of the day, this is not middle school. There's tough decisions that have to be made at this level, and you gotta do what's best for the team."
Bryant started the first four games this season but split time with Lawrence. With the new redshirting rules this season, Bryant, a senior, has an opportunity to transfer to another school with one year of eligibility remaining because he played in only four games this season. The new rule states that players who participate in four games or fewer can retain the season of eligibility.
Bryant went 16-2 as a starter and led Clemson to the College Football Playoff last year.
"I feel like it's what's best for me and my future," Bryant said. "I was just going to control what I could control and try to make the most of my opportunity, but at the end of the day, I just don't feel like I've gotten a fair shot."
Swinney said on Wednesday that he was "saddened and disappointed" that Bryant made the decision to leave.
"As far as the decision, as coach sometimes you have to make tough decisions that are in the best interests of the team, and this is one of those decisions, and I would make it all over again because I believe that it's what's right for our team. I feel like Kelly would have continued to help us win and play a lot, but it's not what he wanted to do. I certainly could have started him this week, which would have limited his options, but that's not how we operate here. That's not who we are."
Asked whether there's anything he could have done differently to keep Bryant on the roster, Swinney said no. "You just have to respect his decision, this is what he feels is best for him, even though you don't agree with it. I did tell him if he wanted to go somewhere else and play next year I would agree to not play him the rest of the year but continue to stay and be a part of it if that's what he wanted to do, but it's not what he wanted to do. He made a decision he felt was best for him, and you have to respect that and move on. He has to move on, we've got to move on and get ready to play Syracuse."
On Tuesday, Swinney told reporters, "We've played four games now, and it's a difficult thing, man. It's a tough day, but it's just where we are."
Lawrence leads Clemson with 600 passing yards and has 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions, completing 65 percent of his attempts. Bryant has 461 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, completing 66.7 percent of his attempts with 130 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
"I've told y'all that many times that if we saw a change, if there was a change, we'd probably all know it, and that's what happened Saturday," Swinney said. "And Kelly didn't do anything wrong. He played well. But Trevor, after four games, productivity and just the sheer data, he deserves to run out there first this game."