Looking at the career of Kyle Richardson, it was easy to see this coming. Richardson excelled as a high school and college coach before ever setting foot in Northwestern High School. Rock Hill was supposed to be a temporary, possibly one year, stop for Coach Richardson. But something happened, he and his family fell in love with the school and community.
Richardson came to Northwestern as offensive coordinator under Hall of Fame Coach Jimmy Wallace. Wallace’s one job for Richardson was simple, change the offense. After just 3 months of installing his own version of the “Air-Raid” offense, the results were easy to see. Under Richardson’s tutelage, returning Quarterback Will King turned into a passing machine, setting state records during his only year as QB under Coach Richardson. That 2007 team came within an eyelash of the state championship game as they lost to perennial power Byrnes in the semi-finals.
During the offseason, as expected, Coach Richardson had opportunities to return to college, but with a promising rising sophomore Quarterback to coach, Richardson decided to stay the course. That young quarterback is a name everyone knows around the state, Justin Worley. During the three years that Richardson and Worley worked together they literally rewrote the statewide record book in terms of passing efficiency, setting records in: yards passing in career and season, touchdown passes in a career and season, in addition to multiple national and state single game records. Worley’s career culminated with a 15-0 season, Shrine Bowl selection, and a National Gatorade Player of the Year. Surely this would be the time that Richardson took the next step to get back into coaching, but again fate stepped in.
In February of 2011, Hall of Fame Coach Jimmy Wallace retired, opening the door for Richardson to fulfill a career dream of becoming a head coach. Rock Hill High Athletic Director Bill Warren (who was handling the same role at Northwestern at the time) knew the man to take over the job was already on staff and Richardson was officially hired as Northwestern’s head coach in April of that year.
Over the next 5 years, Richardson became one of the hottest young names in coaching winning 58 games, while losing only 13. He amassed a 13-3 post-season record with three state championship appearances, winning the big game in 2013 and 2015. Richardson’s skill set as an offensive guru continued as he took a private school tight end (Mason Rudolph) and helped to morph him into a record setting statewide quarterback and Shrine Bowl MVP. Rudolph is now lighting up the scoreboard as the starting quarterback for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. While most expected Northwestern to continue to score points in bunches with Richardson at the helm, it was the other side of the year that surprised most.
In one of his first big moves as head coach, Richardson hired former North Carolina high school head coach James Martin to run the defense. Richardson discussed with Martin a defense that both hoped would be as aggressive as the offense. Over the 4 year period the two wrote together the defense steadily improved every year, culminating with the state’s 3rd ranked defense this past season to go along with the state’s top offense.
While many will point to the statistics when Coach Richardson’s legacy is discussed at Northwestern, the true story of the man is the staff and players he worked with. Richardson often said he worked with the best coaching staff in the state, and honestly, it’s tough to argue with him. He and athletic director Lauren West have managed to assemble a team of experience, youth, wisdom, and hard work. The way the coaches work together is truly a well oiled machine. They all push the kids for the ultimate goal, which is their slogan. “Win Today”. The most telling thing about good the staff Richardson assembled is that Athletic Director Lauren West and Principal James Blake have coaches already on staff that could step into the head coaches role and keep the team on track. Great leaders surround themselves with even better leaders and that has been a trademark of the Northwestern staff. In terms of the players, Richardson put together the plan of winning in all aspects of life from the classroom, home life, church, and the football field, which again defines the “Win Today” mentality. But ultimately, it was his academic plan that many parents will remember his legacy by. Players are held accountable in the classroom just as much, if not more, than their on-field actions.
Coach Richardson always said that it would take a special opportunity to leave Northwestern, and it is obvious that this opportunity with the Tigers is just that. Richardson grew up in the Clemson area and is a lifelong Tiger fan. He is a long-time friend of Clemson Co-Offensive Coordinator Jeff Scott and many of the Tiger coaches. Clemson makes sense. The timing was right and the opportunity is even better. Coach Richardson will be part of arguably the top coaching staff in all of college football. For my money, I am willing to bet he, himself, will continue to move up in the coaching ranks and someday very soon he will be the man calling the shots at a major university. Personally, Coach Richardson is truly one of the most genuine men I know. He is a coach that is honestly concerned about the kids, more than anything. Over the past 5 years that he has been head coach, we spend a lot of time together discussing the football team in preparation for Friday night’s and naturally we have learned a lot about each other. But through it all, he doesn’t change. He is a humble individual and will approach this new opportunity with the same hunger he approached his head coaching and offensive coordinator duties at Northwestern.