Former Clemson players, coaches can’t say enough good things about Nick Eason’s hire

From December 2002, Clemson defensive lineman Nick Eason during a bowl practice.

From December 2002, Clemson defensive lineman Nick Eason during a bowl practice.

The State file photo

Jeff Scott joined the Clemson football team as an eager freshman in 2000.

He switched from playing quarterback, his position at Hammond School in Columbia, to wide receiver because he felt it would give him the best chance of helping the Tigers. Midway through Scott’s first fall season, the team needed a scout team quarterback after the first one got hurt and the other wasn’t performing well.

Scott asked then-Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden if he could fill in, to which Bowden obliged. As fate would have it, the young Tiger was pretty good and made his defensive teammates’ lives miserable. Then-defensive coordinator Reggie Herring made the unit run the same play again every time Scott completed a pass — which was a lot.

As Scott, now South Florida’s head coach, recalls 22 years later, this went on for about two weeks before defensive lineman Nick Eason got the better of him. Eason, then a sophomore, came off the edge and slammed Scott, ending the latter’s freshman season.

“I ended up having to have shoulder surgery, so I give him a hard time about that,” Scott said of Eason. “It wasn’t a malicious hit or anything like that. It was just a lot of frustration because I’d come over there and started tearing it up on scout team. I probably started talking a little noise to the varsity defense and Nick had enough of it. He came and cleaned me up pretty good.”

The hard-hitting, intelligent Eason has returned to Clemson to coach his old playing position of defensive tackles. Everyone who knew him back then as a Tiger is excited for him and what his presence will mean for the defense and his players.

For Thielen Smith, who served as Clemson’s defensive line coach from 1999 to 2003, it’s a full-circle moment for him to see Eason take the job.

“For me — and this is being selfish — I got a prodigy now (in) a D-line coach where I was actually the D-line coach, so I’m excited,” said Smith, who plans to visit Clemson soon to check out Eason’s coaching style. “I’ll be 68 on the 23rd, and he makes this old man feel very good to see him going back to Clemson.”

Smith remembers Eason, who he moved from defensive end to tackle so Bryant McNeal could play on the edge, as someone who always had a smile on his face no matter what. He also remembers Eason as one of the better players he coached.

Off the field, Eason was a friend to Scott, who said the former treated him, a walk-on, the same as the scholarship starters.

Tony Elliott had the same experience with Eason. The former Tigers offensive coordinator met Eason at Harcombe Dining Hall in 1999 and talked to him about his own desire to walk on and play for Clemson. Eason was nothing less than supportive and encouraging.

“He didn’t treat me different then, didn’t turn his nose up at me,” said Elliott, who played wide receiver at Clemson. “Same thing once I got on the team.”

Eason, Elliott and Scott completed their playing careers at Clemson and went into coaching. Scott had a jump on Elliott and Eason, both of whom explored other ventures before delving into the profession. Eason had a 10-year NFL career, while Elliott first went into engineering.

Eason getting into coaching came as a surprise to Smith, but also evoked a feeling of pride. His former player would now step into the same role that brought them together.

“He had a lot of options, so I was like a little kid when I read his name in the paper,” Smith said. “I was so excited for him, especially being from Georgia and now being able to coach at Clemson, which is a great opportunity.”

Over the years, Scott, Eason and Elliott all kept in touch with each other. Scott followed Eason’s career in the NFL. The three would then see each other when Scott and Elliott were Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator and Eason was coaching in the NFL and would come to the university for players’ pro days.

Elliott and Scott have moved on to head coaching jobs at Virginia and South Florida, respectively, after stints at their alma mater. It’s an experience Eason will now get to have.

“I think he’s going to bring a ton of energy,” Elliott said of Eason. “I think technically, he’ll be able to help those guys from an understanding of what’s necessary to be successful at the highest level, so he’ll be able to show them the things they need to work on and he’ll have tangible evidence of the things he’s coached at the next level to help those guys.”

Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney has a track record of bringing in former players to coach. Prior to Elliott’s departure, all but one of the offensive coaches were Clemson alumni. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell graduated from Furman University. Upon Caldwell’s retirement, which was announced last week, Swinney promoted former Tigers offensive lineman Thomas Austin from offensive analyst to coach his former position.

Now, tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Kyle Richardson (App State) is the only non-Clemson alum among offensive assistants, while Eason is the only former Tiger among the defensive coaching staff.

“For me, it was an honor to coach Nick,” Smith said. “He just had that smile and that spirit about him. I think he’ll inspire his players. I’m really excited to see him coach this year.”

Alexis Cubit serves primarily as the Clemson sports reporter for The (Columbia) State newspaper. Before moving to South Carolina in 2021, she covered high school sports for six years and received a first-place award in the sports feature category from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors in 2019. The California native earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Baylor University in 2014.


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