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One month in, how Tony Elliott is adjusting to life as Virginia’s head coach

New Virginia head football coach and longtime Clemson assistant coach Tony Elliott speaks during an introductory NCAA college football news conference at the school, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. Elliott will take over the program after the upcoming bowl game. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

New Virginia head football coach and longtime Clemson assistant coach Tony Elliott speaks during an introductory NCAA college football news conference at the school, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Charlottesville, Va. Elliott will take over the program after the upcoming bowl game. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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Charlottesville’s welcome of Tony Elliott was anything but warm.

The winter months can be that way, as Elliott is learning. Since his hiring a month ago, he and his family have experienced piles of snow, power outages and cold weather.

The University of Virginia’s welcome, however, has been the opposite as Elliott adjusts to his new role as a head coach. The Cavaliers officially announced the former Clemson offensive coordinator’s hiring on Dec. 10. He’s been going nonstop ever since.

“I’m blessed to be in a situation where there’s great people to work with,” Elliott told The State. “I’m assembling my staff of really good people, great young men that are hungry for the transition into something new, so it’s been fun.”

Elliott brought Adam Smotherman with him from Clemson to lead the strength and conditioning program at Virginia. He retained some coaches from the previous coaching staff, including wide receivers coach Marques Hagan, defensive line coach Clint Sintim and offensive line coach Garett Tujague. Former Atlanta Falcons running backs coach and South Carolina native Desmond Kitchings will be Virginia’s new offensive coordinator, while Kevin Downing, Keith Gaither and former Cavaliers linebacker Chris Slade were brought in as defensive assistant coaches.

Less than a week into the new job, Elliott experienced his first National Signing Day that included the Cavaliers adding 10 players, one of which was a transfer in former Wisconsin wide receiver Devin Chandler. Even though he didn’t recruit them, Elliott was able to speak with most of them via Zoom prior to them signing with the program.

“It’s a different signing day than what I’m used to … but we’re coming out of 2020, 2021. Nothing’s been as we thought,” Elliott said on Dec. 15. “But just really excited for these young men to fulfill a dream.”

In addition to the signing day, one of the of the biggest changes Elliott has noticed is how much he’s had to divide his time and attention.

“As a position coach or a coordinator, you really just focus on the players and the position group on your side of the ball,” he explained, “whereas as a head coach, you’ve got to be able to speak to everybody from operations to recruiting to equipment, so it’s just that transition to being more of a CEO.”

The former Tiger, who replaced Bronco Mendenhall, is equipped for the challenge, though. He has plenty of colleagues and mentors to help him if needed. His former co-offensive coordinator and teammate at Clemson, Jeff Scott, is one of those people. Scott’s got a three-year jump on Elliott in terms of taking the first head coaching gig, leaving Clemson for South Florida in 2019. Upon Elliott’s hiring with the Cavaliers, Scott offered him one simple piece of advice: be yourself.

“The reason he’s got to where he has is because he’s a very genuine person, truly cares and loves young people,” Scott told The State. “I told him as long as he does that, he’ll figure everything else out.”

Former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is also going through the process of becoming a head coach for the first time. He took the job at Oklahoma a week before Elliott’s hiring at Virginia. While the extent of their conversations have largely just been congratulatory texts due to hectic schedules and adjusting to their new lives, Elliott said the two will debrief soon. There will be much to discuss at that time.

“It’s been wild. Every day’s a blur,” Elliott said. “Things are moving fast. It’s a lot of decisions once you get into the head seat, but it’s all good.”

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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