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Sep 14, 2018

Tony Elliott – 2017 Broyles Award Winner

By: TIM BOURRET

Note: The following appears in the Georgia Southern gameday football program


There have been many program-defining accomplishments for Dabo Swinney’s program in his 10 years as head coach, especially from 2015-17, when the Tigers had a 40-4 record with three straight trips to the College Football Playoff, including the 2016 national championship, and three ACC titles.

But from a personal professional standpoint, one has to stand out. In each of the last two years, one of his assistant coaches has won the Frank Broyles Award. Brent Venables was honored with the trophy that signifies the top assistant coach in college football in 2016, and Tony Elliott won the honor in 2017.

Clemson became the first school in the nation to have an assistant coach win the award in consecutive years. In the 22 years of the Broyles award, 17 different schools have had a winner. Oklahoma has had the most winners with three, while Clemson joined Auburn and Ohio State with two selections apiece.

A look to the history of each coach tells us how special it was because they have had different backgrounds.

 

Venables coaches the defense and Elliott coaches the offense, documentation of Clemson’s excellence on both sides of the ball. Venables came to Clemson after an incredible run of success as an assistant coach at another institution, Oklahoma. He played linebacker at Kansas State and did not have any ties to Clemson before he arrived in 2012.

Elliott is basically a product of the Tiger program, as he is a 2003 Clemson graduate in industrial engineering and was a key wide receiver for the Tigers. He then worked hard from the ground up through the coaching ranks at FCS programs in this area and joined his alma mater’s staff in 2011 as the running backs coach under Swinney.

“It is an awesome honor for our program to have two of our coaches win this award at any point, nevermind in consecutive years,” said Swinney. “It says a lot about the culture of our program. If you work hard within this program, you will be successful. That applies to our players and our staff. I am very proud of both coaches, but we all realize these awards are program awards.

“They both understand that they would not have won the Broyles Award without the hard work of everyone on the staff and without the excellence of the players. The players followed the lead of Brent and Tony to perform on the field and bring our program success.”

Clemson entered 2018 as the only program with two Broyles Award winners among its 10 current assistant coaches.

Elliott is just the second African-American to win the Broyles Award, joining former Miami (Fla.) defensive coordinator Randy Shannon in 2001. He joined Venables, Bud Foster (Virginia Tech, 2006), Ralph Friedgen (Georgia Tech, 1999) and Mickey Andrews (Florida State, 1996), who was the first winner of the award, as the only ACC coaches to win the honor. Twelve of the previous 21 winners have gone on to become head coaches, including six of the last eight dating to Kirby Smart in 2009, now the head coach at Georgia.

Elliott came to Clemson in 2000 as a wide receiver. Prior to his senior year, Jon Solomon of Anderson’s Independent Mail did a survey of the team. One of the questions he asked the players was, “Who is the most respected player on the team?” Elliott was by far the top answer to that question and was voted one of the permanent team co-captains at the end of the year.

During that 2003 campaign, Elliott played all 13 games and had 23 receptions for 286 yards and a touchdown under Swinney, then a first-year wide receivers coach.
“I could see that Tony had great leadership qualities and had a future in coaching if he wanted to pursue it.”“If he wanted to pursue it,” was an important qualifier, because Elliott had opportunities in the engineering world. After graduation, he accepted a job with Michelin.

“I really enjoyed Michelin and the people there,” said Elliott. “I had a great boss, a good-paying job and Michelin was a great company to work for.”
But after a few years, something was missing for Elliott.
“I was having an impact on the people at Michelin, but I had a desire to work with young people and decided I wanted to go into coaching.”

Elliott returned to the gridiron in 2006 as a wide receivers coach at SC State. After two years, he moved back to the upstate of South Carolina as wide receivers coach at Furman.

After the 2010 season, Swinney had an opening on his staff for the running backs coach and offered the position to Elliott. The offer in itself had significant meaning to Elliott.

In 1989 at the age of nine, Elliott was a witness to his mother’s death in a traffic accident on Sycamore Street in California. At a convention in 2010, Elliott took Swinney to the exact intersection of the accident, because he wanted to show him where the event that changed his life took place.

When Swinney decided to hire Elliott for the position, he invited him to dinner at his home in Clemson…on Sycamore Drive.

“I told Tony I wanted him to accept it right here,” stated Swinney. “It was the same street name where he had such a traumatic experience as a kid, and I wanted him to have a great experience now. I think God winks at you and gives you confirmation from time to time. I think God winked to me. I was contemplating things, and that was the confirmation I needed.”

It didn’t take long for Swinney to see confirmation of his ability as a coach. While he never coached running backs, he studied, sought advice and helped Clemson to its first ACC title in 20 years in 2011.

“One of the reasons there is great pride in him winning the award is that he had never coached the position before he came to Clemson,” added Swinney. “He hadn’t played the position, either. But he worked and worked, and our running backs flourished under him.”
Andre Ellington had over 1,000 rushing yards under Elliott’s direction in that first year, and he duplicated the feat in 2012. Roderick McDowell joined the 1,000-yard club in 2013, and Wayne Gallman followed with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016. Gallman’s 1,527 rushing yards in 2015 set the school record, and the current New York Giant running back is fifth in school history with 3,429 rushing yards even though he played just three years.

It is no coincidence that Clemson’s run of seasons with at least 10 victories started when Elliott joined the staff in 2011. In his first seven seasons on staff, Clemson won four ACC championships, posted an 82-15 record, had seven top-25 finishes, including five top-10 rankings, advanced to the College Football Playoffs three of four possible seasons and won the 2016 national title.

 

When offensive coordinator Chad Morris left Clemson to become the head coach at Southern Methodist at the end of the 2014 regular season, Swinney made Elliott and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott co-offensive coordinators.

“When Chad left, it took me about 10 seconds to know what I wanted to do,” said Swinney. “Both Tony and Jeff knew our offense and our personnel, and I knew they would both do a great job.”

Their first game as co-offensive coordinators was against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The 40-6 victory was a foreshadowing of things to come. Since that first game with Elliott and Scott running the offense, the Tigers are 43-4 with three ACC titles and just two regular-season losses. The 43-4 record includes a 16-2 mark against top-25 teams.

While Clemson was ranked No. 5 in the 2017 preseason poll, many expected the Tigers to take a step back after winning the 2016 national championship behind Deshaun Watson, a once-in-a-generation quarterback. The Tigers lost players who accounted for 77 percent of the offense, including Elliott’s best running back (Gallman).

But the Tigers did not skip a beat. On the date the votes for the Broyles Award were counted, the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation and earned the top seed in the College Football Playoff with a 12-1 record.

 

On Dec. 5, Elliott attended the Broyles Award luncheon in Little Rock, Ark., as one of five finalists.

“I was just happy to be a finalist and had no expectations of winning,” admitted Elliott. “It’s an honor to be with those other coaches from great programs and to meet members of the Broyles family and learn about the legacy of Frank Broyles and what he did for the profession.

“When they called my name, it was a great feeling. Winning that award changed my life. As a Clemson graduate and former player, it gave me great pride in our program.
“This is a program award. It is a great statement about the way we do things at Clemson in every part of the program.”

The fact that he was the second consecutive Clemson coach to win the award also came to Elliott’s mind.

“Having consecutive winners of the Broyles Award is a testimony to coach Swinney. It tells our entire staff that if you work hard and do things right, you can do great things at Clemson. He is so supportive of his staff, and having consecutive Broyles Award winners is one of the biggest demonstrations of that.”

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