Tony Elliott’s track record of recruiting running backs speaks for itself.
Since becoming Clemson’s running backs coach in 2011, Elliott has coached a 1,000-yard rusher six times, including Wayne Gallman in 2015 and 2016 and Travis Etienne in 2018. In 2013, Elliott coached All-ACC running back Roderick McDowell, and in 2012, he coached first-team All-ACC running back Andre Ellington.
Last year, Elliott guided Etienne to one of the best rushing seasons in Clemson history, helping the ACC Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award finalist set school records in rushing yards (1,658) and rushing touchdowns (24).
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has said before that nobody on his staff is stingier with a scholarship offer than Elliott, and it’s one of the reasons he has been so successful with the Tigers.
“Running back is a developmental position,” Elliott said this week, explaining his selective approach on the recruiting trail. “I think that those guys have a chance to really develop later in their high school career, so I want to take my time and then I just want to make sure that they’re the right fit. If I’m only getting one or two (running backs), I can’t afford to get the wrong one. Because if I take the wrong one and he leaves on me, we don’t have a junior college policy here — I can’t go get anybody. So, I want to make sure I’ve got the right guys that are committed.”
Another reason that Elliott does not throw out offers to a bunch of prospects, like some other coaches are apt to do, dates to his own experience as a high school recruit.
Elliott does not extend many offers. So, when he does, it is a committable offer – meaning if a player wants to commit after receiving an offer, then his commitment would be accepted.
“When I decided to leave Corporate America to get into coaching, I kind of sat down and said, what’s going to be my identity and my philosophy?” Elliott recalled. “I remember back when I was in high school and I had some smaller Division I offers, I-AA offers, and this was back before social media … So, I remember calling the school, saying ‘Hey, I’m ready to come,’ and they’re like, ‘Uh, we gave your scholarship away,’ and I didn’t know anything about it.
“So, I said if I’m ever in that position, then I’m just going to be transparent and let guys know exactly what they’re getting. I don’t want it to be a situation where they necessarily fall in love with the recruiting piece of it, but they fall in love with everything that’s associated with the program — the real meat and potatoes.”
Elliott is also picky when it comes to offering prospects because he knows that not everybody has what it takes to play for Swinney.
“I think a lot of people outside the program (think) ‘Oh man, he dances in the locker room and everything is great,’” Elliott said. “But he’s — in a good way — he’s very, very demanding and he’s going to hold you accountable, and you want to make sure you have the right young men that are looking for that. I think you’ve got to take your time in recruiting and get to know those young men, or else you’re going to put yourself in a situation where you may not get a fit.”
Last but not least, Elliott feels he owes it to his former running backs to make sure that he finds the right players for the future.
“I’ve got a responsibility to those guys to make sure that I bring in the right guys to represent them going forward,” Elliott said. “When we break it down every day after practice, it’s ‘beast,’ and those guys take pride in what they developed and that culture. So, I just want to make sure I bring the right guys in.”
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