After Chad Morris was hired as Clemson’s offensive coordinator in January 2011, it was Tony Elliott – then in his first year as the Tigers’ running backs coach – who went to get Morris at the airport.
“My first day on the job was picking him up from the airport,” Elliott recalled Monday. “It was snowing. I can remember that, it was snowing, and I’m like please, please let me be able to get to the airport to pick up my new boss.”
Elliott is now in his ninth season as an assistant coach at Clemson, while Morris was fired by Arkansas on Sunday after less than two full seasons as the head coach there.
Elliott, who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in December 2014 after Morris was hired as SMU’s head coach, reached out to Morris on Sunday after the news broke that he was let go.
“I sent Chad a text. I haven’t heard back yet, and I understand he’s busy, so I didn’t expect to hear back right away,” Elliott said. “And that’s a difficult situation. I’ve been there once before. All I can say about that is I know the type of person Chad is, I know what type of coach he is. I’m grateful to Chad.”
Elliott credits Morris for helping him get to where he is today and is confident Morris will land on his feet.
“I’m very grateful to him and his family for his willingness to believe in Coach Swinney to come and bring this style of offense and be willing to give me the ability to grow and develop in the offense and giving me some responsibility, which ultimately prepared me to be in this position,” Elliott said. “But I have no doubt that he’s going to bounce back. It’s just tough for any coaching family to go through a situation like this because at the end of the day, I don’t believe there’s any coach out there that wants to do a bad job. I think every coach wants to do a good job and they do what they believe they need to do to get the job done, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s the unfortunate piece of it. So, just praying for him and his family, but I know the kind of man he is. I know he’ll bounce back.”
Although Elliott has seen the short leash Morris had at Arkansas — similar to Willie Taggart, who was recently fired by Florida State after less than two full seasons there — Elliott says the lack of patience programs seem to have with newly hired head coaches these days won’t impact his thought process if he gets interest from other schools about a head coaching gig.
“I don’t believe so because I try to be an individual that operates based off of faith and not what I see,” Elliott said. “And so for me, when the time comes, it’s going to be spirit-led. I just have to trust that it’s the right move, and then you just put your head down and you don’t worry about that kind of stuff. I think that’s what we’ve been able to do as a program is to block out all the noise on the outside — who cares what’s going on around college football, and focus on our formula for success. So for me going forward, when that time comes, it’s going to be more spirit-led and focusing on the task at hand than what’s going on outside, if that makes sense.”
Elliott, the recipient of the 2017 Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, told The Clemson Insider he has not given much thought lately to what it would take for another program to pull him away from Clemson.
However, if another opportunity arises for Elliott to become a head coach, it will be important for him to see that university is on the same page from top to bottom.
“I haven’t really thought about it much because we’re in season. Whenever I think about that, it’s going to be the offseason,” he said. “But just some things that I would carry away from what I’ve seen here is really an alignment between all levels of the university, from the president to athletic director to the head coach – everybody with the same vision and an understanding that in order to build a program, you’ve got to lay a foundation and you’ve got to have time and resources to lay that foundation, and you’ve got to stick to it.
“Because at the end of the day, Coach Swinney says it all the time – we’re not a good team, we’re a good program. And good programs produce consistently good teams, and wherever I have an opportunity in the future, if the Lord is willing, then I want to be in a situation where I can develop and create a good program, not just a good team.”
Prior to joining Clemson’s staff in 2011, Elliott spent three years (2008-10) as wide receivers coach at Furman and two seasons (2006, 07) at SC State. Clemson’s run of nine straight 10-win seasons started when he became a full-time assistant coach.
Asked if he aspires to become a head coach one day, Elliott answered, “Some days I do, some days I don’t.”
“I honestly believe that I’m not going to be defined by whether or not I become a head coach, and if that’s the next step in my journey, then the door will open,” he said. “The Lord will reveal if that’s the next step, and I have to step out on faith and attack it. But for me, I’ve never been one that went looking for – and even in my coaching profession – I’ve never went looking for jobs. Jobs just kind of found me, and I want to keep that same approach going forward. Don’t want to change that up.”
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