Clemson’s Tony Elliott back from COVID, Tennessee wooing

Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is grateful the stress of December and January is behind him and he’s once more doing a job he loves.

The Tigers imaginative play-caller was out with COVID-19 for the team’s 49-28 Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State in the national semifinals. Soon after, Elliott strongly considered leaving as he was courted for the head coaching job at one of the Southeastern Conference’s resource-rich programs in Tennessee.

“You know, I thought I had made it through the coaching carousel unscathed,” Elliott joked.

Elliott spoke with new Vols athletic director Danny White before choosing to remain with the Tigers.

“Definitely, it was something that I really had to sit down and think about and consider and pray about, and talk to people, and try to find the right confirmation,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, when I put everything on the table, it just wasn’t the right time.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is happy to have Elliott back leading an offense that loses its two marquee players in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and tailback Travis Etienne. That was apparent when Elliott received a raise last month that made him a $2 million a year coordinator.

“He loves Clemson and he loves his job,” Swinney said. “One of these days it will be the right one. The only reason he’s not head coach yet is because it hasn’t been the right one yet.”

Elliott has carefully considered each step in his career before jumping into it. The former Clemson receiver had his engineering degree and a bright future in the business at tire-manufacturer Michelin North America. Still, he couldn’t get the coaching bug out of his system and became receivers coach at FCS schools South Carolina State and Furman.

He returned to Clemson in 2011 and learned everything he could from high-powered, attack offense from then coordinator Chad Morris. When Morris left for SMU after the 2014 season, Elliott was ready to call plays for the Tigers.

Elliott shared coordinator duties with Jeff Scott from 2015 until Scott left to become USF head coach after the 2019 season.

With Elliott solely in charge last season, the Tigers continued to post big offensive numbers and finished 10th nationally at 502 yards a game.

Elliott seems ready to take over a program, but hasn’t made that move. He knows whatever job he takes will come with through-the-roof expectations because of his Clemson accomplishments.

“I want to be in a position where we have a legitimate opportunity to win,” he said.

Elliott was confident the Tigers could keep last season going at the Sugar Bowl when he was told he’d tested positive for the coronavirus.

“When they told me, I broke down,” he said.

Elliott began tracing back for how he contracted the disease before making peace that while he could virtually take part in pre-game preparations, he’d have to sit out the Buckeyes’ game.

As the game went on and Ohio State dominated, Elliott felt helpless.

“To see the guys struggle and to know I wasn’t there to help them out,” he said. “That’s when it started to hurt.”

A re-energized Elliott, whose raise came with added title of assistant head coach, has thrown himself into spring and some new coaching duties. The team’s running backs coach since 2011, Elliott moved to handle tight ends so Swinney could hire former Clemson ACC player of the year C.J. Spiller to coach runners.

Elliott is excited about the potential of rising sophomore quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, Lawrence’s heir apparent, and a stacked group of runners including senior tailback Lyn-J Dixon and five-star freshman Will Shipley to keep the ground game going after Etienne.

He wants to head his own program one day, but only if the fit is right for his family and his peace of mind that he can do a good job.

“It’s more about everything else than it is about the football piece,” Elliott said. “That’s what I’ve learned in my 10 years here.”

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