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Topic: MUST READ on Tony Elliott
Replies: 9   Last Post: Oct 27, 2020, 1:37 PM by: 8992Tiger
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MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[2]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 10:52 AM
 

For any subscribers to The Athletic, this article on Tony Elliott is awesome. As frustrating as a high snap or a (few and far between) slow offensive day can be, the game is a lot bigger than that. Long article but well-worth the read

https://theathletic.com/2066237/2020/10/27/clemson-tony-elliott-nfl-future/


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Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 11:11 AM
 



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Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

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Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 11:40 AM
 

On a Sunday morning in the summer of 1989, 9-year-old Tony Elliott headed to church on the streets of Anaheim, Calif., in his family’s light brown Volkswagen bus. He wanted to be home watching cartoons. In his mild protest, he sat in the third row, where his mother and stepfather couldn’t see him, and he didn’t wear a seatbelt.

As the bus crossed the intersection of West Sycamore Street and North Harbor Boulevard, there was a scream and the awful sounds of squealing tires, slamming steel and shattering glass, sounds you feel as much as hear.

And then, silence.

Another vehicle had run a red light and broadsided the bus, which spun and repeatedly flipped before landing upside down on its white roof. Without a seatbelt to constrain him, Tony was thrown from harm’s way. He crawled out and helped free his 4-year-old sister, Brandi, and his 1-year-old half-brother, Isaiah. His stepfather, Wayne Williams, made it out of the bus, but his leg was injured.

“Go check on your mom,” he told Tony.

He found his mother, his pregnant mother, crushed and trapped. Blood was everywhere. He went back to his stepfather.

“There’s nothing I can do,” he said.

“Go get help!” his stepfather said.

Tony sprinted about a half a mile to the amphitheater at Pearson Park, where the church choir was preparing for service. Someone called 911.

Patricia Williams, Tony’s mom, was pronounced dead at UC Irvine Medical Center at 11:15 a.m. Her 22-week-old baby girl could not be saved.

Tony and his sister weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. Too young, they said.

Shortly after, Tony and Brandi were sent to San Diego to live with their father, Jerome Elliott.

Four years earlier, Patricia had run from Jerome in the middle of the night with an empty pocketbook and no plan. She drove about 350 miles down the California coast, settling in Anaheim.

Jerome was a drifter who was in and out of jail. During Tony and Brandi’s time with their father after their mother’s death, they sometimes were homeless. They often stayed in multifamily dwellings and saw things children should not see. Tony remembers witnessing one of his father’s friends beating up a girlfriend. When Tony’s father didn’t do anything about it, Tony was disappointed.

Three months after Tony went to live with his father, Jerome was sent to prison. Tony and Brandi were shipped across the country to Atlanta to live with Jerome’s brother. When Jerome was released, the kids went back to him. But a couple of months later, he was behind bars again.

At that point, Tony decided he wasn’t going to live with his father anymore. He went to South Carolina to stay with an aunt and uncle, and his sister went to Atlanta with another aunt.

By the time he was done with high school, he had lived in about 20 places.

Tony, as one might expect, started to veer off course. He was running with the wrong crowd, staying out late, picking fights and being disruptive in class.

There seemed to be an inevitability about where he was heading.

Except he was headed somewhere else entirely.

After the accident, Tony Elliott made two promises to his mother. He would make her proud, and he would take care of Brandi.

“Then I left that place,” he says, “and never looked back.”

Things began to make sense about four years later. Sports — football, baseball and basketball — were the hub of his world. School, he could do without. The aunt who took him in, Blondell Kidd, was a school principal. She told him if he wanted to play sports, he had to have a B-plus or better in every class.

So Elliott became a diligent student in addition to an exceptional athlete at James Island High School. He had several scholarship offers from Division I-AA schools to play football, but he wanted to play Division I-A. His only Division I-A offer was from Air Force, so he took it.

After a few weeks, he knew he was out of place. He was there to play football. The others were there to fulfill a military heritage, protect their country or learn aviation. He asked for an honorable discharge and received it.

Not everyone saw what he did as honorable, however. Some friends and even family members took it personally, derided him and called him a quitter. They said he was on the same path as his father.

Elliott took a construction job, renovating a BI-LO grocery store. He worked 10-hour days seven days a week. After five months, he saved up enough to pay for a semester at Clemson.

When he arrived on campus with Kidd, they drove to the football stadium. He stopped his car at the top of the hill outside of Death Valley and stared at the gates. Ten minutes passed, 15, 20. He sat there for 30 minutes.

He was finished with football, he thought, but he couldn’t pull himself away. “I invested so much in football, and I got to a point where I felt like football let me down,” Elliott says. “I didn’t get in return what I had given to the game.”

After a while, he ran into a member of the team who he had played against in high school. He convinced Elliott he should give football another chance.

Elliott tried out and made it.

Being a walk-on renewed his appreciation for the game. “A lot of times as a scholarship athlete, you feel entitled,” he says. “I was always a hard worker who did things the way I was asked. But sometimes, in the back of your mind, we have some entitled thoughts. When I became a walk-on, it was, ‘If I just get to run down on kickoff, that would be awesome.’ I just wanted to be a part of the team. I wanted to play the game I love and approach the game from the standpoint that it didn’t owe me anything, and it was a privilege to get to play.”

Two years later, he was given a football scholarship.

Three years later, he was named team captain.

And four years later, he graduated with a team-high grade point average of 3.55 in industrial engineering.

Before Elliott’s senior season, Clemson hired Dabo Swinney to coach wide receivers. “The first time I met him, I could tell he had a different look in his eye,” Swinney says. “He had a drive that is unique and a commitment I could sense.”

Swinney saw something in Elliott that Elliott didn’t see in himself, and he tried to foster that unique drive. “One of the things I tried to do was empower him,” says Swinney, who also once was a walk-on wide receiver. “I don’t know that he had really been empowered or embraced like that before.”

After Elliott graduated, he went to work for Michelin. His job was to find ways to cut costs. He liked his coworkers, the pay was good and he was valued by the company. But he didn’t enjoy trying to find ways to eliminate people’s jobs, and he was miserable.

When he started coaching football on the side at Easley High School, it was like being a walk-on at Clemson again. His appreciation for the game was renewed.

Elliott quit his job at Michelin and became a football coach, first for South Carolina State for two years, and then for Furman for two years. What he gave up in salary, he gained in fulfillment.

“I found out then what the Lord’s purpose for me was,” Elliott says.

The Lord’s purpose had not been easy for Elliott to discern.

It took years for him to reconcile that his mother died on her way to church — on her way to church.

Kidd forced him to go to Sunday school and to church. He went for one reason — so she didn’t send him back to his father. Elliott listened to the teachers and preachers, but he didn’t understand. He didn’t want to.

His mother had planted the seeds of faith in him, but someone else — something else — would have to help them grow.

Shortly after Elliott enrolled at Clemson, he put himself up for bid in a charity dating auction. Tamika Whitner also was in the auction. Before it began, they met and agreed that each would buy a date with the other if neither was bid on. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. Elliott had to outbid another suitor for a date with Tamika.

It was the best $11 he ever spent.

A couple of years later, they were sitting in Tamika’s Section 8 apartment when Tamika asked him a question.

“Who wakes you up in the morning?” she said.

“The alarm clock,” he answered.

She cringed. “Are you serious?” she said. “The Lord wakes you up.”

Tamika was raised as a Southern Baptist, and her faith burned strong. She told him if he didn’t get serious about his faith, she was done with him.

Love, a powerful motivator, inspired Elliott to try Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. Elliott tried to understand who he was, why he existed and why his life was playing out the way it was.

He was alone in his bedroom apartment when he dropped his Bible on the ground. Wherever it opened, he would start reading. The beginning of the Book of James stared up at him, his new life verse.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

For Elliott to be mature and complete, he had to learn to forgive.

When he was trying to get into coaching, he hoped to be hired by Clemson as a graduate assistant. Tommy Bowden, who had been his coach, chose someone else.

A friend told him to forgive Bowden and tell him he had no hard feelings. Elliott did it, and then something more significant happened.

“Immediately after that, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Elliott says. “My heart was unhardened to my dad.”

Elliott had resented Jerome for most of his life, but at 26, Elliott called his father and told him he wanted to start over. Jerome had just left prison. As was usually the case, Elliott wasn’t sure why he was locked up, and he really didn’t want to know.

Jerome moved from California to South Carolina and stayed with his son for a time. Jerome came with demons in his luggage, but his son had weapons to fight them.

Jerome is sober now. While the relationship has some scars, it is better than Elliott ever imagined it would be.

The healing between them has promoted more healing. “If I’m going to be a coach and be considered a father figure to young men, I had to do what I did in order to teach the importance of mending relationships,” Elliott says.

He wants his players to grow from his experiences. Elliott can reach young men with imperfect backgrounds because nobody understands brokenness better than he does. His broken pieces have fit with the broken pieces of his players to make things that are whole and strong.

Elliott knew he took the right career path when he started coaching Terrance Smith at South Carolina. Smith’s father had left him when he was 5. Around the time Elliott became Smith’s coach, Smith’s father wanted to return to his life.

“He helped me put aside the anger I was carrying,” Smith says. “He told me only God can judge. No human walking this planet is perfect. So I had to put my guard down. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, so who am I to judge? He helped me understand more about life situations.”

Smith reconciled with his father, and today, their relationship is better than it has ever been.

Elliott also helped Smith prioritize life values. “I thank God for Tony,” Smith says. “He saved my life, saved my direction. I can’t put into words how I feel about this man. He’s like a father and a brother, someone I try to model myself after.”

In the course of coaching, teaching, and counseling, Elliott often speaks of his own experiences.

His testimony, he calls it.

His testimony wouldn’t have value suppressed in the recesses of his mind.

When Adam Mims was a wide receiver at Furman, he was like many college athletes, skipping class, missing assignments and partying too much. Elliott was straight with him, and he helped him redefine his priorities and change his path.

“As a young Black man, being able to see an older Black man who is essentially doing everything right and is successful, it gave you a sense of pride that I can be like this guy, I can emulate his path to success,” Mims says. “Do things consistently, do things right all the time. I believe that because I saw it in him. The impact he’s had on my life has been astronomical.”

Mims admired Elliott’s Christian values and family life. Elliott inspired Mims to want to impact others. Now, Mims is the wide receivers coach at Chattanooga.

Elliott, who was hired by Swinney as an assistant at Clemson in 2011, doesn’t coach the way many of his peers do.

“What we say around here all the time is serve the heart, not the talent,” Swinney says. “To serve someone’s heart, you truly have to have a relationship with them, you have to love them. And Tony leads with love. Because of that, he’s not afraid to discipline. He’s not afraid to hold someone accountable or call them out. It doesn’t matter who they are, whether it’s Travis Etienne or Trevor Lawrence or whomever.”

Etienne and Lawrence, expected to be high picks in the 2021 draft, are two of many players touched by Elliott. He also had a hand in the development of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and Tee Higgins.

Of course, development is a broad term. Since 2016, Elliott has been Clemson’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach. He doesn’t coach quarterbacks the way many offensive coordinators do.

“With me and Trevor, a lot of our conversations are not related to football,” Elliott says. “He’s diving into his faith, so a lot of our conversations will be faith-based. I was the same way with Deshaun.”

Before returning to Clemson, all of Elliott’s experience had been with wide receivers. But Swinney wanted him to be his running backs coach. “He looked at me like I was crazy,” Swinney says. “I told him, ‘I’m not hiring you because you’re a great running backs coach. I can teach you that. I’m hiring you because of who you are as a man.'”

Now, Swinney says Elliott is the best running backs coach in the country, as well as a top offensive mind and play caller.

Elliott’s offense is a combination of principles he has picked up in his football journey. It’s a no-huddle, fast-paced approach, thanks to the influence of Rich Rodriguez, Elliott’s offensive coordinator when he played at Clemson. From his time at Furman, he learned the value of option concepts in zone-read schemes. When he returned to Clemson as a coach, Elliott embraced Chad Morris’ two-back spread formation and run-oriented approach.

His offense has torn up the ACC. Whether it could be as effective in the NFL remains to be seen, but Elliott could get the chance to find out soon.

In December, the Panthers wanted to interview him for their head-coaching vacancy, and people who know say it was not just an attempt to satisfy the Rooney Rule. They were seriously interested in Elliott.

Elliott chose not to interview, mostly because Clemson was preparing to play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl to determine the national championship. “It wouldn’t have been fair to me or them to be preparing for Ohio State and rush to get myself together for that interview,” he says. “I prayed about it, and I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do at that time.”

It was not the first time he disappointed a suitor. Missouri made him an attractive offer last year as well. Baylor, Michigan State, UCF and USF have tried to interview him.

Elliott was a primary assistant when Clemson won two national championships and was twice the runner-up, and Clemson is ranked No. 1 in the country this year. More requests likely are coming.

Elliott is comfortable at Clemson. He doesn’t want to go somewhere else and fail. And his three-year, $5.1 million contract makes him the highest-paid offensive coordinator in college football.

“I try to live a purpose-driven life and operate off what spirit tells me,” Elliott says. “I understand the magnitude of the next step. I also understand I’m an African American, and I understand the responsibilities that come with that. I want to make the right decision for everybody that’s going to be coming with me and not just for myself because if it was about me, I would have taken one of those opportunities and cashed in. For me, it’s not about that.”

Swinney believes Elliott is prepared to be a head coach at any level, including the NFL. Elliott is open to the NFL, even though his most rewarding coaching experiences have been helping boys transform into men. “The more I learn about the NFL, the more I think there may be a place for my style of coaching, which is relationship-driven,” he says. “You still have relationships.”

For as often as Elliott moved during his childhood, he didn’t have much that was his.

After his mother died, his stepfather bought him a pair of Air Jordan Forces. They became his prized possession, his only possession. He kept those shoes for about a decade, from West Coast to East, then back and forth again. In time, holes were worn in the soles like silver dollar pancakes. He didn’t care. They were his.

When he went to college, he left them at Kidd’s house, and the shoes were eventually thrown away.

But like a lot of things in his life, the 40-year-old has made up for it.

Elliott has more than 200 pairs of sneakers now, including almost every Jordan shoe.

“He has way more shoes than I have,” Tamika says. “His collection overtakes our closet.”

Elliott has been married to Tamika for 14 years and they have two boys, A.J., 7, and Ace, 4.

Elliott wasn’t taught how to be a father, but he learned anyway. “In everything he does with the boys, he has a lesson,” Tamika says. “He’s always coaching them up in some aspect of life. He teaches them, and then he wrestles with them and loves them. He is the father he never grew up with.”

For many years, he was like a father to his little sister. He paid for Brandi’s college tuition, her first car and more. He held himself to a higher standard because he knew Brandi was watching him.

She is now married with three children. She has a master’s in health care administration and is an assistant vice president at a health care center in Georgia. There is nothing more gratifying to him than her happiness and success.

Brandi needed Elliott like his father needed him, like his sons and wife need him, like Smith, Mims and many other players needed him.

Elliott should have been the needy one.

“He has every reason to be a failure, every reason to be mad, every reason to be a victim,” Swinney says. “Yet he’s done all these things. How does this happen? He’s going to tell you it’s his faith. And through his faith, God has taken that mess, created a great message for him, and equipped Tony. What were some of the biggest liabilities in his life are now some of his greatest assets.”

Elliott was handed a playbook for his life when he was 9 years old.

He never read it. Instead, he wrote his own.

The chapters that have yet to be written? They could be the best.

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Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[2]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 12:01 PM
 

I had read some of his story before but thanks for sharing.

I am a huge fan of all of the coaches that Coach Swinney has chosen to cultivate the culture he wanted for the student athletes in our football Program.

Proud of what they have accomplished and for them being the leaders that they are not only as coaches but also in the lives of our players.


Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[2]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 12:01 PM
 

Amazing story. I really needed to hear that as well. Thanks for sharing.


Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[1]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 12:14 PM
 

Thanks for sharing that. This is the first time that I have seen his "complete" story.

What an outstanding human being and a great mentor for young men.


Coach Elliott has broken a complex & difficult cycle

[1]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 12:30 PM
 

... with his faith, and his friends and his family. Clemson is fortunate to have this quiet respectful man who is still growing as a coach, leader and play caller.

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Wow, amazing story! Thanks for sharing!***

[1]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 12:44 PM
 



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Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[2]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 1:37 PM
 

I remember that when he played, the other receivers refused to be interviewed as a group unless Tony was included. That said a lot to me and that is why he is one of my all-time favorite WRs at Clemson.

As impressive as he is, it sounds like Tamika was a prime driver on his growth. The world needs more Tamikas and Tonys. Especially in 2020.


Re: MUST READ on Tony Elliott

[1]
Posted: Oct 27, 2020, 1:08 PM
 

That is the most complete story of Tony Elliott I've read. Awesome! To God be the glory.

What a journey. What a man.

The Athletic has the best sports writing in the industry by far IMO. It's worth the subscription for me. However, if all you want is just Clemson material, there isn't quite enough to cover the cost.


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