Tony Elliott: Clemson Football’s Lightning Rod

I guess every home needs a lightning rod to protect it from being struck directly by a random bolt of highly charge, unharnessed lightning during a storm.

With the Clemson home, this season, that has been Tony Elliott. One might ask, does he deserve such a fate? Let’s take a look at the man because every great success story has a beginning.

“My difficult youth has always challenged me to have a plan,” Elliott told ESPN in 2015. “Going through all the adversity, overcoming so much and finding a relationship with the man above revealed my purpose. It gives me a peace and calmness that not only prepares me for the job, but helps me in life in general.”

Elliott has already endured a lifetime of heartache, tragedy and achievement. After Elliott’s parents separated when he was 4, he briefly lived on the streets of Los Angeles with his mother and younger sister. He was in the car with his mother when she was killed in an accident when he was 9, and then Tony and his sister, Brandi, were separated after their father was jailed.

Somehow, Elliott was able to keep his life on track, even when everything seemed to be falling apart around him.

His sister Brandi, spoke of her brother, “He’s a very disciplined man, and he was determined to make sure we were not a product of our circumstance,” It would have been so much easier to surrender but he never, ever did.

Elliott has spent most of his life interweaved with Clemson. He played under head coach Tommy Bowden, beginning his career in 1999 as a walk-on. He was selected team captain in 2003, a rare accomplishment for a walk-on.

He finished his career as co-captain of Clemson’s 2003 team that had a 9-4 record and a No. 22 final ranking by the AP and USA Today. Fortuitously, Dabo Swinney was his position coach during his senior season (2003). That year, in a survey of Clemson players conducted by local newspaper the Anderson Independent, he was named the team’s “Most Respected Player.” After coaching stints at Furman and South Carolina State he’d come home, to Clemson.

In 2011 he became an assistant coach under then offensive coordinator Chad Morris, and when Morris decided to leave for greener pastures Elliott, along with Jeff Scott became co-offensive coordinators. That union would be the beginning of the unbelievable six years of dominance by the Clemson Tigers.

Two national championships and one Frank Broyles Award (national assistant coach of the year award), he became the constant winner. He has called the plays for Clemson teams that have won six straight ACC Championships, along with six consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff.

As the Tigers national prominence drew, so did Elliott’s. He has been mentioned in nearly every coaching vacancy in the last several years but has chosen to stay here, at Clemson. Fast forward to today, his life and Clemson football fortunes have turned completely. This leaves some to ask, will he leave, now?

In a “what have you done for me lately world,” Elliott has been that lightning rod of this difficult 2021 season. Under constant fire for a hesitant offense, his world has been rocked and has become ugly and painful. The cacophony of loud displeasure has to be disconcerting. If success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan, Tony Elliott sadly has become that orphan. No, he hasn’t complained, nor griped, he’s too busy trying to dodge the bolts striking all around him. I’m sure he’s exhausted.

This man, never doubt, is a fighter, a survivor and despite accusations otherwise, he certainly hasn’t forgotten how to coach. He’s become the whipping boy of this coaching staff and even though he’s paid handsomely, sometimes money isn’t everything. A hallmark of the Clemson family is to trust and accept and to support, through times, both good or bad, and Tony Elliott has more than earned that trust, acceptance and support .

Now, yet again, his name is on the coaching carousel. His leaving could be imminent, who knows? Regardless of his choice, to stay or go, his track record, his long, storied career at Clemson shouldn’t end after one down, sub-par season. A man, any man deserves this family’s support and to refuse to give that support, when needed, at this time is a shame. What he needs is patience, understanding and to hear, “Tony, we’ve got your back,” instead of pushing him into a dark corner.

If he leaves, it’ll be his choice and even the most vocal fans, thankfully, have little control of his path. However, it might go a long way for those hurling those lightning bolts to stop. This man, having given most of his adult life to his Alma Mater, deserves better, much better, and I for one, thinks he deserves it.

3 thoughts on “Tony Elliott: Clemson Football’s Lightning Rod

  1. Absolutely 💯 behind Coach Elliot! Great player, teammate and Christian figure for our Tigers to look up to. I’ve been a fan for 50 years. Tony was a great asset to the team in the late 90s and early 2000s. Our latest success is due to him and this year is just a different situation for many reasons, but nothing should fall on Coach Elliott’s shoulders. Calls are made and if they aren’t executed properly, he can’t run down there and do it for them. Love you Coach Elliott! You have always been ALL IN and SO AM I! GO TIGERS!

    1. Thanks for reading and you are correct. I think Tony Elliott embodies all the makes Clemson great.

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