Clemson’s Tony Elliott opens up about why he turned down the Tennessee job

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  • Tony Elliott
    American football coach

Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has his name mentioned for head coaching jobs seemingly every offseason, but this past year it appeared as though the coaching carousel was going to come and go without him being involved.

And then, in mid-January, Tennessee fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

“I thought I had kinda made it through unscathed there,” Elliott joked Wednesday night.

Elliott was almost immediately mentioned as a candidate for the opening, and he eventually heard from new Vols athletic director Danny White.

The former UCF AD, who left for Knoxville in January, tried to lure Elliott to Orlando to lead the Knights a few years ago, but the timing wasn’t right for Elliott. He took another shot at the 41-year-old Elliott this offseason.

“Really, really appreciative of Danny White and just his interest in me and having an opportunity to talk to him and go through that experience,” Elliott said. “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.”

Ultimately Elliott decided that the timing wasn’t right yet again. There was plenty for him to consider after being approached by Tennessee, including recruiting violations committed by the Vols’ previous staff that could be challenging for new coach Josh Heupel to deal with from the start.

There were other factors that convinced Elliott that the fit wasn’t right at this point as well.

“At the end of the day, when I put everything on the table, it just wasn’t the right time,” Elliott said. “And so I’m just so happy to be in an environment where people embrace me even though I was going through that. Showing me support one way or another. Having an opportunity to have those conversations with coach (Dabo) Swinney just strengthens our relationship even more.”

While the timing wasn’t right for Elliott to take a head coaching job this offseason, his time could be coming soon.

Elliott received a raise in February that moves his salary to $2 million per year, but that’s not going to keep schools from calling.

“He’s had a bunch of opportunities, and it’s funny how some get public and some don’t,” Swinney said. “One of these days it’ll be the right one. The only reason he’s not a head coach right now — it just hasn’t been the right one for him.”

So how will Elliott know when the right job comes along?

With his salary at Clemson and his relationship with Swinney and the rest of Clemson’s staff, Elliott can afford to be picky. But he also wants to be a head coach at some point and he knows what he’s looking for in a job.

“Looking for alignment. Just the same vision from top to bottom, whether it’s the president or chancellor that runs the institution, down to the athletic director, down to the head coach,” Elliott said. “Everybody’s on the same page just in turns of their perspective of the student-athlete and what their mission is with the student-athlete. And then just how the program’s going to be run.”

Being able to win and win the right way is also important to Elliott.

“Definitely there’s going to be high expectations wherever I go because of where I’m leaving,” Elliott said. “So really want to be in a position where we have a legitimate opportunity to win.”

Elliott also wants to be somewhere that will embrace the family atmosphere and family culture that Swinney has built at Clemson that he could re-create elsewhere.

“I wanna be in a situation where I can hunker down and really fully invest in the community. Fully invest in the institution. Fully invest in the program. Build something special,” Elliott said. “Have my family kind of grow up in that community, very similar to how coach Swinney is. And so those are the things that I’m looking for. An opportunity to recruit. So just really, bottom line, an opportunity to win and win the right way and have the full support of everybody that touches that program.”

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