In the midst of a storm of college football coaching hirings and firings, UVA completed a relatively drama-free transition from Bronco Mendenhall to former Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.
Elliott comes to UVA after 11 seasons as an assistant at Clemson, which won two national titles and earned six consecutive trips to the college football playoff during that span. Elliott was the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator for seven seasons before handling the job himself this year, when he was also assistant head coach.
“I have patiently waited for this opportunity, and I’m ready,” Elliott said. “Over the past 11 years, I’ve seen the establishment of a championship culture, what it looks like, and I’m prepared for this moment. I chose UVA because I wanted to lead a program that was partnered with a university that had world-class academics. I wanted to be able to recruit the best and the brightest student-athletes … There is no better place for me than UVA. And there is no better time than now.”
UVA’s president, Jim Ryan, and athletic director, Carla Williams, spoke before introducing Elliott at the press conference.
“It’s not always the case that I believe headlines,” Ryan said, “but in this case I saw a headline that said Tony is the perfect fit for UVA, and I believe that to be true … The reason I believe Tony is a perfect fit for UVA is because of his values, because of his track record, and because of his life experience. His life story is one of resilience and of overcoming obstacles. It’s a life guided by faith and by a sense of purpose. It’s a life story of success, and it’s a life story that is a powerful testament to the ability of education to transform lives.”
Williams said of Elliott: “Humble, hardworking, intellectually curious, a passionate educator, a gifted teacher and coach, a person of integrity and high character, innovative, analytical, genuine, competitive, loves the young men in his program, committed to developing champion men, role model, ambassador, champion, winner. These are just a few of the reasons Coach Tony Elliott is perfect for the University of Virginia.”
Bronco has committed to remaining until after the bowl game, but he has given Elliott as much access as he wants during the transition period.
“I’m very appreciative of his willingness to help me in this transition,” Elliott said.
Mendenhall came to UVA after the 2015 season and helped the program become relevant again in the ACC. Elliott said he’ll work closely with Mendenhall between now and the bowl game to ensure a smooth transition.
“I had a chance to address the current staff, and I appreciate their time and opportunity to speak with them,” Elliott said. “I also get an opportunity to watch the team prepare for the bowl, so it’s very unique, and it gives me time to make sure that I get a really good lay of the land and an understanding of where the program is under Coach Mendenhall and the direction that we need to go.”
Elliott needs to put together a coaching staff, but he’s not going to rush that process.
“I’m going to be very patient and make sure first and foremost that I get the right people,” he said. “That’s going to be the approach. It’s not about the Xs and the Os to start, it’s about the people, because at the end of the day this program is going to be about developing young men, and in order to develop young men you’ve got to have good people in place to pour into their lives and plant the proper seeds.”
He told current staffers that “they’ll have an opportunity to be evaluated as we go forward,” Elliott said. “I’m going to get feedback from the players, and I’ve already talked to some, and they’ve given me their impressions of the coaches on the staff. I’m going to continue to meet with Coach Bronco and just get a full understanding of the structure and the challenges and some of the things that he’s faced as I build the staff.”
Ahead of the bowl game, Elliott said, he’ll be around the team as much as Mendenhall will allow.
“I don’t want to be a distraction,” Elliott said. “Just as I said to the team, this is Coach Bronco’s team until the end of the bowl, but I wanted you to hear who I am, what my vision is, so I’ll be a fly on the wall, try to stay out of the way, and whatever he’ll let me have access to, I’ll take advantage of it.”
At his meeting with the team Sunday evening, Elliott said, he challenged the players. “Finish,” he told them, “and do so with purpose, passion and love for each other and love for Coach Mendenhall and the staff.”