Home Elliott deserves the chance to grow, learn: But there’s a lot of growing and learning to be done

Elliott deserves the chance to grow, learn: But there’s a lot of growing and learning to be done

Chris Graham
tony elliott
Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

UVA Football coach Tony Elliott, talking about the six 15-yard penalties assessed on his team in Saturday night’s 38-17 loss at Duke, offered an enlightening postgame statement about his program’s “core values.”

“If we continue to have these problems, then ultimately I’m going to have to make decisions, because the one thing I’m not going to sacrifice is the core values of this program, and it’s embarrassing,” said Elliott, whose team leads the ACC in penalty yards (362), with UVA giving opponents 72.4 yards per game due to the infractions.

So, yes, obviously, that’s an area to clean up, one among many.

But to the point, and the invocation of the term, “core values,” and the word “embarrassing.”

What’s “embarrassing” is Elliott channeling his inner Dave Leitao on the sidelines. in the face of what appears to be an utter lack of preparation done by his coaching staff to get his guys ready for what they are going to face when it’s game time.

It’s almost as if he wants us to get the idea that he, too, is frustrated at the penalties, the dropped passes, the missed blocks and tackles, and for us to be impressed, that he sees the problems, and he’s got it.

We’d be more impressed if Elliott and his staff had seen the errors in spring practice, in July and August in training camp, in game-week prep, and fixed them then, when none of us are looking.

Yell all you want then; in fact, yell more, and as loud as you need to.

When the bright lights and cameras are on, the head coach, as the leader of the program, the face of UVA Football, needs to be the paragon.

It’s like what you read, if you have dogs in your household, about how to react when your dogs are barking.

If you yell at them, they think you’re yelling with them, that there was a good reason for them to have been barking in the first place, and they get even more agitated.

The same is happening on the field with the Cavaliers. Guys aren’t being used right, not being prepared right, as a result, things aren’t going right, and when the coach yells, the response is guys, like your barking dogs at home, barking harder, which manifests in guys trying to make hero plays that, too often, result in more mistakes.

A quote from Elliott’s postgame presser seems to indicate that he gets it, at some level.

“We’re not playing smart football. We’re not playing complementary football, and we’re struggling when the bullets start flying to just come together as a team, hunker down, battle for each other,” Elliott said.

If only he realized, this starts at the top.

Which gets us back to the “core values.” Elliott, off the field, has done everything right. OK, not everything. Recruiting, for all the attention given to Elliott and his staff hitting the road to reconnect with Virginia high school coaches, ranks a lowly 13th in the 14-program ACC in the 247Sports rankings for the Class of 2023, and (gasp!) 71st nationally, one spot behind (gasp!) Arkansas State, which is coming off a 2-10 season in the Sun Belt.

Aside from the recruiting woes, which have to be a helluva reality check for a guy coming off an 11-year stint at Clemson, where they pretty much get whomever they want, Elliott has said and done the right things, building on the foundation of his predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, aiming to win within the context of the rigorous academics at the University.

And the school, and its donors, are banking heavily on his ability to get the job done. A years-long effort, initiated when Mendenhall was still the program’s architect, to modernize the facilities will finally come to fruition with the planned opening of an $80 million football operations center in 2024, giving Elliott and his staff access to more resources than literally any other athletics coach, and certainly anyone in charge of anything in academics, in the history of the school.

This is where we can think back to when another coach was given unprecedented resources, back in 2006, when Dave Leitao was the man who was tasked with bringing UVA basketball back to its glory years of the Terry Holland/Ralph Sampson era, and had the brand-spanking-new John Paul Jones Arena at his disposal.

Leitao led exactly one UVA team to an NCAA Tournament, and after a losing season in 2007-2008 that was marked by an obvious lack of leadership from the top, he was fired, and another guy named Tony was given the chance to build a winner using the massive investment in JPJ as a foundation piece.

It is, of course, way, way, way too early to suggest that the end that came to Leitao is in the cards for Elliott.

We’re a mere five games into the Tony Elliott era of UVA Football. This is his first head-coaching job, and as much as he was regarded as a head-coach-in-waiting based on his resume as an assistant, there are things that you have to learn when you move over to the big headset, and this learning, unfortunately, it comes with the job, is done in front of massive numbers of eyeballs, not all of them friendly.

He deserves the chance to learn, to grow, to get better, to build the right staff, through trial and error, to get his offensive and defensive schemes in place, to recruit players to those schemes, to build a winner.

But, first things first, he needs to realize that it all starts with him, and the example he sets.

What we’re seeing on the field and in the pressers – the sideline rants when things aren’t going right, the throwing of kids under the bus for the cameras – can’t be a reflection of the “core values” that he wants to build from.

Because if it is, and I’m just one guy here, an alum, for what that’s worth, but it would be “embarrassing” to me if it takes us having a coach who conducts himself on the sidelines and for the cameras the way Elliott has to this point to produce a winner on the football field.

And I know that’s harsh, but really, it’s not a good look, for him, or for the University.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].