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The lesson for Tony Elliott: To be able to build a winner, you first have to learn how to lose

tony elliott sidelines
Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

It’s not a sin to lose a game. Teams lose games all the time. It’s part of sports, part of life.

(Businesses lose contracts; people lose jobs, among many other things.)

Losing is one thing. Allowing yourself to be defeated in the process is quite another.

This is the issue that I’ve had with UVA football coach Tony Elliott blowing up at his guys on the sidelines in his team’s losses at Illinois and Duke.

Elliott said in his weekly presser on Tuesday that he’d apologized to his players and staff for the blowups, but then seemed to double down, saying the reason for the blowups was frustration over repeated mistakes.

Then, curiously, he cast his frustration in the context of the culture he’s trying to build in the UVA football program.

To his credit, Elliott has done a lot behind the scenes to build a new culture, though it has to be said that it’s not like he had to start from scratch there.

His predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, had already laid a pretty solid foundation in terms of establishing a program that was built around student-athletes who excel on the field, in the classroom and in life.

The Mendenhalls and Elliotts of the world are the kind of people that we want as the architects of athletics programs on Grounds: guys who want to win, but put the emphasis on winning the right way.

The right way has to include some level of accountability for the people in charge.

Again, Elliott said he’d apologized for his sidelines blowups, but in the next breath, he seemed to insist that the blowups were justified because his players were making mistakes.

Reality check: football players are going to make mistakes, Coach. There are going to be missed blocks on punts, fumbles on kickoffs, receivers running the wrong routes, middle linebackers dropping their head on tackles leading to targeting penalties.

There’s a time to blow up over the mistakes; it’s not on the sidelines on Saturdays when, as Elliott phrased it in his presser, the bullets are flying.

It’s on the practice field, in the team meeting room, Mondays through Fridays.

It’s a bad look for Elliott, that he apparently can’t control his emotions when he sees something that he doesn’t like, that or that he is consciously trying to show his anger as a way of trying to motivate the kids to play better.

Either way, again, a bad look for him.

And it’s a bad look for the University of Virginia that the angry coach on the sidelines is the focus of so much of the TV time. It was almost to the point of becoming a meme during the UVA-broadcast on Saturday night

That’s certainly not going to help with recruiting, an area where Elliott and his staff are already struggling to gain a foothold as it is.

It also doesn’t help that Elliott has made it a regular practice to take his gripes about his players to the media.

One way to refer to this is to use the term “throwing people under the bus.”

Look, George Welsh wasn’t a saint. He yelled at his guys when they screwed up, let it be known that he didn’t like how things were going when they weren’t going well.

He did it on the practice field, in the team meeting rooms.

Not on the sidelines in front of the TV cameras, and not in the press conference.

This is Tony Elliott’s first head coaching job, so everything about this year is a learning experience for him.

It’s not easy to be the offensive coordinator for a national championship-level program, but it’s a whole ‘nother level to be the guy for a program – not just responsible for recruiting a certain territory, developing schemes and playbooks, coaching players to execute, calling plays during the game, but being responsible instead for everything.

There’s tons of pressure that comes with moving up to the big headset.

Everything we know about Tony Elliott that led Carla Williams to want to offer him the job tells us he was the right guy for the job.

He wants to win the right way, and has a specific, detailed approach to building a winner at the University of Virginia.

I want to think he’ll eventually get that task accomplished.

But in the process, he’ll have to learn, maybe the hard way, that to be able to build a winner, you first have to learn how to lose.

Chris Graham

I write books, two on UVA basketball, one on pro wrestling, one on politics, which is getting to be like pro wrestling more and more each day. I've finished three marathons, but I'm over that. Oh, and I'm a progressive who voted for Biden, but I'm over that, too. (We need somebody else in 2024!) Want to reach me? Try [email protected]