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UVA Football: Tony Elliott wants to win, but more focused on ‘building a program’

tony elliott
Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

UVA football coach Tony Elliott acknowledged in his Tuesday weekly presser that he was “a little bit embarrassed” at the way he came across with his actions on the sidelines in the Cavaliers’ 38-17 loss at Duke on Saturday night.

“I pride myself on being a calm guy,” said Elliott, who faced some internal backlash, according to the scuttlebutt at the McCue Center, for his multiple blowups at players.

Elliott told reporters that he’d apologized to staff and players, then walked it all back a bit, defending the blowups, saying that he “saw things that from a cultural standpoint I just did not like, that’s not going to be who we are as a program.”

“I just believe that my job at that time is to try and address those things,” Elliott said. “Sometimes frustration can get the better of anybody, but there’s a commitment to making sure that the core values of this program is what we lean on to be able to win and what we display and what we represent when we go out there.”


Virginia, in Elliott’s first season at the helm, is sitting at 2-3, against a schedule that ranks 60th nationally, per ESPN.

The two wins have come against Richmond, an FCS program, and ODU, which had been picked to finish last in the Sun Belt, a Group of 5 conference.

There was a narrow 22-20 loss at Syracuse, which is now ranked in the Top 25, and blowout losses at Illinois and at Duke, both of which are out to surprising 4-1 starts.

The remaining schedule, again per ESPN, ranks 77th nationally, with the next two games against Louisville, the other last-place team in the ACC, and Georgia Tech, which upset then-#24 Pitt on Saturday, five days after the school fired its coach and AD.

Then come home games with Miami, the preseason favorite in the Coastal Division, now a middling 2-2; UNC, which is looking good with Drake Maye at QB, and is 4-1; Pitt, the aforementioned, sitting at 3-2; and Coastal Carolina, another Sun Belt team.

The finisher is on the road at Virginia Tech, which is giving the ‘Hoos a run for worst team in the ACC and in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the moment.

I tell you all of that to then tell you: things could get turned around.

And then to tell you: Elliott isn’t necessarily focused on a short-term turnaround.

“I don’t want to jeopardize building a program for those wins because then those wins will be short-lived, right?” Elliott said. “Trust me, I want to win every game. I’m not looking at the schedule saying, ‘OK, these are the winnable games.’

“What I said is, ‘Right now, fellas, we’re not a team. We’re a group of individuals. We’re undisciplined. That’s the result of why we’re not making the plays that we’re supposed to.’ But when we heal as a team, this team can be special, right? It’s got everything that it needs to be competitive in every single game that it plays with a chance to win. That’s really what you want, is be competitive, get into the fourth quarter, whose culture is going to win in the fourth quarter? That’s what my focus is.

“I’m not looking at the schedule,” Elliott said. “Right now I’m trying to figure out schematically what we need to do as a staff to be successful against Louisville. What do I do in conjunction with the staff to help find the right motivation for these guys to be detail-oriented, focus on the little things, not listen to the voices on the outside. Focus on what they can control. They can control their attitude they come to work every day, the quality of the work they put in, then how prepared they show up on Saturday to play.”

Reality check: It’s not about this year

This is all well and good, that Elliott is focused on the long-term, even if there’s still plenty still out there that could be achieved in 2022.

The Coastal is a mess, and is as wide-open as it appeared to me to be back in the summer, when everybody else seemed to think that Miami was going to be The U again, that Tyler Van Dyke was the next coming of Vinny Testaverde, that Pitt was going to magically replace Kenny Pickett and continue rolling on.

The UVA offense is a shell of what it was last year, but the guys who put up those record numbers – QB Brennan Armstrong, wideouts Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks – are still on Grounds.

Elliott could get things figured out and sneak his team into the ACC Championship Game, if only because the Coastal is such a clusterfrank.

But it sounds like that’s not his mindset, as much as he wants to do what it takes to build a consistent winner, and if it means this season be damned, then so be it.

“I’m building a program. That’s one of the things that I’m trying to get these guys to understand,” Elliott said. “There’s a difference between having a good team and building a program. Good teams, they may be good for one year. Good programs, they sustain success over the long haul.

“In order to build a program, there’s philosophies, processes, the way that you operate, core values that you have to truly, truly instill. A lot of bamboo tree. You might not see immediate result. But you got to keep watering, believing and trusting that at one point it’s going to click, and you’re going to see the growth.”

Chris Graham

In addition to being the editor of Augusta Free Press, I've written seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For my commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to my YouTube page, Want to reach me? Try [email protected].