Clemson coach, star pupil learn new roles
CLEMSON -- Tony Elliott's first weekend on the job included an important first impression for the program.
Running back Mike Bellamy, the Tigers' prized recruit, was making an official visit to Clemson in January. While in Clemson, Bellamy was scheduled to meet with his new position coach, Elliott, who had never coached running backs prior to being hired by head coach Dabo Swinney.
"They said 'Just don't screw it up,' " said Elliott, a James Island native, of the staff's guidance. "Make him (Bellamy) like you."
Bellamy stayed true to his commitment to Clemson, and Elliott has spent the months since his hire committed to transforming from a wide receivers coach at Furman, the position he played at Clemson, to becoming a running backs coach.
While Elliott is learning the nuances of a new position, one of his first challenges will be tempering expectations for Bellamy and teaching him to be a humble teammate, relating that his first year at Clemson will not include immediate stardom.
Bellamy has a reputation for being brash. In an interview with The Sporting News last year, Bellamy predicted he would win a Heisman Trophy at Clemson. He posted photographs of himself holding two dozen $100 bills in June, which Clemson officials said was meant as a joke. Bellamy and the other true freshmen will not be made available to the media until the first week of the season -- the first such restraint under Swinney at Clemson.
"I think a lot of the de-recruiting is already taking place," Elliott said. "He's in a room with some other top-caliber guys. He's realizing these guys can play as well. He's at the back of the line when they go out and do individual (summer) drills. So he's learning 'OK, I'm going to have to work.' … But you don't want him to lose that confidence that makes him so special.
"There is a misconception about Mike. I think a lot of people thought he was an arrogant, loud-mouth guy. He's a little active. But at the same time he's got a big heart … he cares about his teammates."
Elliott said there is no doubting Berkeley High product Andre Ellington is going to be the main running back, but Bellamy will have a role early in the season. He enters as the one of team's best receivers out of the backfield, and his 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash could make him the team's No. 2 back behind Ellington.
"The way I try to explain it is it's kind of like geese flying in formation," Elliott said. "Yeah, there is one lead bird, but guess what? He gets tired and has to go to the back. So everyone needs to get ready.
"We are talking about 80 plays per game, and we are going to be balanced, so that means 40 running plays, 40 passing … I don't think anyone of them thinks they can tote it 40 times per games."
While Elliott has begun the work of managing egos, he's still learning a position alien to him less than a year earlier.
Elliott has watched film until becoming bleary eyed. He's spoken with St. Louis Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom about the finer points of pass protection and ball security. With training camp beginning Friday, Elliott feels he is as prepared as he could be for a new challenge at hand.
"You're always a little self conscious of what people think of you," he said. "I think people are receptive even though there are some concerns about me going to the running backs position."