Mike Matulis wishes he and his teammates could have done more to help Shawn Elliott keep South Carolina’s head coaching job. Elliott still is hoping he has a chance to keep it.
Whichever way it goes after Saturday’s game against No. 1 Clemson, it’s been a busy seven weeks for a Camden, S.C., native who got to live his boyhood dream at least for a while.
“So many people say, ‘Oh, this has got to be a difficult situation for you, you’ve got to be not sleeping at night,’ but let me tell you, each and every move that I have made personally in trying to propel our football team to be the very best it can, I think I’ve done it,” Elliott said. “For me to have some sleepless nights and some other things like that, it hasn’t happened, it hasn’t happened.”
Elliott inherited a team 2-4 team from Steve Spurrier on Oct. 13.
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“He had to embrace what he could,” Matulis said. “He inherited a program going through a little bit of a struggle at the time and he had to do what he could and keep his spirits up and make sure we didn’t get in that rut and that we kept playing hard.”
Four days later, Elliott won his first game as a head coach at any level, beating Vanderbilt 19-10 in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks haven’t won since, falling to Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida and then The Citadel in consecutive weeks.
“The wins certainly haven’t come, but I’ve done each and every thing that I think is best,” Elliott said. “I think our players have respected what I’ve done and what I’ve tried to do. It’s the only way I’ve been taught so it’s something I’ve been trained to do all my life as far as the discipline and some of the other stuff I’ve incorporated, but I wouldn’t say it’s very difficult. We haven’t had any revolts as players, we haven’t had any revolts as coaches, we’ve tried to do our very best and do our jobs.”
The change in titles has thrust Elliott’s wife Summer into a higher-profile role in the community that hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s a little tougher on my wife than my children, but she’s done a great job,” Elliott said.
The Elliott’s children 8- and 9-year-old Maddyn and Max have taken the change in stride, Elliott said.
“They come to one or two ballgames a year,” Elliott said. “They want to go play with friends at home, they’re not all that much concerned with daddy and what’s going on at work. My son did tell me the other day, he said, ‘I’m sorry’ and I said, ‘What are you sorry about?’ He said, ‘I always thought I was good luck when I came to the games because you won,’ and I said, ‘You don’t have to worry about that, you’ve only lost one, you still are good luck.’”
Elliott will be facing a hero of all interim head coaches in Tigers coach Dabo Swinney on Saturday. Swinney was named Clemson’s interim coach in 2008 and then tabbed to lead the team full-time following a season-ending victory over South Carolina.
“Coach Swinney has done an outstanding job,” Elliott said. “To go from where they were when they were named interim, he was blessed with some pretty fine football players at that time and propelled that in to him getting the job and then he made the right moves. He exudes confidence and he sells the Clemson spirit and that’s something as another coach you’ve got to appreciate and you’ve got to respect.”
Elliott would figure to need a similar win over his rival this week to give himself any chance to follow in Swinney’s footsteps.
“We wish that it wouldn’t have ended like this for him, but we went out there and gave it our all,” Matulis said. “That’s the way we kind of looked at it. We didn’t go out there and (do anything halfway). We went out there and gave it our all for him.”
Tigers vs. Gamecocks
Who: Clemson (11-0) at South Carolina (3-8)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
Line: Clemson by 17