Shortly after South Carolina’s 20-7 loss to Connecticut in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Saturday, USC coach Steve Spurrier received a text message on his cell phone.
It was from Appalachian State offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who had interviewed for the Gamecocks’ vacant offensive line position last week before USC left for the bowl game in Birmingham, Ala.
Spurrier said the text read: “Coach, I can help your team.”
Elliott will get the chance to prove it.
Spurrier on Sunday hired Elliott to replace Eric Wolford, who left last month after one season at USC to become the head coach at Youngstown State.
Elliott, a 36-year-old Camden native, played at Appalachian State from 1991-95 and has spent his entire coaching career at the Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse. The Mountaineers won three consecutive FCS titles from 2005-07.
After attending the 11 a.m. service at Boone United Methodist in N.C., Elliott noticed he had a couple of missed calls from Spurrier on his cell.
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘Certainly, they wouldn’t all be calling because I didn’t get the job,” Elliott said.
Spurrier said Elliott will receive a 2-year deal and the title of run game coordinator, as Wolford did. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“He didn’t ask for much. He didn’t even ask what he’s making. He knew it’d be more than what he was making,” Spurrier said. “I like those kind of guys. I was sort of that way myself at one time, and that’s the way you start out, I think.”
Elliott, who coached at his alma mater 13 years, said he is looking forward to proving himself at a higher level.
“That’s always in the back of a coach’s mind, especially if you’re coaching at the D-II or FCS level,” said Elliott, who grew up rooting for the Gamecocks. “You want to see if what you’ve been doing and what you’re teaching your kids will work at the next level.”
In nine years as the Mountaineers’ line coach, Elliott’s players earned All-American honors 12 times. His players won the Southern Conference’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy — given to the leagues’ top offensive lineman — from 2005-07.
“He jumped out at me because of what they’ve done up there and the offense that they run, and what his O-linemen have done and what they’ve won,” Spurrier said. “He’s a guy that wants to win a championship here. That’s what he’s all about. They’re used to winning championships. Hopefully, he can help us do that.”
Elliott has a background with a power rushing attack and a zone-blocking spread offense, which Appalachian runs.
The Mountaineers have finished second or third in the SoCon in rushing every year since 2005, averaging 206 yards or more each season. The Gamecocks have had the SEC’s worst rushing attack the past three years.
USC loses two starting linemen — center Lemuel Jeanpierre and guard Garrett Anderson — and has commitments from seven offensive line recruits.
“I think there’s potential. There’s a challenge, of course, in store,” Elliott said. “But I think that’s something that can be changed in coaching and in scheme to some degree. They’ve got the tools to be successful. You just have to apply those tools to the process.”
Elliott was a linebacker and defensive end for Appalachian and was the school’s first player to appear in the FCS (then Division I-AA) playoffs four times. He believes attitude will be as important as technique in molding a Gamecocks’ line that surrendered an SEC-high 38 sacks in 2009.
His Mountaineers’ line allowed about half that total — 20 — this season.
“You’ve got to get the most out of players,” he said. “I’m energetic and passionate about the game of football. My philosophy is nobody will outwork us. Our O-line will be the leaders of our football team. I just feel like if you outwork people there’s no excuse. There’s no option to fail.”