Another brave soldier fell in South Carolina’s death march of a season on Saturday.
It isn’t the first time I’ve had to spike a piece I’ve had written for weeks, so it wasn’t with any tears that I highlighted text from three weeks ago and hit Control-Alt-Delete. It was with a pang of regret for the subject of the piece, Shawn Elliott, who had his candidacy to remain the Gamecocks’ coach abruptly terminated after a stunning 23-22 loss to The Citadel.
I was never going to judge Elliott on how many wins he pulled out of this sorry representation of a football team. The acumen of Bill Walsh and Jimmy “Moose” Wallace combined couldn’t have gotten this bunch bowl-eligible. As I said when he was hired, the talent wasn’t going to improve when Elliott took over – this team was going to have to have a whole lot of stuff go its way to get to six wins.
It didn’t. Close a lot of times, but didn’t. Fairly or unfairly, Elliott will never get past the “head coach for a loss to The Citadel.” Ask Sparky Woods how that worked out for him.
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I wrote three weeks ago about how Elliott was the perfect man for this job. I planned to run it this week for Clemson, because the Gamecocks would have a win over The Citadel and there was at least a chance that they could pull off the upset of the century over the Tigers. It may be minute, but a chance is a chance, and I’ve seen way too many chances come through in just this football season, never mind the past 36.
I knew then that it was probably not going to happen, because Ray Tanner has to be a businessman first and a nice guy second, and that stadium won’t be filled or be nearly as forgiving for Elliott next year as it will a new coach. It was my opinion, that’s all, because no matter the negatives of Elliott, his positives trumped anyone Tanner could find.
Shawn Elliott is South Carolina. He didn’t go to school here, but he loves this town, this school and this program as if he laid the first brick on the Horseshoe. There would be nobody, I wrote, that would understand what it takes to win here more than Elliott. He would bleed to make this program win.
You could see how much it pained him to have to walk in that room following an inexplicable loss in which, yes, his coaching was questionable. Most of the Gamecocks’ problems during this stretch were inherited. Elliott, as head coach, had to take responsibility for some playcalls that could have meant the game on Saturday.
So he knew, like we all did, that it’s over for him after next week. I personally think he’ll leave for an assistant spot at another big school, although he could be a head coach at a small program. I think that while he may be offered a chance to stay, he will want a fresh start somewhere else.
So he apologized, swore that there would be effort next week and walked out to begin fixing it. His spine was as straight as the day he was hired, the fierce determination in his eyes not dimmed a bit since he labeled this his dream job, still head coach of the only team he ever wanted.
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