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February 15, 2012

Hood: Did Florida pursue Elliott?



Florida coach Will Muschamp says no.

ESPN.com SEC writer Chris Low and other influential media types say yes.

So, who's right? My money is on the latter.

Whether the Gators actually wooed South Carolina's Shawn Elliott to become their offensive line coach will probably never be fully known since all the parties involved are likely to remain silent and the story will vanish within the next few days, especially since Florida has made a hire (Utah's Tim Davis).

Still, the question lingers - how close did Elliott come to leaving USC and joining a divisional rival? Probably not close, even though Florida's offer exceeded the yearly sums in his new two-year contract.

Frankly, Muschamp will never admit (he denied that "he went after Shawn Elliott," according to a tweet from well-respected columnist Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun) that his overtures were spurned by Elliott because it would be extremely embarrassing for the Florida program if it was revealed a position coach UF sought decided to stay at a "lowly" place like USC rather than join the "mighty" Gators.

And Elliott won't talk out of respect to Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks' program.

The headline on Low's story at ESPN.com on Tuesday proclaimed Elliott's decision to remain with USC as a "coup" for the Gamecocks. Granted, the word is never used in Low's story.

Make no mistake, losing Elliott would have been catastrophic in light of the effort USC is making to rebuild the offensive line after neglecting the position in recruiting for three years (2007-09) and the progress USC has exhibited in run-blocking and implementing the zone-read and inside-zone plays.

With Marcus Lattimore expected healthy in 2012, USC could feature a highly productive attack behind quarterback Connor Shaw, who showed off his speed during the season.

The last couple of recruiting cycles have been fruitful as far as the O-line is concerned and Elliott is finally in position where he will have a decent two-deep to work with this upcoming season.

Still, I believe something happened out there.

The best evidence another school was aggressively pursuing Elliott occurred last Friday when he was awarded a healthy $115,000 raise for the 2012 season by the Board of Trustees from last year's salary of $185,000. He'll earn $315,000 in 2013.

Typically, offensive line coaches don't receive six-figure raises from one year to the next, so somebody knew something or felt Elliott was about to depart. In addition, Elliott received by far the biggest raise of the three assistants who were not the offensive or defensive coordinators.

Some media reports said Florida approached Elliott last week. Makes sense considering the Board's vote late Friday.

Chuck Allen, a prominent member of the Board, acknowledged to me that Elliott "did get one of the more generous raises," but then contended "we just want to keep good people" and maintained Elliott's new pay grade was "probably right there in the range of a good offensive line coach. We just want to keep them."

Was Allen hinting Elliott's pay raise was due to Florida or another school aggressively coming after him?

The truth is that, well, we'll probably never know the truth, as to how far the discussions between Elliott and Florida got.

Assuming Muschamp is not telling the truth, all Elliott had to do was compare the rosters of the teams before determining USC was the better situation for him. As the run-game coordinator and someone who has quickly earned the trust of Steve Spurrier, Elliott wasn't about to give up the opportunity to coach elite running backs like Lattimore, Shon Carson, Brandon Wilds, Kenny Miles (if he returns in 2012) and, of course, 2012 signee Mike Davis.

And he wasn't going to give up coaching promising young offensive linemen like Brandon Shell, Joe Harris and Brock Stadnik (all four-star prospects).

Add into the mix the fact Elliott is a Palmetto State native (he is from Camden), and you gain a greater appreciation for why the former Appalachian State standout will remain a Gamecock.

Based on quotes I read from Spurrier, he appreciates Elliott as much as anyone. He brought the inside-zone scheme with him from Appalachian State and it was an instant hit with Lattimore and the other running backs.

Is it a coincidence USC has won 20 games in Elliott's first two years with the Gamecocks? Spurrier may think so, as he described him as "helpful."

If you're Florida, it's understandable why you came after Elliott. He's one of the top young offensive-line coaches in the business and an excellent recruiter. After two years of lethargic offense, the Gators were looking for Elliott to provide them with an energy boost.

But it won't happen.

In my opinion, there is only one job Elliott would leave USC for right now - the head coaching position at his alma mater. Thus, unless that job opens up soon and Appalachian State extends him an offer he finds too attractive to turn down, I believe he will stay in Columbia.

Actually, the main question I have following this latest episode is when Muschamp or the authorized Florida representative spoke with Elliott, did they pronounce his name using the same tone of voice as the extra-terrestrial in the iconic movie, "E.T.," whose young human friend was named Elliott (albeit, his first name).

But I'm guessing Muschamp's finger didn't glow in the dark.

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D. McCallum


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