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July 22, 2014

In Conversation: Shawn Elliott, Pt. II

This is part two of a two-part conversation with USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott in which he talks about balancing a coaching life with the demands of family, the importance of home life supporting one's work life and about the opportunity he has with what many are calling potentially the best offensive line in recent memory at South Carolina.

Gamecock Central: When you were growing up, were sports a big part of your life?

Shawn Elliott: Oh gosh yeah. My brother and I, we were at a park every day. That's what we did. It was football, baseball, basketball and whatever else you could get into. It was nonstop. I stopped playing baseball in high school because I tore a labrum and couldn't throw anymore.

Then I started concentrating on football.

GC: That tenacity got you to App State, where you had a remarkable run of three straight national championships and that unforgettable win over Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007. That tenacity also got you back home to Columbia when you reached out to coach Spurrier that you wanted the job here in 2010 after seeing USC struggle against Connecticut in the Papa Johns Bowl. You grew up going to games here, your brother played here and you actually played a high school championship game here. What does home mean to you?

Elliott: It's something special. You never know how things would be, but I can tell you everything I've ever done in my life has been based off a gut feeling. Throw salary out the window - I had no reservations whatsoever about taking this job (at USC). I don't even know why you wouldn't. But I didn't even ask my wife. Normally, you sit down, you talk about things, but I was like, "Listen, if I get this job, we're gone. Just understand that."

There were some other times up in Boone where she was like, "We're not going there or there." And I never really wanted to leave (Boone) unless it was going to be a special job, and when this came open, I had no idea it could be as special as what it's been, but I had a good, good feeling it was going to be a good situation.

GC: And now you're in a situation where your depth and talent on the offensive line already has some comparing it to the best lines in school history before they've played a game.

Elliott: We'll see. I think experience plays a great deal into that and wins and losses. The more experience you have, the better you feel about your situation. Right now - and it could all go south with a couple of injuries - but I think we're sitting in a decent spot.

GC: Do your guys take into account the importance of protecting a first-year starter in Dylan Thompson and knowing you have a proven running back in Mike Davis and a stable of guys behind him?

Elliott: I don't think they care who lines up at quarterback or who lines up at running back. Their job is no different. They have to do their job to the best of their ability. It could be Steve Spurrier Jr. back there taking the snaps. They really don't care.

Because certain people work hard, that tends to elevate their performance and want to do well to make Dylan look good, to achieve, but the pride issue is what they really play for and do their best for. If it means something to them personally, as a group, then they'll play well.

GC: Do you try to stagger your recruiting classes so you always have a majority of upperclassmen starting?

Elliott: You have to. I don't care who you are, you go in there and it's your first career start and you've never played against the great talent in the SEC, you're not going to play so well. I don't care who you are. You could be the best of the bunch, it's not going to be what you look like as a senior doing it.

With recruiting at our position, you really try to bring in classes that will play together for a certain amount of time. One thing you don't want to do is have a senior left tackle and a redshirt freshman left guard and a sophomore center, redshirt freshman right guard and junior right tackle. You want guys that have been in it, who have worked together and who have worked together over a long period of time. That way their minds kind of think alike and they're on the same page.

GC: It's how you build integrity and trust.

Elliott: Right. If something goes wrong, they know how they're going to react, how I'm going to react.

GC: For people starting off in coaching at any level, what advice do you have for balancing work with family in a job that requires so much time away from the ones you love?

Elliott: That's interesting. Understand that family time is one of the most important things you can have in a relationship, especially when you're married with children. The games, they're high-pressure situations, but they're just games. I can assure you that when things aren't right at home, there's more pressure there than on a Saturday afternoon in the SEC.

In football, you have an opportunity the next weekend to go out and recover from a bad outing. If things go bad at home, it's a lot harder. So you better take care of your business in your personal life with your family and friends. Make sure you're living right.

You have to be dad when you walk in the door. It could have been a tough, tough day, but there's a lot of tough days. Tough wins, even, when you come home and you're like, "We played terrible even though we won."

So you come in and there's Maddyn and she wants to play blocks on the floor or play Wii or throw the football, and it takes all that away. You have to learn to separate the two. You can't take your work home with you. You're a football coach here and a dad and a husband here.

GC: And having that family to come home to should mitigate the stress from practice and games.

Elliott: It's the number one stress reliever. It can be a tough day at the office on a Saturday, and you get home and your son is right there, playing cards on the floor or with cars...it takes the edge right off.

My number one thing is being able to separate it. You have to cut off the stress from work. When I go home, my kids aren't going to know whether we won or lost by my behavior. Sure, they'll know if we won or lost, but even if I'm bitter or disappointed if we lost and still thinking about it, it's not going to show to them. They're just going to know that daddy's home and things are good.

GC: Can you think of a specific time when that was tough?

Elliott: I remember at Appalachian State we had won three national championships in a row and had the nation's longest playoff winning streak in 1-AA, something like 14 or 15 consecutive games we'd won before we lost to Richmond.

Here I am, I'm coming home and the score is scrolling across the crawl on the bottom of the screen on ESPN, saying "record winning streak snapped by Richmond." I remember my daughter looking at me and saying, "Daddy, 'Snapped.' Y'all got snapped today.'"

We all just broke up. I said, "Yeah, baby, we got snapped alright." It was funny, and it broke the tension I felt. It put things into perspective."

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