Shawn Elliott has a pretty sweet setup in Columbia. At $300K per year, he's very well paid for a position coach, gets to put "Run Game Coordinator" on his résumé, and stands to ascend to the position of Offensive Coordinator - if not the head coaching position itself - if and when Steve Spurrier decides to hang up the visor. Given this situation, it would seem to be irrational for the engaging and well-regarded Elliott to take a position coaching an FCS level program.
But Appalachian State, whose longtime head coach stepped down last week, is a different animal when it comes to Elliott. The young assistant was an all-conference defensive end for the Mountaineers from 1993-96 and spent another 13 years in Boone as a position coach, so he has the requisite emotional ties to the program to make it conceivable that those allegiances might override his ambitions of becoming a head coach at a major FBS program.
So when Jerry Moore's retirement was announced and rumors began to spread that Elliott, a logical candidate, was near the top of their list, it appeared as though the Gamecocks might be on the verge of losing another major assistant coach this offseason. But in the amount of time that it took me to go to the gym and come back on Thursday evening, Elliott both became ASU's primary target and withdrew himself from consideration for the vacancy.
And what a relief that was.
It might seem tautological to say that Elliott has been absolutely vital to the growth and development of South Carolina's offensive line, but it should be said all the same. While Spurrier was intermittently blessed with NFL-level skill players during his first several years in Columbia, the struggles of the offensive line prevented his offenses from being as successful as they might have otherwise been. The troubles began when the Head Ball Coach wasn't able to sign a single offensive lineman in the 2005 class that he inherited from Lou Holtz and made some serious evaluation errors in the 2006 class.
The turnaround began during Eric Wolford's one-and-done season as line coach in 2009 (Kenny Miles' magical 5.35 ypc season) and finally developed into an above-average unit during Elliott's first season in 2010, a year in which he molded walk-on Garrett Chisolm into an All-SEC performer. Recruiting has also taken a big step forward under Elliott, allowing him to put players on the SEC All-Freshman team in consecutive seasons (A.J. Cann, Brandon Shell) with several more talented players waiting to make their contribution (Under Armour All-American tackle Brock Stadnick is redshirting 2012.)
In 2012, the offensive line was bad but young. They allowed sacks on 9.6% of passing attempts and didn't create much room for the USC's backs to run (3.62 yard per carry). But with 4 out of 5 starters set to return in 2013 and 2014, Elliott has finally built the depth needed to compete consistently at the line of scrimmage in the SEC.
Keeping him away from Appalachian State was absolutely vital. It's conceivable that some FBS programs could come at him this offseason for coordinator positions, so the fight may not yet be over. $300K is a lot for a position coach, but I'd be fine with it if Ray Tanner decided that he deserved more.