Tony Elliott Reaches Reflection Checkpoint For Virginia

Virginia football coach Tony Elliott
Tony Elliott took the helm at Virginia in December. ~ Photo By Kris Wright/

Tony Elliott considered becoming a head coach long before the Virginia job suddenly opened in December. So when UVA offered and he accepted the job in December, he already had an idea for how he wanted to shape a program.

Elliott envisioned things like coaches he might like to work with, the style of offense, a versatile defense, and what types of schools would support a complete student-athlete. Virginia fit what he was looking for and fans have seen the first pieces of the rest over the first six months of his tenure.

Elliott brought in coaches that are a blend of previous relationships, experienced backgrounds, and Cavalier connections. The Hoos started the installation process for a pro-style offense with run-pass balance and a multiple 3-4 defense that shifts through hybrid positions. He also put his own distinct stamp on the team’s guiding principle: the model program. The message to the players is to build a model home, you have to go through phases of foundation, construction, and completion.

Getting all of those things in place consumed the early days of the tenure, which is true for any head coach. Elliott now has arrived at a more quiet time, though. Yes, there are things like recruiting and the donor greeting rounds in the spring, but this is still a slower time of year. It’s sort of the calm before storm moment. Spring practice is done. Summer workouts haven’t begun. The season is still three months away.

That means it’s a time when Elliott can reflect on and evaluate what he’s learned through the beginning months of his tenure. That can be a challenging period for a first-time head coach.

Do you make any tweaks or changes to the original outline? Do you add something you didn’t anticipate wanting or needing? Do you drop or abandon something that you thought might be an absolute? Who is your sounding board? Who makes suggestions? What’s your first message when the team returns? What’s your first move from your evaluations?

This is a time period where it’s easy to second guess choices, but it’s also a time where it’s easy to stand pat. It’s obviously not any kind of decisive make or break moment. Finding the sweet spot between those two outposts, however, could impact how the season starts and the initial path for your head coaching career.

Elliott does have one advantage that many first-time head coaches do not. He took over a program on stable footing.

Bronco Mendenhall repaired many of the broken parts at UVA. Virginia made the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl in 2019. Over the last four years, the Hoos posted records of 8-5, 9-5, 5-5, and 6-6. They were bowl eligible in five straight seasons. Yes, some of it hovers in average territory – only one bowl win and only one rivalry win against Virginia Tech most notably – but it’s still more stable than what many coaches get walking into a Power 5 office.

Coaches face a choice regardless of what they inherit: ease in your vision while keeping some things intact to help the players with the transition or scrap everything and build from the bottom up. JHoo noted recently on the message board that Elliott is more of a “rip the bandaid” type of coach in regard to the offensive plans, though he has kept some elements of what made Brennan Armstrong so successful with last year’s high-scoring offense that finished