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CLEMSON — South Carolina State head coach Buddy Pough has impacted hundreds, if not thousands, of lives during his 16-year head-coaching tenure.

However, year 17 will be the last for the legendary head coach as Pough will exit as the head coach of his alma mater following the 2018 season. But Pough’s reach and impact are not lost on one coach in particular — Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.

"Man, he gave me my start. He took a chance on me,” Elliott said. “Here I was a guy that was kind of at a crossroads in life -- figuring out what I wanted to do with my future. I was working at Michelin as an engineer, had a bright future ahead of me, but I wanted to fulfill a purpose and I felt like coaching was the best opportunity to fulfill that purpose. He took a chance on me. He gave me a job, no experience.”

Following a two-year absence from football, Elliott decided that he wanted to get back into the game that he loved.

In 2006, former Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden had an open spot on his coaching staff for a graduate assistant and Elliott jumped at the opportunity to return to his alma mater and begin his coaching career, but that spot was filled by another candidate.

Elliott did not give up on his dream — using his contacts, and former coaches, at Clemson to give him a chance at a small school in Orangeburg.

Following a few phone calls from staff members at Clemson, Elliott found himself on the staff of the South Carolina State Bulldogs and under the leadership of Buddy Pough. Elliott became wide receivers coach.

“He went on the word of Brad Scott and Coach (Dabo) Swinney and Coach (Tommy) Bowden to give me an opportunity,” Elliott said. “Coach Pough took the word of Coach Swinney and Coach Scott and gave a guy that had been out of football for two years a chance to come in and learn and grow into the man I am now. He didn’t know me, and I really didn’t know him. So for him to step out on a limb and trust Coach Swinney and Coach Scott is really a blessing.”

Over the next two years, Elliott learned the hard way that coaching football at the FCS level is not as glamorous as in the FBS.

Coaching staffs are constantly battling substandard facilities and staffing issues, and the money available to the programs is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what Elliott was used to seeing at Clemson.

But Elliott learned something that was more important than the disadvantages of being at a small school — he learned how to be not just a coach but a man who coaches hard.

"I was only around him for two years but to see how he tried to run that program -- to do everything first-class, to hold those young men accountable,” Elliott said. “The ones that I still have communication with from South Carolina State, to this day, they talk about the impact (he had). That he was a hard man.

“He was a hard man on his coaches, a hard man on his players, but you knew it was tough love. He knew those kids needed tough love and the ones that went to play for him, they knew what they were getting into. They wanted it.”

Elliott’s time as a Bulldog was short — only two seasons — but there is no doubt in his mind that had Pough not taken a chance on an engineer from Michelin, Elliott would not be where he is today.

“I wouldn't be a part of this program,” Elliott said of his Clemson position. “Obviously, there was always challenges whenever you're a coach with young men, but, hey, he's changed a lot of lives. A lot of lives -- including mine."

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.


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