Virginia’s new coach achieved the first big victory of his tenure on Monday when quarterback Brennan Armstrong said he’s given no thought to transferring.
Coach Tony Elliott met with the Cavaliers for the first time on Sunday night, and Armstrong — who threw for 4,444 yards in 11 games this season for an average of 404 per game, which ranks second nationally — said Monday after Elliott’s introductory news conference that he’s staying put.
“I think he’s going to run a great program. I’m really excited to see it,” said Armstrong, who has two years of eligibility remaining. “I’m not going to transfer. It’s either here or the NFL.”
Elliott spent the past seven seasons as the offensive coordinator at Clemson, a stint that included two national titles and the spectacular three-year career of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was the top pick in this spring’s NFL draft.
At Virginia, Elliott takes over for Bronco Mendenhall, who surprisingly announced his resignation after the Cavaliers concluded a 6-6 regular season.
Elliott touched on a variety of topics Monday as players, fans and alumni listened on the Cavaliers’ sun-splashed artificial turf practice field.
“I patiently waited for this opportunity and I’m ready,” said Elliott, who spent 11 years as an assistant to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. “I’ve seen the establishment of a championship culture, what it looks like, and I’m prepared for this moment. I chose UVA because I wanted to lead a program that was partnered with a university that had world-class academics.”
Elliott said he expects to have top-level football success at a school with strict academic requirements “because I think in order to be the best football player, you have to be the best student. You can’t have one without the other. They complement each other and all of those skills are transferable.”
Mendenhall and his staff will coach the Cavaliers in the first Fenway Bowl in Boston on Dec. 29. That will give Elliott time to build his staff and observe the program, either from the sideline during practice or on video. He praised Mendenhall and his staff for their willingness to help with the transition.
Another player Elliott would prefer to stay with the program, center Olusegun Oluwatimi, attended the news conference and said he liked what he heard. Oluwatimi, one of three finalists for the Rimington Trophy given to the top center in college football, has entered the transfer portal.
He said teammates are already recruiting him to stay at Virginia.
Elliott said his offensive system will be adapted to the talent he has to work with, and he said he was intrigued by the offense Virginia ran this season, which ranked third nationally at 515.8 yards per game. On defense, he said he favors controlled aggression with well-disguised coverages.
In his meeting with the team, he said his initial message was “finish and do so with purpose, passion and love for each other and love for coach Mendenhall and the staff.” He did not rule out retaining some of Mendenhall’s assistants.
“The journey ahead is going to be filled with some mountaintop moments and also some moments down in the valley, and I look forward to both because I know that both are important for growth,” Elliott said.
Elliott and athletic director Carla Williams both addressed Virginia’s facilities, which Mendenhall said were lacking when he arrived six years ago. The school has increased staffing levels and added a grass practice field and plans a new building to house coaches’ offices, weight rooms and other services.
“Mt staff tells me I’m brutally honest, and I was with Tony about the facilities because I think it’s really important to be honest,” Williams said.
Elliott’s said his work to establish his vision for the program will be equally important.
“Bricks and mortar is nice, and the young people want to see bricks and mortar, but we all know that’s not what makes a home. It’s the people inside,” he said.
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