Mentor Moments: WIU’s Elliott shares his greatest influences
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The following is the third in a series that highlights each of the four Illinois FCS head coaches as they share thoughts and memories about their mentors. Today’s featured coach is Jared Elliott of Western Illinois.
The men Jared Elliott considers his mentors encompass his years as a player and a young coach. Moreover, they easily come to mind.
“I think this is probably true for everybody in that you have people that are instrumental every step of the way in your journey,” Elliott told Prairie State Pigskin recently.
For Elliott, that journey began while playing high school football in Franklin, Tenn. under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Alvin Palmer and quarterbacks coach Richard Lee.
“Both of those guys were instrumental. Even before college I knew I was one of those guys — I’m sure there’s a number of them out there — you kind of know you’ll never end up playing (professionally). You think I just want to be a part of this. It was that way for me because of coaches like Alvin Palmer and Richard Lee that I had in high school.
“They taught not only the fundamentals of the game, but character, discipline, all the parallels to life that the game teaches all of us. Those guys were just amazing. I’m still very close with both of them to this day. It’s amazing when you still have guys like that as part of your support system.”
That support system stayed with Elliott as he transitioned into college where he played at Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference.
“I was back home for a little bit of summer that we had. Coach Palmer had left Page High School where I had played and he was the head coach at Hazel Green High School in Alabama, which was only about an hour or hour-and-a-half drive from Franklin,” Elliott shared. “He had called me up and said, ‘Jared, come hop in the truck with me and come down for a summer workout and talk to the team and let me show you around.
“I had graduated. I wasn’t his player anymore, but he was that kind of man reaching out and still interested in your life and wants you to be part of his life. I spent the whole day with him and ate dinner at his family’s house. Moments like those are moments that really stick with you forever.”
As for Lee, Elliott recalled a “tough-love lesson” following a rough first half.
“I remember I got the biggest butt-whippin’ of my life in the locker room at halftime. I still remember we were playing Sycamore High School, it might have been my junior year. It was (laughs) intense. It was one of those coach-player moments where he was all over it, and I probably deserved it,” Elliott said.
Yet, it was a night that evolved into something far greater.
“But, what really altered our relationship and this is still very vivid to me, is how he acted after that and how he circled back around later that night after that game. He hugged me and told me that he loved me. It just spoke so much volume of who he was and that he wanted me to be my best. It wasn’t out of any kind of a malicious way, that he really did care. That was a powerful moment,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s next mentor came from his days leading up to and during his time at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Enter Terry Hoeppner.
“We were very close. We got close throughout the recruiting process and then during our time there,” Elliott said. “He was a true players’ coach. I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a guy who just loved his players and cared about them as deeply as he did. It was all genuine. It was authentic; it was real.
“Even though I already knew that I wanted to coach, when you’re around men like that who model it on a daily basis, it puts a life-lasting impression on you. Even when you’re still playing, it starts to shape you and your philosophy. How you view things, how coaching should be. Terry and his staff there just had a way not only of being great teachers, but letting you know there were relationships beyond football. There was a lot of substance and power in those relationships.”
Elliott battled through injuries and setbacks in his collegiate career, yet he and his coach solidified a bond that went beyond the game.
“We played in the Independence Bowl against Iowa State and it was his last game before he left for Indiana (to become the Hoosiers’ head coach),” Elliott said. “I still remember we shared a moment there in the locker room. It was just him and me. It was just one of those powerful, intimate moments that you have with someone that you really care about and that you have a lot of respect for.”
Hoeppner later died of brain cancer in 2007, just as Elliott was moving into the next phase of his life.
Following a two-year stint coaching receivers at Missouri Southern State, Elliott returned to Miami as a graduate assistant. It was there that he rekindled a relationship with a name from the past who would become influential on his future — Charlie Fisher.
“I’ve known Charlie for a long time. He was a guy that recruited me coming out of high school. He was coaching at Vanderbilt back then,” Elliott said. “Charlie and I worked together at Miami of Ohio and when he got the (head coaching) job here at Western (in 2016); he brought me on as assistant head coach.”
Together, Fisher and Elliott led a potent WIU offense as the Leathernecks enjoyed two winning seasons and a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2017. Fisher left Macomb to join Herm Edwards’ Arizona State staff in 2018, and Elliott was named his successor as WIU head coach.
“I got into coaching and I’ve had people help me every single step of the way that I’ve worked for and with, but I’d say the biggest (influence) since being a player that I can point to and say that I’ve learned so much from not only football-wise, but again being a man and how to carry yourself and balance your family with football and all that goes with it . . . that would be Charlie Fisher,” Elliott said.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve taken a lot from him,” Elliott said. “Football-wise, he’s been one of the most impactful for me. Just in terms of scheme and Xs and Os, technique, fundamentals, recruiting, running a program, organizational skills, managing rosters — all of the things that you’re juggling in this business. I learned a lot from him and he’s a vet; he’s done it a long time at the highest levels. He’s been around the greats. He’s one guy that’s been so instrumental in my career.”
Like any coach, Elliott has lived through not only the highs but also the lows of his profession. And that’s where and when the bond of a true friendship is needed most.
“What I love about Charlie’s and my relationship is that we’re very close and we’ve known each other a long time, so you reach the point in a relationship like that where you drop your shield with some people versus another,” Elliott said. “When you experience the lows, when you have someone that you can trust and confide in and talk things through with, there’s almost a bonding that happens in those moments.
“When you’re a head coach, you just can’t do that with everyone. Sometimes there’s that one guy that you go to and you drop your guard and just have the ability to get things off your chest or share what’s in your heart or get some insight or correction on something or maybe they see it a different way. Charlie and I were able to do that a lot. There’s always those moments that draw you closer.”
While Elliott highlighted Palmer, Lee, Hoeppner and Fisher, he is acutely aware that nearly everyone he encountered in life was an influence one way or another. He also realizes that being human, you can’t be perfect.
“There’s so many others. There’s those I’ve worked with and for,” Elliott said. “I’ll say this, and I think this is true for everybody, as much respect and love I have for so many of these people, there’s no question now that you’re not only learning what to do from them but you’re also learning what not to do.
“As you go through a season with a team and a staff and every single day is so fluid with ups and downs, (mistakes) get made. It’s the same way with my staff here. I’ve told them there’s going to be times when you learn what not to do. I’m going to make a wrong decision on something. That’s a part of what grows you. That’s a big part of this business. You see things that you like and you take them, but you also see things the other way. Or you see something that you would tweak to make it better for you. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot of men that I’ve learned so much from and have so much respect for.”