South Carolina's Shawn Elliott struggles with interim role
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Interim South Carolina coach Shawn Elliott wanted his six-game tryout to end Saturday like the head coach on the other sideline - fans chanting his name and an athletic director eager to give him the job full-time.
But instead, Elliott has lost four of five games, including the Gamecocks first loss to a lower level team in 25 years - and even a win this weekend over No. 1 Clemson on Saturday may not be enough to save his job.
It's the danger of being an interim coach. While Elliott did get six games to show his worth, he had to do it with someone else's talent suffering from low morale in a season that already appeared on its way to disaster.
Elliott said he will keep coaching like he can still earn the job, even with close losses to Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida and The Citadel in the books after he took over for Steve Spurrier, who suddenly retired mid-season.
''I'm still approaching it like I have a shot and in the back of my mind I'm going to tell myself, until they tell me at the very end that I don't. I'm not a guy that gives up or quits,'' Elliott said.
Across the field Saturday will be Dabo Swinney, who is quite familiar with Elliott's situation. Swinney was an interim coach for six regular season games in 2008 after Clemson fired Tommy Bowden.
Swinney won three of his first five games, then knocked off South Carolina at Death Valley, walking off the field to fans chanting ''Dabo! Dabo!'' A few days later, he got the job permanently.
''I feel for all those guys because it's a tough situation. You go from one of them to the leader of them, all the dynamics that come with that. You sit in that seat and you don't really know all the things you have to deal with,'' said Swinney, mentioning media appearances and scheduling logistics.
It wasn't all orange and sunshine for Swinney after he was hired. He won his division in the Atlantic Coast Conference the next year, but went 6-7 in 2010 and had to answer questions about whether he was head coach material. Still, Elliott has looked at the Swinney example to help him through his caretaker period.
''He was blessed with some pretty fine football players at that time and propelled that in to him getting the job and then he made the right moves, hiring a great staff, great quality coaches, great coordinators,'' Elliott said. ''What they've done in recruiting to get all those four and five star players, let me tell you, they've got them rolling in and out of there.''
Interim coaching gigs have been minefields for other Southeastern Conference coaches too.
Bill Oliver took over at Auburn after Terry Bowden stepped aside in 1998. He went 2-3, then retired from football. In 2012, John L. Smith dumped his new job as head coach at Weber State to go back to Arkansas where he had been special teams coach for three seasons after the Razorbacks fired Bobby Petrino. Smith went 4-8, didn't get another season and is now coaching at Division II Fort Lewis in Colorado.
And even when an interim coach does well, like Ed Orgeron's 6-2 record at Southern Cal after the school fired Lane Kiffin, it sometimes isn't enough. The Trojans passed over Orgeron and hired Steve Sarkisian, who was fired mid-season this year. Orgeron is now defensive line coach at LSU.
''I know this, I wouldn't want to do it again. I really wouldn't,'' Swinney said of his time as a temp. ''But that's kind of part of growing up, too. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss and what you don't know is a great thing. ''
And Elliott remains positive too. He hasn't been told he isn't getting the Gamecocks job yet, so he is going to assume he still has a chance to earn that promotion permanently.
''They're going to have to kick me out of here and tell me I didn't get it or I've been reassigned or I've got to do something else before I just give up on anything,'' Elliott said.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report from Clemson.