COLUMBIA, S.C. — Shawn Elliott saw something in Mason Zandi that not a lot of other folks recognized.
The former South Carolina offensive line coach thought he could take a raw 6-foot-7, 260-pound kid from Chapin, S.C., and turn him into an SEC offensive tackle.
“Coach Elliott is one of 128 coaches that thought I was worth enough to come play at his school and be compensated for it,” Zandi said. “I owe that man so much. I owe him my life. I owe him my education, my ability as a football player.
“I appreciate him, more than anything.”
Elliott, who was named head coach at Georgia State earlier this month, spent the last half of 2015 serving as South Carolina’s interim head coach, so he had a taste of life sitting at the head of the coaching table.
“I think, as an O-line group, we knew that he wanted a head coaching job,” left guard Zack Bailey said. “But the fact that he did leave, it kind of surprised us all, because just talking to him, he seemed like he was here, and then it surprised us that he did leave.”
But there aren’t any hard feelings about Elliott’s departure from South Carolina.
“We wish him the best of luck,” Bailey said. “But it was a surprise, definitely.”
Zandi would like to have Elliott around for his final game at South Carolina, but it’s hard for the starting left tackle to be too selfish when it comes to his former position coach.
“Coach Elliott has done me — he’s done me so many favors. He’s done everything right by me the past five years,” Zandi said. “For him to get the opportunity to be a head ball coach somewhere, he deserves every bit of it. Him and his family are tremendous people and they deserve any amount of success that comes their way.”
Zandi added, “He wants to be a head coach and I don’t blame him. That’s your program. That’s awesome.”
Unlike Zandi, Bailey and the rest of the Gamecocks offensive linemen will be back in 2017, so they’re left wondering what the future might hold.
If it was up to Bailey, Elliott’s replacement would share some of his qualities.
“I don’t want somebody to come in who’s strict and takes the fun away from football,” Bailey said.