The anticipation Luther Elliss felt before his first day as the new defensive tackles coach for the University of Utah football team was “like a kid in a candy store where somebody says, ‘You can have whatever you want.’”
That’s how the Utah legend put it Thursday on the second day of spring practices for the Utes.
But while Elliss is getting used to his new job, some of his surroundings haven’t changed since playing for Utah in the early 1990s. Kyle Whittingham, who was his position coach his senior year, is now the head honcho. Current cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah used to be Elliss’s teammate.
So when he was asked what it’s been like coming back to coach at his alma mater, Elliss didn’t reduce its significance.
“A dream come true,” Elliss said. “It’s just a huge blessing, and I’m grateful for that.”
Elliss joined the Utes staff after spending five years with the University of Idaho, where he coached the defensive line and two of his sons. One of his other sons, Jonah, is a current sophomore defensive end at Utah.
Elliss said part of what makes coaching the Utes so meaningful is getting a chance to coach Jonah a little, much like he coached his other two sons.
“I think they like having me there, but then there’s some things they don’t — some of that off-the-field stuff that they don’t want you to hear as a parent,” Elliss said. “But for the most part, I think it’s a great opportunity, a great relationship, good opportunity to take some of my knowledge and experience and share with them.”
Aside from his college coaching experience, Elliss played 10 seasons in the NFL — most of them with the Detroit Lions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1999 and 2000 before he retired in 2004.
The former Ute is trying to instill some of the professional mindset he learned into this defensive tackle group, as Utah looks to build off its Pac-12 championship and trip to the Rose Bowl from a season ago.
“Not wasting a day, not wasting a rep, not wasting a meeting,” Elliss said. “We all have things happening outside of football, outside of this facility, this building. But when you get here, you have to compartmentalize and set things aside and say, ‘I’m going to focus here.’
“What we try to do is when you get here, to be a professional, you have to be able to separate personal and business. And this is a business. You have come in here ready to go.”
And Elliss is already seeing some of that mentality from his players. He mentioned Junior Tafuna and Devin Kaufusi as players that he sees becoming leaders not only on the field, but off of it. And as far as the entire group, he’s been impressed by its “desire to be great.”
“I expect to get a lot out of them this year and I think they want to be great,” Eliss said. “So anytime you have a group like that that wants to be great, good things are going to happen.”
When it comes to his coaching style, Elliss said he is not a yeller, but more of a cheerleader. And while he demands the absolute best from his players, he also finds a way to include nurturing them as well.
“Biggest thing, I think my coaching style is I love you, I’m going to push you, I’m going to demand the best from you,” Elliss said. “And hopefully, I’m going to hopefully train you and teach you how to be a professional.”