Long before the term players’ coach became a fixture in the vocabulary of sports, Pete Elliott developed that reputation during his time at the helm of University of Illinois football.
“He had a great rapport with all the kids,” former Illini linebacker Jeff Trigger said. “He was a real personable guy and a great motivator, the kind of guy you wanted to do your best you could for him.”
Elliott, who coached at the UI for seven seasons in the 1960s and guided the 1963 team to a Rose Bowl victory, died Friday in Canton, Ohio. The Bloomington native was 86.
“What a great guy,” said former Illini halfback Bill Huston, who like Trigger was a sophomore on Elliott’s final UI team in 1966. “Everybody liked him.
“Even when he was being kind of tough on you, you always felt he had your best interests at heart.”
Elliott had a 31-34-1 career record at Illinois, highlighted by a 1963 Big Ten championship season that was capped by a trip to the Rose Bowl.
That team, which included all-time Illini greats Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski, defeated Washington 17-7 at Pasadena.
Elliott was the youngest coach in the Big Ten at 33 when he was hired by the UI in 1960, but he already had been a head coach at Nebraska and California. Four of his Illini teams finished with winning records, with the 1963 squad earning a ranking of No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.
“I think he was a great coach,” Trigger said. “A good motivator.”
Elliott’s Illini tenure ended abruptly in March 1967 for his role in the “slush fund” scandal that rocked the school’s athletic department.
However, the former Michigan All-America quarterback was back on the college sidelines by 1973, serving as head coach for two seasons at Miami. Elliott later worked as the executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton from 1979 to 1996.
“To me, he had a lot of integrity and was just a real straightforward, honest guy,” Trigger said. “When you talked with him, you knew
he had no ulterior motives. I think everyone I knew that played for him looked up to him.”