Purdue's Elliott will quarterback now, coach later


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Joey Elliott wants to become the next Josh Heupel.

Sure, he wouldn't mind leading Purdue to a national title, winning the AP Player of the Year award and finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. But Elliott is more interested in mirroring Heupel's rapid rise up the college coaching ranks.

Heupel landed a job as Oklahoma's quarterbacks coach less than five years after quarterbacking the Sooners to a national title in 2000. Elliott, a senior quarterback at Purdue, wouldn't mind joining the Boilers' staff in the near future.

Rather than savoring the final hours of winter break in January, Elliott traveled to Nashville for the American Football Coaches Association convention. Along with his dad, John, a longtime coach in Indiana, Elliott spent several days networking, studying and soaking it in.

He attended seminars led by Heupel, Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee and Georgia Southern head coach Chris Hatcher, among others. And he rarely strayed far from his dad's side.

"I followed his coattails," Elliott said. "He introduced me to everybody he knew and let them know I'm getting into coaching. It's kind of a word-of-mouth career. It's who you know, what you know.

"You need to have a way in."

Elliott might finally have a way in to Purdue's starting quarterback spot after four years of waiting. Curtis Painter has graduated and Elliott's primary competitor this spring, Justin Siller, was dismissed from school earlier this month for academic violations.

A coaching career awaits Elliott, but he's got unfinished business as a player.

"In my mind, he's the starter," Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "At the same time, we haven't named anything, and anybody can beat anybody out. Nobody's guaranteed anything. The coaching staff doesn't know what the capabilities are, doesn't know the intangibles of them yet."

The last part shouldn't be a hard sell for Elliott, whose high school coach, Harvey Robbins, said he "always took care of the intangibles."

Whether it's studying film, organizing offseason workouts or understanding where the coaches want to go with the scheme, Elliott is locked in. After new Purdue head coach Danny Hope hired Nord from Florida Atlantic, Elliott began studying cut-ups of the Owls' offense, taking notes on quarterback Rusty Smith, the wide receivers and the similarities and differences with Purdue's scheme.

Florida Atlantic used more two-back sets with double tight ends, but kept the spread structure in place. It reminded Elliott of what Purdue ran during the Drew Brees era, which is exactly what Hope wants to replicate in 2009.

"He makes life easier for you," Hope said of Elliott. "He's into it more so than most of the players out there around him. He's a guy who understands all the little intricacies of the offense, and things he doesn't understand, he'll learn.

"You can't get the film off the machine fast enough for Joey to get over here and look at it."

Elliott even shares play-calling ideas with the coaching staff, almost like he's another graduate assistant.

"He's got everything you want in a quarterback, except experience," Nord said. "He hasn't played any."

Elliott has appeared in only 10 games, completing 27 of 49 passes for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He never beat out Painter for the top job, and just when he appeared to be gaining on the record-setting passer last fall, he suffered a season-ending shoulder separation at Northwestern.

Even Siller, who spent part of last season as a running back, came into spring ball with a major experience edge over Elliott, having started three games last fall after injuries to both Elliott and Painter. When discussing Siller's unfortunate departure, Nord put it this way: "Justin was the No. 1 quarterback when the season ended. You lose your starting quarterback, it adjusts a lot of things."

Like Hope, Nord loves working with Elliott, but he needs to see more from the fifth-year senior.

"Was he just stuck behind a really good player, or was he not good enough? That's the question you have," Nord said. "And really, it's yet to be seen how he handles the offense under the pressure and under the lights."

Elliott's opportunity arrives this fall, as long as he beats out blossoming redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush for the top job. His throwing shoulder, which he originally thought needed surgery, is nearly back to 100 percent and should be fine by the summer.

With Purdue welcoming a new coordinator, a new starting running back and two new starters at wide receiver, Elliott knows the quarterback must be a steadying force.

That's where his background and career goal should help.

"With the knowledge and the information I've learned through three different quarterback coaches here at Purdue, and two different offensive coordinators and two different head coaches, I feel I'll be equipped for all different things when I get out there," Elliott said. "To be a coach on the field, furthering my education and wanting to be a coach and wondering what defenses are trying to do with us, it's really helped me at the quarterback position."