Phil Elmassian comes full circle to Ferrum College - Roanoke Times: Sports

Phil Elmassian comes full circle to Ferrum College

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Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:52 pm

It would stand to reason, after 40 years as a college football assistant, that Phil Elmassian might have mellowed a little bit.

Not a chance.

“If I go down on a football field, don’t revive me; let me go,” said Elmassian, introduced Wednesday as the new defensive coordinator at Ferrum College.

“I’m going to give back one more time to the school that gave me everything. End of story.”

Elmassian, 62, played at Ferrum. He also coached at Ferrum under his old Panthers coach, Hank Norton.

“Coach Norton was Bear Bryant to us,” said Elmassian, gazing at photos of Norton-coached teams that won national championships when Ferrum was a junior college.

“I wanted my picture on that wall. Playing didn’t get it done. The last game I coached here was against Northwest Mississippi. We lost 16-something in the national championship game, and I cried like a baby.”

Elmassian’s first stint as Ferrum defensive coordinator was from 1979 to 1982. He subsequently coached defense at 15 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, including two different stints at Virginia Tech.

Elmassian also was an assistant at Virginia, where the Cavaliers were ranked No. 1 in the country in his fourth of four seasons.

“If somebody ever wrote about the ultimate assistant coach, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the United States who’s been where he’s been and coached for the guys he’s coached for and the programs he’s coached for,” Norton said.

“There’s nobody like him.”

Norton, 86, lives in Deltaville at the confluence of the Rapahannock River and Chesapeake Bay and wasn’t inclined to make a 10-hour round trip to Franklin County for Wednesday’s media opportunity.

However, Norton had been at Ferrum one week earlier to give Elmassian a tour of the facilities, including the Hank Norton Center, a two-year-old athletic support facility.

“Bottom line is, coming back here for the third time, I couldn’t tell Coach ‘no,’ ” Elmassian said.

Sitting to Elmassian’s right was Dave Harper, who is preparing for his fourth season as the Panthers’ head coach. But, when anybody mentioned “coach” on Wednesday, it was clearly a reference to Norton.

And, Harper is OK with that. Harper was a two-time All-America linebacker under Norton from 1987-88 and served as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator in Norton’s last season, 1993.

“I grew up as a defensive guy here, but I’m kind of in an offensive mindset right now,” said Harper, who had a 10-year run as offensive coordinator. “I felt [after the 2013 season] that we needed another defensive mind.”

The Panthers were 2-8 this past season, allowing 40 points or more in six games.

As Harper contemplated potential moves, the decision was made for him when Panthers defensive coordinator Cleive Adams was named Averett head coach Jan. 30.

Elmassian had been out of a job since the Dec. 26 dismissal of Charlie Molnar, his boss for the past two seasons at Massachusetts.

“The transfer from [Division] I-AA to I-A was really tough,” said Elmassian of a jump made prior to the 2011 season. “I probably did one of my better coaching jobs. When you win one game, it’s tough.”

Massachusetts had road games with Wisconsin, Kansas State and Vanderbilt in three of the first four weeks and was tied with Vanderbilt, 7-7, with under two minutes remaining in the first half.

“After going through that year, with the coach getting fired, I said, ‘I’ve had enough,’ ” said Elmassian, who is married and has three grown children. “I was done. But when coach [Norton] called, a buddy warned me. He said, ‘He’s going to talk you into coming back.’

“I had to weigh the options: Do you want to retire? Do you want to keep going? Do you want to stay in the BCS? Then, I started thinking. This is the right thing to do.”

Ferrum had announced Elmassian’s return in a news release earlier in the week, but Wednesday’s affair was well-attended. School President Jennifer Braaten welcomed the guests before turning over the podium to Harper.

“Tell me,” Harper said. “How many Division III schools have a press conference for a defensive coordinator and get this kind of turnout?”

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