Notre Dame football: Kelly expects Elston to stay

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —- After an initial run of angst, shock and in some cases anger, Notre Dame football has largely made peace with life after Bob Diaco.

Perhaps the most significant piece of that is that ND defensive line coach Mike Elston, widely speculated to be inclined to follow Diaco to the University of Connecticut, is now expected to remain in South Bend.

“I expect to keep all my staff other than losing my coordinators,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Saturday, following 25th-ranked Notre Dame’s third practice in preparation of its Dec. 28 New Era Pinstripe Bowl clash with Rutgers.

Elston, a few hours later on Friday, put an official stamp on it via his Twitter account: "Staying at ND. Love thee Notre Dame. Go Irish."

Elston is not only a strong recruiter for Kelly, but he has lived up to the fourth-year head coach’s player development mantra as well as anyone of the staff, from polishing diamonds in the rough to downsizing egos of five-star prospects to this season dealing with injuries. Those injuries cut so far into ND’s depth that during the 28-21 loss at Pitt on Nov. 9, there were snaps in which linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Romeo Okwara were lining up as defensive linemen.

Elston or interim defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks could still emerge as the permanent replacement for Diaco, the latter of whom was introduced as the Huskies’ head coach on Thursday afternoon.

Diaco, though, with Kelly’s blessing, made a point to come back to South Bend Thursday to talk to his former Irish players about a move most of them never saw coming.

“He explained himself,” said Irish junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who initially took the news as hard as anyone, based on his reaction on Twitter. “He told us how he had a great opportunity ahead of him, and we’re all happy and proud of him.”

Kelly said Diaco’s successor will have to have a back-ground in the 3-4 defense, but also must know how to flip it to a 4-3.

“We were last year almost 50-50, three down and four down,” Kelly said. “We have to have the ability to adjust to playing option, playing spreads.”

A coach with experience as a coordinator is preferred, but Kelly said he won’t rule out a first-time coordinator, which keeps Elston and Cooks in play.

“I was a first-time head coach at 27 years old,” Kelly said, “So I think I always remember those, ‘Well, geez you can’t give a guy 27 years old a head coaching job,’ so I would never close that door.

“I would tell you that the coordinator’s job here at Notre Dame, now having been here for four years, requires a lot of experience in defending so many different looks. ... So I think you have to have a great deal of experience coming into the position, but I don’t want to paint myself into a corner.”

Nor will he do so with recruits, who are anxious to know who will be leading the Irish defense moving forward.

“What I tell them is that I’ve had a number of coordinators who have moved on,” Kelly said. “And the common denominator is that I’ve been successful each time that I’ve changed coordinators, and we’ll continue to be successful based upon the philosophy that I have. That philosophy won’t change.

“We’ll be multiple defensively. We’ll still attract great candidates here at Notre Dame for that position. But the key ingredients are I’ve put together a great support staff and have recruited great players. I always talk about what we’ve built and what we’ve put together here is bigger than one individual.”

Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston (right) has been a valuable asset to Irish head coach Brian Kelly on the field and on the recruiting trail.