Defensive line coach Mike Elston explains why he stayed at Notre Dame

Tyler James
ND Insider
Mike Elston walks out to the field during Notre Dame football practice Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 at the Irish Athletic Complex in South Bend.

When head coach Brian Kelly left for LSU, it was easy to imagine Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston following him to Baton Rouge, La. 

That’s because Elston has been on every one of Kelly’s coaching staffs since Central Michigan in 2004. Kelly brought Elston along with him to Cincinnati ahead of the 2007 season and again to Notre Dame ahead of the 2010 season. 

But as Kelly worked to put his staff together at LSU, Elston made it clear that he intends to stay at Notre Dame. Elston, who also serves as Notre Dame’s recruiting coordinator, was asked Wednesday why he decided to stay. 

“At the end of the day," Elston said, "my family is the most important thing in my life.”  

Elston, a father of three daughters, didn’t like the idea of moving his family out of South Bend when his children are at such important stages in their lives. His eldest daughter is a junior in high school. His middle daughter, an eighth grader, has taken to fencing, which likely wouldn’t have happened if not for Notre Dame’s successful program. 

► Hansen:Inside Notre Dame football's burgeoning recruiting revolution

► Notebook:Finding the right perspective of Notre Dame's 2022 recruiting class

“It’s a family decision for me,” Elston said. “It will always be a family decision for me. It’s not about money. It's truly about my kids want to go to Notre Dame too. It’s a family decision, and that’s why I’ve always really kind of turned down opportunities for myself.  

“I want my children to go off to college and when they say to their friends, ‘Hey, I’m going to go home for the weekend,’ they have a place to go. They know where home is, and that’s South Bend for them. I don’t want that to change right now.” 

Notre Dame nose guard Kurt Hinish (back center) filled in for defensive line coach Mike Elston at Daddy Daughter Dance with Elston's daughters (left to right), Sophia, Isabella and Olivia in January 2018. Elston couldn't make the dance because of a recruiting event.

Elston staying at Notre Dame should provide great value to new head coach Marcus Freeman. The two showed they worked well together this season with Freeman as defensive coordinator. No. 5 Notre Dame (11-1) needs just one more sack against No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) in the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN) to tie the single-season program record of 41 sacks set in 1996. 

Only seven FBS teams entered bowl season with more than Notre Dame’s 40 sacks. Six of those teams have played one more game than the Irish. 

That’s made for a lot of baking for Elston’s wife, Beth, who makes cookies for players who record a sack. The Elston daughters help decorate the brown-bag sacks of cookies for each player.  

The Elston family has built close relationship with Notre Dame’s defensive lineman. As a result, Elston has created a family atmosphere amongst the linemen too. 

“We’re a family,” nose guard and captain Kurt Hinish said last month. “The guys in the defensive line room, I consider them my family. They’re my brothers. I would do anything for my brothers. We play for one another when we step out on the field.  

“That’s just the way it is. That’s the mentality that (Elston) built and he instilled within us. Those guys will be my best friends forever. Even the guys that graduated and went on. The day that coach Elston stepped in, the defensive line room became a family.” 

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.