The college football season is over, but both good and bad news continues to flow in every day around the start of the Marcus Freeman Era. Unfortunately, the news on this day might be the toughest of the offseason as it was announced long-time Assistant Coach Mike Elston will be departing for Michigan.
After Brian Kelly decided to abandon his 11-1 team, many believed Elston would follow him to LSU. However, Irish fans everywhere were deeply relieved when Elston put out a tweet that South Bend was home and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Now after presumably being passed over once again for the Defensive Coordinator job, Elston is joining his alma matter’s staff.
Since his time with Notre Dame, Elston has been passed over as the defensive signal-caller on more than one occasion. It’s not a secret that this is something the coach wants, and his sudden departure can probably mean that he was recently informed that the team would look elsewhere for that need.
Elston has served Notre Dame since the beginning of the Brian Kelly era in a variety of roles but has come to be loved for the work he has done in making the Notre Dame Defensive Line a strength of the team, and by all accounts a stand-up individual.
Following the disastrous 2016 season, Elson was one of the few people Brian Kelly kept on staff, and Elston has been given a lot of credit in that rebuild.
What does it mean?
Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame will be remembered for a lot of good things, but certainly not for having a plethora of killers on the recruiting trail. Mike Elston was an exception.
Notre Dame is losing the coach that brought in NFL talent year after year first at LB and more recently the defensive line and had a large part in bringing guys like Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, Stephen Tuitt, and many others over the years.
People that follow ND recruiting closely enough know that Elston has been named by many recruits the reason they decided on Notre Dame.
Whoever Marcus Freeman tabs to take this role will have big shoes to fill and have a responsibility in making sure current commits like Keon Keeley and Brenan Vernon stay on board.
Although a talented recruiter, there is a reason a loyal servant like Elston was never given a shot at being defensive coordinator. No matter what one may think of Brian Kelly now, there is no question the man understands football, and he probably had his reasons for keeping Elston as a position coach.
The Fiesta Bowl was seen by many as an audition for Elston to become the next Defensive Coordinator following the promotion of Freeman to head Coach. Unfortunately, anyone who watched that game knows that the audition went poorly.
Many hoped that at least being given a chance would be enough to keep Elston on board for the near future, but now Freeman has to replace one of the best recruiters on staff.
Although losing Elston stings at the moment, the loss may be a necessary one.
Elston may have the capability to be a great defensive coordinator someday, but a rookie Head Coach can’t afford to take a chance on someone unproven in the role.
Freeman can now look for an experienced defensive mind to trust while he tends to building Notre Dame into a true national championship contender from the CEO position.
Today’s news also gives Freeman some flexibility on who to champion his defense. Notre Dame was already in need of a Linebacker Coach, and the defensive coordinator to be hired almost certainly would have had to fill that void as well.
Open positions at LB and DL now give Freeman options for who coaches what position and who runs the defense.
In an ideal world, Freeman would have been able to hire this type of Defensive Coordinator and keep Elston, but in the current state of college football, coaches coming and going is just a part of the game.
Notre Dame fans should have nothing but gratitude for Mike Elston’s work for the program, but with great loss comes the potential of great opportunity.