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Elliott set to finalize Irish coaching staff

Jan 19, 2012, 11:59 AM EDT

Bobby Elliott

Notre Dame is set to name Iowa State’s Bobby Elliott the final member of Brian Kelly’s coaching staff. Elliott coached Paul Rhoads’ secondary and was associate head coach in Ames. He’ll likely work with the Irish secondary as well, working with cornerbacks coach and co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks on the back end of the defense, as the unit replaces three of four starters. While nothing has been made public by Notre Dame, Rhodes announced Elliott’s departure during a statement earlier this week.

“Bobby has informed me that he is leaving our program for a coaching position at Notre Dame,” Rhoads said in a statement. “We appreciate his contributions to our program and wish the Elliott family all the best in the future.”

Elliott’s connections to the Irish coaching staff run deep thanks to his time coaching in Iowa, where he actually coached both men now working above him — Cooks as a cornerback and Bob Diaco as a linebacker for the Iowa Hawkeyes. (He also spent time coaching with Tony Alford on the 2001 Iowa State staff.) Elliott has spent much of his career coaching at the two major Iowa programs, though he also coordinated Bill Snyder’s Kansas State defense from 2002 until Snyder’s first retirement, where he led the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense his first season there and a landmark 35-7 beating of No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game in 2002. He joined Chuck Long’s San Diego State staff as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, making his only appearance in Notre Dame Stadium in the Irish’s 21-13 escape against the Aztecs, before coming back to Iowa State in 2010.

While he’ll work beneath his two former pupils, Elliott’s coaching path could’ve taken a much different direction if not for a bout with bone marrow cancer that nearly cost him his life. After working his way up on legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry‘s defensive staffs and coordinating the defense for four seasons, Elliott was the odds-on favorite to take over the Iowa program in 1999 after Fry retired.

In an outstanding profile written back in 2006 for the San Diego Union-Tribune, both Chuck Long and Elliott spoke candidly about Elliott’s illness and how it derailed his head coaching dreams at his alma mater.

“Bob was in line to get the job and would have gotten it, but then he got sick,” Long said. “My heart just broke for him. We all had a feeling that Hayden was going to retire, and there is no question that Bob Elliott is head-coaching material.

“But Bob, to his credit, knowing the scope of the job and the commitment that came with it, took himself out of the running. He was just too sick. The timing was just horrible and I felt horrible about it.”

Elliott, however, who holds a degree in history, has no desire to live in the past.

“I don’t dwell on it,” he said. “It might have been a possibility, but timing is a cruel instrument sometimes. I think I might have been a candidate, but nothing was ever promised to me. I was in my mid-40s, prime time so to speak, but sometimes that’s what happens. I felt at the time that I was ready to be a head coach, but God had another plan.”

Elliot’s life was saved after a cousin was found to be a bone marrow match, allowing Elliott to get healthy and remain cancer free since 2001. While he’ll likely never get the opportunity to run a college program, Elliott brings a lifetime of experience spent around college football. As a player, he was a two-time Academic All-American at Iowa in the mid-70s. He was a Rhodes Scholar candidate in 1976. He is the son of a football coach, his father Bump Elliott was Michigan’s head coach for over a decade before serving as Iowa’s athletic director for over twenty years.

Elliott has a good reputation as a recruiter, did plenty to help resuscitate Iowa State’s secondary (as evidence in the Cyclone’s upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State) and shares the same defensive philosophies that Diaco and Cooks will implement, likely because he taught those same principles to them when he coached them. In terms of fit, it appears the hire is a home run.

Back before Elliott took his position at San Diego State, former colleague and current North Texas head coach Dan McCarney gave a glowing testimonial to Elliott, which seems to be the universal sentiment.

“You’re not going to find a better coach,” McCarney said of Elliott. “He’s intelligent, he’s got integrity and he still has that burning desire to teach and to win. There’s not a phony bone in his body. He’s going to go to work his tail off every day. Every program that has ever had him on its staff has become a better program.”

While the Irish have only announced the hiring of Scott Booker (who’ll likely be a positional coach on offense), they have yet to publicly announce the additions of Harry Hiestand or Elliott.

  1. oldestguard - Jan 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Sounds like a great choice…hope to hear his announcement soon.

    Would be a great chapter in his story to be a part of taking this program back to the top….the very top.

  2. nudeman - Jan 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    Het his ass on a plane to see Darby, ASAP

  3. gtizzo - Jan 19, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    Thanks for clearing that up Keith,

    I had a feeling he had some connection to ND or the coaching staff. I just wasn’t sure what it was, sounds like he will fit right it.

  4. larrynamesauthor - Jan 19, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Iowa State beating Okie State was not due to Elliot’s secondary as much as it was to the plane crash the night before that took the lives of six OSU sports people. That tragedy took the OSU football team and coaching staff out of focus for the Iowa State game. On any other given night, OSU would have pounded them. The same thing just happened to the Green Bay Packers when the son of one of their coaches was drowned last week. You could tell the Packers were totally out of sync mentally and emotionally against the Giants.

    Elliot coached Diaco. That doesn’t say a whole lot for him. See my post on the Kiel enrollment story, and you’ll know why.

    • nudeman - Jan 19, 2012 at 1:34 PM


      Was OSU distracted? Yes, probably.
      But there more stories about teams rallying around tragedies than caving in because of them.
      The people who died weren’t even directly part of the OSU football program, specifically.

      GB is an even bigger stretch.
      They were terrible defensively down the stretch and peaked too early in the season. They fumbled, threw INTs, tackled miserably and just played lousy football against NY.

      You just can’t blame that on the OC losing his son. The team hasn’t used that excuse.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 19, 2012 at 4:46 PM

        Agree w/Nude especially as to Packers. Rodgers had an off game and NY’s defense is just starting to hit its stride. Can’t blame everything on a tragedy like that.

      • larrynamesauthor - Jan 20, 2012 at 3:23 PM

        The team won’t use anything as an excuse. But I know several media people who talk with the team 5-6 days a week during the season, and they all said the same thing. The Packers were affected by the kid’s death.

        Have you ever coached a football? I have been coaching since 1977. A young man in one of the schools where I coached was killed in a car accident on a Tuesday after school. All our high school and middle school teams lost that week to inferior teams on our own courts and fields. My football team lost once game that season, the week that boy died. And the kid was not part of my team or any other team. He was simply a classmate and not Mr. Popular either. So don’t tell me tragedies like the one that struck OSU don’t affect sports teams.

    • gtizzo - Jan 19, 2012 at 2:29 PM

      Oklahoma State actually tries to play defense? That is news to me, Iowa State played some a beat them. Maybe Oklahoma State should do some research on what defense is, or maybe play in a conference were it doesn’t matter like…Conference USA perhaps. Which ever it is why are you posting on an ND board? Coaching at ND would be step up from both talent and resume stand point. Diaco has his critics, but I can’t say I’m one of them. I think he has done a find job, I think this season he needs to be aggressive. Florida State saw first hand what Diaco can do when he “unleashes” the dogs. ND learned what happens with they call those dogs off. Live and learn Diaco is a fine DC with a bright future.

      • larrynamesauthor - Jan 20, 2012 at 2:50 PM

        Exactly what I’ve been saying. He attacked Florida State for three quarters, then called off the dogs in the fourth quarter. What happened then? Apparently, you didn’t see the forth quarter. Good defensive coaches don’t go into a prevent defense unless his team is at least three scores (17 points) ahead. Most don’t go to a prevent defense unless they are four scores (25 points) ahead. What was the score going into the 4th quarter? 14-3? He cost us that game and the Michigan game. We almost last to Pitt because of his prevent D in the 4th. Have any of you ever listened to Lou Holtz when he talks about the cover 2? Apparently not.

    • don74 - Jan 19, 2012 at 3:14 PM

      OK, I bit and read your post on the Kiel enrollment story. Your premise is ND may win with Kelly but won’t win with Diaco as the defensive pass coverage schemes employed won’t get it done. You reference the cover 2 and cover 3 schemes. I can see your point but you are forgetting the most important element of implementing a strategy and that is the capability of the personnel to successfully deploy.

      All season long Kelly has been saying the focus on recruiting had to be the back half of the defense. It wasn’t because Smith, Blanton and Gray are going. We didnt have the personnel to do it differently. Diaco played the best defense based on the kids he had available. I think the more telling thing with Eliott is his pedigree. Kelly says the back half of the D is the recruiting focus. Look at the commits plus last year’s kids…..all raw. He brings in a coach who can teach the new guys how to fit in the defense.

      I like every move Kelly has made with the staff. Clearly O was an issue. One of his best coaches flips from D to OC, 3 O coaches go. He turned the O staff over and did it with continuity. I applaud Kelly with his off season to date.

  5. gtizzo - Jan 19, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    forgive my type errors, that is awful. That last sentence should be “ND learned what happens when they call those dogs off”.

  6. gtizzo - Jan 19, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    I”m glad someone mentioned the Giants, I think the Giants could be the template for the ND defense. A stretch…maybe but let’s see if I can prove my point and everyone can make up there own mind. The defensive front 4 of the Giants creates a ton of pressure on the QB, which allows them to drop 8 in coverage. Lets take this in two possible scenarios the Irish get the Armsteads will be first. Add Armond Armstead to the mix up front and Bob Diaco could send out Lynch, Tuitt, Ishaq Williams and Armond Armstead in passing situations. Tell me that wouldn’t be a nasty front 4 for an offensive line to deal with? Make the situation 3rd and long and good luck with that conversion. Even if the Irish don’t get either Armstead then Armond Armstead could be swapped out for Nix or another pass rusher (Lewis Moore if he was to come back maybe). That would still be a pretty nasty group to deal with for an offensive line on any team on the Irish schedule…something to think about.

  7. papadec - Jan 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Glad someone brought up the Giants defense. Justin Tuck played for the Irish. Someone might want to point that out to the Armstead family.

  8. larrynamesauthor - Jan 20, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Okay, how many of you guys have been football coaches in your lives? Or are all of you just Monday Morning QBs? I’ve been coaching since 1977, and I know how much emotion plays in a football game. Apparently, none of you do. It wasn’t the Packers defense that cost them the game as much as it was their offense. How many dropped passes in that game by one of the best receiving corps on the NFL? Why does that happen? Lack of focus. I’m a Bears fan living in Wisconsin, and even I could see that Packers were totally out of sync for the whole game. I have to watch those guys if I want to see NFL football. I know when they don’t have it.

    How many of you actually watched Oklahoma and Iowa State play? I watched the whole game. OSU was out of sync offensively. Weeden was all over the place, and his receivers were dropping passes all through the game and especially on critical downs. For the twit who remarked that people who were killed in that plane crash weren’t part of the football program, did you even go to college or ever be part of a school’s sports department? If you had, then you’d know college sports departments are one big extended family. When that family suffers a loss like OSU did, they all feel it to some degree or another.

    • nudeman - Jan 20, 2012 at 4:55 PM

      Relax; you’re taking this a little too seriously.
      I am “the twit” who made the comment about OSU; yes, I went to college. Yes, I’ve coached.

      Let me clarify my points:
      1) Were the teams “affected” by these tragedies? No doubt they were, but only to some degree.
      2) I did not see the IA State/OSU game, but saw every play of the Packer game.
      The Packers were awful. Just plain terrible. But their D had been trending in that direction for the last few weeks. In my opinion, they peaked too soon. The Giants on the other hand seem to be coming on strong right now, so these were two ships going in opposite directions.
      3) I feel terrible for Philbin and his family. And I’m sure the players do too. But to blame this for the loss … I just don’t buy it. As I said before, I’ve probably read MORE stories of teams that suffer tragedies then rally around each other and win. But I believe in both cases the effects are overstated.

      4) As for the OSU incident, by saying they weren’t part of the football program, all I meant was it wasn’t a coach or trainers or players who were lost.

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