Thoughts on the Hiring of D.J. Eliot

 

Ever since Jim Leavitt left Boulder for the “greener” pastures of Eugene, there has been anticipation in the Buff Nation about who would be Leavitt’s replacement.

The University of Colorado, formerly of the decade-long run of losing seasons, was no longer to be seen as a dead end destination for potential coaching hires. The Buffs were coming off of a 10-4 campaign, had facilities on par with most other Power Five conference schools, a locker room filled with returning talent, and a top 25 recruiting Class.

Who wouldn’t want to coach for the Buffs?

Anticipation turned to consternation, however, as the holiday recruiting dead period came and went. The presumed choice, Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, was thought to be a lackluster option … right up until the time Sirmon spurned Colorado and signed on with Louisville instead (at which time he became the prettiest girl in the room).

Another week passed, and consternation in the Buff Nation turned to frustration.

Then came the announcement. CU had found it man … Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.

To say that the reception for Eliot on the fan sites has been lukewarm is akin to saying it gets a bit nippy above the Arctic Circle this time of year.

My first reaction?

In a word … disappointed.

Or, as Kevin Kline put it so well in his Academy Award winning performance in “A Fish Called Wanda” … “Disappointed!!“:

 

Trying to find the positives … “I’m excited about having D.J. Eloit as our defensive coordinator, he brings a lot of expertise and energy to our defense,” Mike MacIntyre said of the hire. “Also he is one of the great, young defensive minds in the game of college football today.”

For his part, Eliot does bring experience coaching the 3-4 defense which MacIntyre prefers. “We are a 3-4 system that is built to apply pressure on the offense and confuse the quarterback,” Eliot said of his system.

Eliot also has a reputation – and a resume – as a strong recruiter. At his most recent coaching stops, Kentucky and Florida State, Eliot coached eight players who were drafted in the NFL, including a pair of first round picks. Linebacker Bud Dupree was a 2015 first round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kentucky’s first player selected in the first round in 12 years, and Bjoern Werner out of Florida State went No. 24 overall to Indianapolis after playing under Eliot when he was coaching defensive ends for the Seminoles.

Eliot is also not likely to be a mercenary coach. Whereas Jim Leavitt was always looking at Colorado as a weigh station back into a better paying gig and/or a head coaching position, D.J. Eliot, at 40, may have found a coaching stop he will want to keep for some time. “I am very excited to work at a great program with an excellent head coach and at a place that has always been special to me and my family,” said Eliot, who played linebacker at Wyoming, and whose wife is from Westminster.

But it’s hard to overlook the negatives … Until or unless the Colorado defense performs well this fall, the specter of the opening to Kentucky’s 2016 season will hang over Eliot. The Wildcats opened the season with a 44-35 loss to Southern Mississippi, a 45-7 loss to Florida, and a 62-42 win over hapless New Mexico State. In each game, the Kentucky defense gave up over 500 yards of total offense to the opposition, with head coach Mark Stoops taking over the calling of defensive plays from Eliot.

Now, Stoops did give credit to Eliot for the Wildcats’ improved play over the course of the season.

After the win over Vanderbilt in early October, Stoops credited Eliot with helping the defense dramatically improve.

“I want to be very clear about this, there’s no way we would have this success without Coach Eliot putting a lot of this together,” Stoops said after that victory. “I really helped eliminate some of that, some of the pressure of calling the game, because we work well together. We always have. So the structure of it is very good.”

According to the Lexington Herald-Ledger, the UK head coach noted that the defensive improvements were a credit to Eliot, too.

“D.J.’s worked his tail off and is doing the same things he’s always done,” Stoops continued. “He’s always been successful, it’s just helping with me being involved in calling it and he can really see what’s going on up there and make quality adjustments.”

Not the sparkling resume which Buff fans thought they had earned the right to expect, but, perhaps, not the end of the world, either.

Which brings us to …

We’ve been through this before … A year ago, the Texas Tech fan sites were overjoyed to be rid of the over-hyped Darrin Chiaverini. Two years ago, Buff fans were in a deep depression over the loss of recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach Troy Walters.

At the same time Walters was leaving, there were questions about the hiring of San Francisco 49ers linebacker coach Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator … what with the firing of Leavitt by South Florida still bringing about negative press.

In short, there are reasons for concern about almost every coming and going in a given coaching staff. On occasion, there are reasons for concern when there is no movement in the makeup of the coaching staff.

Colorado has made some tremendously bad coaching hires in the past decade, and only a few really good ones. With all of those scars – many not fully healed – it is only human nature to believe that the Buffs have struck out once again.

It’s no fun being someone’s second choice. It’s hurtful to know … to realize … that Colorado is not USC, not Michigan, not even Oregon – when it comes to clout and prestige in the college football world of 2017. CU simply doesn’t have the resources to throw $1 million contracts at coordinators.

Colorado has to take high school prospects which are not consensus four- and five-star performers … and mold them into a team which can compete for titles.

Colorado also has to take coaching prospects which are not “home run hires” … and mold them into a cohesive unit which can create championship teams.

It is what it is.

My biggest concern … is not that D.J. Eliot will not be successful. I have every confidence that Rick George and Mike MacIntyre, both with lucrative long-term contracts riding on the success of the CU football team, have made the best choice for the future of the program.

My biggest concern, rather, is that Eliot will not be given the chance to succeed. Eliot inherits a situation in which it is almost impossible for him to do well – in the short term.

Colorado had a great defense in 2016. The Buffs finished 19th in the nation in total defense; 20th in the nation in scoring defense.

From that squad, the Buffs lose the entire defensive line, and will have three of the four members of the defensive secondary drafted into the NFL in April.

This just in … CU was not going to be as good on defense in 2017 as it was in 2016 … even if Leavitt and Charles Clark had stayed on with Colorado.

That won’t matter to some, however. Just as every incompletion thrown by the CU offense is blamed on the play-calling of offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, every opposing completion this fall will be construed, by some, as a failure of the D.J. Eliot defensive strategy and play-calling.

It’s not fair, but that’s the way it will be.

The preseason magazines, which might have otherwise have kept Colorado in their top 25, will justify dropping the Buffs from their rankings based upon the uncertainties of the Buff defense.

D.J. Eliot has a tough job in front of him. Not only in rebuilding the Buff defense, but in convincing the Buff Nation that he is up to the task.

Let’s hope he proves to be the right choice.

 

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9 Replies to “D. J. Eliot – Thoughts”

  1. The voice of reason strikes again. Well done, Stuart. We have to believe Mac knows what he’s doing, or we have much bigger issues to be concerned about. I think he enjoys the challenge of building a “cohesive staff,” and most could tell Leavitt was more about doing his own thing in a cavalier sort of way. I honestly believe we’ll be better off, although it may take a few seasons. In the meantime, it’s reasonable to expect Eliot to make gradual progress, so that’s what I’ll be looking for.

    As far as recruiting…we’re slowly improving there as well. I’m scared to imagine what schools like UCLA and Stanford (both had “down” years) could do if they had up years. Their recruiting this year is making ours look like WE had the down year. Interesting how all that plays out in recruits’ minds.

  2. Someone over at The Ralphie Report posted some old stories (and fan posts) from 2012, when Eliot was a potential candidate for the FSU DC job, and most of the thoughts were positive, about both his candidacy, and then his move to Kentucky.

    But, whether positive, or negative fan posts and blog reports, I’ll tend to trust the coaches more than any of our opinions. Even VK’s.

    Mac has given us very little to doubt that he knows what he’s doing.

    I am expecting this decision (as well as whatever they do w/ the DB’s coaching vacancy) to be good for the team, program and CU – in their Win/Loss column, but also in continuing the transition from “achieving success” to “sustaining success.”

    Now, to be sure, some people may say “Well, Mac brought Kent Baer over, and he was worthless.” Fair enough opinion. Worthless may be a bit strong, but clearly Leavitt was an upgrade. Regardless, at the time Mac took the HC job, CU was a place coaches went to kill their careers. And, along w/ Baer, Mac brought Walters, Jeffcoat and numerous others, including everyone’s favorite offensive coordinator.

    And, as to Lindgren, sure, people can claim that stats are meaningless. It’s wins that matter. Ok. 10 wins. The eighth team in CU history to hit that mark. Well? That was all Leavitt, they’ll say. OK, then how ’bout Sefo’s development? What about bringing in Montez, whom Jeffcoat apparently found, brought Lindgren down to watch, and immediately offered the kid, whom I think most agree has some potential. Noyer? Allegedly pretty good. I don’t know if Lindgren had a hand in recruiting him, but I’d think so. Lytle? Same.

    But, I digress.

    Since then, Mac’s made some staff changes – probably most importantly on the Strength and Conditioning front – that have all seemingly worked out well.

    I expect this decision to follow in that same vein.

    I guess we’ll hear the reports from spring ball. As well as wrapping up recruiting. That’ll be fun.

    Then, we’ll see how things work starting w/ CSU. The best news? UW is likely going to have a pretty good offense – again – next year. So, we won’t have to wait long to see what this team, and the staff coaching them, are cooking up, and how they’re able to take what they know, and get the kids/young men to execute.

    Looking forward to seeing continued progress.

    Go Buffs!

    1. jury has yet to convene on Eliot but the verdict on Lindgren is guilty as charged. Halfway through the season, after all the other DCs saw the redundancy, the D had to carry the O through a number of those wins. Bowl games should be a treat for the kids along with trying a few new wrinkles…..not the O redundancy we saw in spades.

      1. Howdy, EP.

        Counterpoint to your point. Halfway through the season, when CU started playing against the tougher, better and deeper defenses in the conference… the Buffs’ D had to carry the O through a number of those wins.

        It’ll be interesting to see the offense progress this year. I’m predicting they’ll be the best, most consistent offense we’ve seen in Mac and Co’s tenure. Not just moving the ball between the 20s, but vastly improving red zone efficiency, too. Part of that will be coaching, but I think most of it will be some talented kids, benefiting from growing up in that system, athletically, and mentally.

        In my eyes the relative lack of success, offensively speaking, in the second half of the season had more to do w/ the competition/caliber of opposing players, than any predictability in play calling, etc.

        Then, when they ran into UW, they were more fully exposed. I wondered/worried about three or four weeks before that game that IF CU made it to the Pac 12 Championship, against UW, it could be a 70-3 type debacle. Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad. I also don’t think the gap between UW and CU last year was as big as that game made it appear. The wheels just came off.

        To me, that’s all just continuing affirmation of what we know. This team is better. They’re one of the better “good” teams out there. But, they have a long way to go to get into the next tier of “good to great” and then “elite” teams.

        I think they’ll get there. With or without any/all of the existing assistant coaches. They’ll lose more next year, either by volition, or attrition. Mac will get more in. That’s how it goes. Particularly when CU doesn’t offer the $$, nor perceived “job security” of longer-term contracts. After all, Clark, who Mac not only recruited as a player, but then brought up through the coaching ranks, took off for 3x the pay, and a 3yr deal. CU couldn’t touch that. Yet. Hopefully that’ll change. Or, Mac will have to continue honing his hiring skills…

        Go Buffs!

  3. Sure would like to have been in on the deliberations to choose him. It might make me feel a lot better if MM had been a little more detailed other than the broad brush platitude. Eliot already has more praise from MM than Leavitt got. Then again MM knew from the beginning Leavitt was going to bail.
    I am a lot more positive about the players coming back than Stuart. Oliver, Julmisse and the JC safety may not completely fill the departed’s shoes but I dont think they will disappoint either.
    Josh will be tough to replace in the middle of the D line but I think the rest of it will be fine

  4. One interesting note: When Elliott posted on Twitter that he was coming to CU, the responses from Kentucky fans were almost universally kind and grateful for his work there. The fans who have seen his work think he is good at it. Mac thinks he will be good in Boulder. Based on that, I hope that the more critical fans will calm down some and let Elliot do his job.

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