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December 15, 2013

Elston staying at Notre Dame

Mike Elston made the most of his first tweet.

On Saturday night, just hours after Brian Kelly said he expected his defensive line coach to remain with the Notre Dame football program instead of following Bob Diaco to Connecticut as defensive coordinator, Elston took to social media to announce that his current boss will also be his future boss.

"Staying at ND," Elston tweeted. "Love thee Notre Dame. Go Irish."

Elston has served as Notre Dame's defensive line coach for the past four years and has worked under Kelly for the past decade in six different combinations of roles. Kelly has not had a coaching staff on the FBS level without Elston.

Elston also ranks among Notre Dame's better recruiters, handling parts of the Midwest and the Carolinas regionally, as well as his position along the defensive line.

That point became increasingly important following Diaco's departure, as Notre Dame's former defensive coordinator was the regional recruiter for defensive line commitments Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti. Hayes said after Diaco's departure that Elston had built a strong relationship with the four-star athlete from Brooklyn.

What role Elston plays on Kelly's reworked staff next season remains open, aside from coaching the defensive line. Elston has worked as a co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Kelly at previous stops. It would be a surprise if Kelly promoted Elston to full-time defensive coordinator for the first time, but not out of the question.

Kelly said he's unlikely to hire a first-time defensive coordinator to replace Diaco.

"I would never want to close a door," Kelly said. "I was a first-time head coach at 27 years old, so I think I always remember about those who say you can't give a guy who's 27 years old a head coaching job. So I would never close that door.

"I would tell you that the coordinator's job at Notre Dame, now having been here for four years, requires a lot of experience in defending so many different looks. One of the most important things is you don't have a lot of knowledge of your opponents unfortunately with so many different teams that come in and off our schedule, so you have to have a great bank of experience. 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 and say you can't be it. I really think it helps.

"Now, you can gain a lot of that by maintaining continuity on your staff. I expect to do that. I expect to keep all my staff, other than losing my coordinators."

Kelly said Diaco's replacement must be versed in multiple defensive fronts, which Notre Dame played last season while flipping between 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Kerry Cooks, who served as co-defensive coordinator the past two seasons, will take over Diaco's role for the bowl game. He's never been a full-time defensive coordinator in previous stops at Wisconsin, Minnesota or Western Illinois. He'll get that chance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers, a middling offense statistically.

The Scarlett Knights rank in the bottom third of college football in total offense, rushing offense and scoring offense. They've scored more than two offensive touchdowns just twice in their last seven games and benched starting quarterback Gary Nova in late November.

Graduate assistant Josh Reardon will coach the linebackers in Diaco's absence.

"I'm not really that concerned with it," Kelly said. "We're going to be very well-prepared for the game. There won't be any excuses about not being prepared and not having our guys ready to play."

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