This offseason, the Michigan Wolverines welcomed in their fourth former player-turned-coach in Mike Elston to its coaching staff. Elston joins Mike Hart, Ron Bellamy and Jim Harbaugh in having formerly played for the Maize and Blue.
Elston began his coaching career shortly after graduating from the University of Michigan in 1997. He stayed in Ann Arbor after receiving his Bachelors in Sports Management and Communications, working as an assistant on Michigan’s 1997 National Championship team and as a video intern the season after.
His first real coaching stint came in 1999, where he coached the defensive ends for the Wolverines. He stayed in the state of Michigan after his time on Michigan’s coaching staff (1997-2001), with tours at both Eastern Michigan (2001-04) and Central Michigan (2004-07), before heading to Cincinnati (2007-10). After three seasons with the Bearcats, Elston spent over a decade in South Bend on Notre Dame’s coaching staff.
In his 12 seasons at Notre Dame, 10 of them were spent coaching the defensive line. In 2015 and 2016, he coached the linebackers and worked as the recruiting coordinator for the Fighting Irish. In the time he was away from the defensive line, the season sack average faltered. Notre Dame put up 14 total sacks (118th in FBS schools) that year and Elston promptly took over the line in 2017. He made quick work to elevate the Irish back to more suitable standings, as they collected 24 sacks in 2017 and 34 in 2018.
Over the last five years, Notre Dame averaged 32.6 sacks per season. In this past season alone, Notre Dame’s defense was tied for 13th in the country with 41 sacks. In comparison, Michigan’s defense had 34 sacks, which was good for 53rd in the country.
Elston coached in each of Notre Dame’s CFP appearances. During the 2018-20 seasons, he attained the title of associate head coach, the second time in his coaching career where he earned that distinction. He achieved that at Cincinnati during his final season with the Bearcats in 2009.
This past season, he spent time as Notre Dame’s run game coordinator, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. The Fighting Irish finished at No. 8 in the final AP Poll. Their rush defense ranked 34th overall by allowing 13 rushing touchdowns and 1,759 rushing yards. Notre Dame’s defense was 10th when faced with third down scenarios, only allowing 59 third down conversions out of 184 attempts.
While their rush defense wasn’t as flashy as other aspects of their defense, the Irish were ranked 15th in scoring defense (allowing 19.69 points on average) and seventh in defensive touchdowns (four). Elston helped lead a defense that ranked 14th in interceptions (15) and 23rd in pass efficiency defense.
In 2020, the year Notre Dame appeared in the CFP for the second time, its defense excelled in third down conversions allowed, ranking sixth in the country. It had the 15th ranked rush defense and was 14th in tackles for loss. In a six-game stretch that same year, the Irish held their opponents to under 100 rushing yards.
Elston has a lengthy resume, with the added bonus of coaching successful defensive lines while playing a major role in recruiting. He mentioned he tried recruiting some of Michigan’s current players while he was at Notre Dame, but now he has the chance to sell Michigan to recruits. He hit the ground running when he got to campus, building relationships with the players while hitting the recruiting trail.
This was a huge get for Michigan. Elston has met immense success as a coach and should be able to thrive at Michigan. The Wolverines had one of the best defenses in the country this past season. The standard of success will be met because it has to, and Harbaugh put his faith in Elston to do the job.
The Wolverines lost some familiar faces on their defensive line this offseason, but now it’s time for the next guys to step up. They’ll be guided by a highly knowledgeable coach to continue the greatness we saw this past season. Elston should make an impact right away with the talent coming in and those that remain. Michigan’s defensive line is in good hands.