This is the final piece of the new Florida State coaching staff assembled by head coach Jimbo Fisher. NoleInsider broke the story and Tharinger.com also has the news. Darin Eliott is 33 years old. You have probably never heard of Eliot, and that is fine. Unless you're a coach, you probably don't follow assistant coaches at small schools. So let's try to get to know coach Eliot.
Darin has been on the staff at Rice for 3 years. Rice is in Houston. He coaches defensive line and is also the Owl's recruiting coordinator. As an aside, Eliot is now the 2nd coach hired by Fisher this off-season to be the recruiting coordinator at his previous school. Rice is a bad football program. That's not really a reflection on Eliot, however, as Rice isn't a football school. They aren't even a basketball school. No, Rice is a baseball school. And the reason they are a baseball school is academics. Rice seriously considered canceling their football program. In addition to their extremely tough academics, rice has very low funding, below average facilities & is located in downtown Houston. They are lucky if they can pull a kid away from U. Houston. It is impossible to get talented kids into Rice. Their academics are better than Vanderbilt, Cal-Berkley, Georgetown, UVA, UCLA, Notre Dame, Michigan, NYU, ETC.
Further, defensive linemen, on average, are by far the dumbest players on the field. When you combine Rice's impossible academic standards with the position Eliot coaches, it's easy to see why he might have trouble getting talented players to come to Rice. My guess is that the very talented and smart players go to Texas and Oklahoma. Then Eliot is forced to pick through the left-overs of Texas Tech, Houston, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, SMU, TCU, Baylor, most of the Big 12, and pretty much every other school that recruits Texas heavily (including LSU, which I'll get to in a minute). After all those schools take their shot, Eliot can begin to go after his defensive linemen. I think it is safe to assume that after those guys take their turn, what is left is slim pickins. If a talented player hasn't been picked up by one of those 9+ schools, I'd venture to guess that his talent is probably negated by questionable, at best, academics. If those academics are questionable for admission to a Big 12 school, they aren't even considered at a place like Rice. Eliot has to start with kids who can qualify, and after the other schools have gone through their choices, the kids who can get into Rice are not going to be very talented, particularly along the defensive line, where Eliot may have to reach really far to find kids who can qualify for Rice. In the end, Rice ends up sacrificing talent, because they will not compromise on academics.
So why then, did Fisher choose Eliot? My guess is that he came highly recommended. Fisher knows a lot of coaches, particularly defensive coaches, through his experience with Nick Saban. He is close personal friends with Texas DC Will Muschamp. They share a vacation home together. My guess is that Will Muschamp probably ran up against Eliot on the recruiting trail and thought "Are you kidding me? Rice? This guy might steal one of my recruits to Rice?", and came away impressed. I'm sure Fisher asked Muschamp to ask around as well and got the good word on Eliot.
But certainly there is more than just that. Eliot worked as the linebackers coach at Tulsa, producing the conference player of the year and two other All-conference USA performers, in just a single season (2006). But before that, he was at Miami. And that is important for a few reasons. The first of which is that Florida State's new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was at Miami during the same time. Eliot was Stoop's grad assistant for a year under Mark Stoops. That story is similar to that of one of FSU's most highly regarded coaches, James Coley, who was under Fisher for a year during that time as well. Both were relatively unknowns when hired and FSU cans can only hope that Eliot is as good as Coley. But back to the Stoops issue, if I may. I believe that Stoops suggested Eliot because he was impressed with him during their time at Miami, and then Fisher asked his people about Eliot. Fisher got good reviews on him, and paired with Stoops reviews, whom Fisher obviously trusts, the selection was made. Not to show blind loyalty to Fisher, but all of his hires to date have been nothing short of tremendous. If the head coach and defensive coordinator both like the candidate, and they have a good track record of hiring other coaches, and there is no reason to expect that the hires are being done to help out friends (as was thought to have happened under the previous administration), then I have little reason to doubt the hire. Fisher and company don't have the luxury that Bowden had. They cannot be complacent and must hire the best possible coaches. They have the money and support of the university to do so and there is no reason to suspect that they would not act in their best interests.
As for his experience, he has coached defensive line for 3 years, and has coached linebackers for 3 years. Linebacker experience is relevant for a defensive ends coach, just as defensive ends coaching experience of relevant for a linebackers coach because the positions have a ton of similarities and are often interchangeable, depending on scheme. He also played linebacker in college. He also has experience coaching defensive backs. That is important as well because FSU's defensive backs coach is also its defensive coordinator (Mark Stoops). When Stoops is addressing the defense as a whole or a position other than DB's, Eliot can assist with the DB's if asked, while defensive tackle coach Odell Haggins instructs the entire defensive line for a drill or two (some drills equally benefit ends and tackles).
This is a huge upgrade over the departed Jody Allen, who was one of the worst coaches in the country. The players did not like him and some thought he was racist. Allen was a great example of a poor Bowden hire, as he had zero experience coaching defensive ends or defense before he was hired. To say that Eliot is an upgrade is an understatement. Eliot also has experience with special teams, and while he won't be the special teams coordinator, he will likely assist with that function if asked.
Back to this James Coley comparison for a minute. Coley was an unknown when he came to FSU just two years ago and is now one of the most highly thought of coaches in the country. Coley has coached in college for 5 years, Eliot for 6. Coley came from Florida International, Eliot from Rice. Coley was highly regarded by those Fisher trusted in the coaching profession and had experience working with someone currently on staff. Coley was 34 when hired two years ago, Eliot is 33. Both were recruiting coordinators and relentless recruiters. I could draw more comparisons, but you get the point.
We have a few guys who are somewhat connected in Texas and they weighed in with their thoughts. First is reader "FSU"
This is a very solid hire. Elliot worked for a good recruiter/program manager in David Bailiff. I suspect he'll be in involved in recruiting New Orleans/LA as well. Not a Stoops disciple (one year together) but some one who Stoops is familiar with and therefore knows what he likes, and Stoops knows what he is like. He's a younger coach, who probably isn't going anywhere so there will be continuity in staff. I have met him before in TX ... Very personable guy and will relate to parents/kids well.
If there's a negative here, it's that he can't really sell any known stars he's produced from Tulsa or Houston or Rice to recruits. He can say he worked with Ed Reed, Shaun Taylor, and Mike Rumph- all of Miami. Some people also believe FSU could have done better by hiring ECU's Vernon Hargreaves, former Tennessee DL coach Steve Caldwell (who looks to be taking the Arkansas Defensive Coordinator job), or Rick Minter. My guess, and this is pure speculation, is that if FSU wanted Hargreaves, they'd have him, given that Stoops and LB coach Greg Hudson have a ton of experience with Hargreaves, and could have given him a substantial raise. I do not know if FSU went after Vernon nor if they did and were rebuffed. I do know that this is a promising young coach with an impressive track record. And I know that if he is joining Fisher's staff that he is going to put in 80-hour work weeks and will be able to recruit.
Finally, from a schematic standpoint, Eliot's defensive ends were 265 and 260lbs. They totaled 124 tackles, 21 TFL and 11 sacks, which on a team like Rice was extremely productive. That is encouraging and could signal that he is able to coach large ends, something Fisher is demanding in no uncertain terms. The days of FSU playing 245lb defensive ends are over. His line was also hit hard by graduation following Rice's miracle 2008 season, and in 2009, amongst the top six DEs, three were fresh out of high school, including the 2nd and 3rd team at one spot. Of the interior line spots, there was one senior and the rest were freshmen and sophomores.
While the most unproven of the new hires, Eliot has some things going for him and FSU fans are excited to see what he can do with a lot of under-achieving talent. The first step is to reverse the trash coaching they received from the departed Allen.