LINCOLN, Neb. — In a way, cornerbacks coach Donte Williams feels like he is adopted.
With new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and new safeties coach Bob Elliott now on board at Nebraska, the Blackshirts will look drastically different than a season ago. But with Diaco and Elliott having worked together at Notre Dame from 2012-13, Williams said there’s a feeling of familiarity in the defense — even though this is the first time the rest of the staff has worked with them.
“Those two,” Williams said, “they’re like father and son.”
Nebraska fired defensive coordinator Mark Banker and hired Diaco in January. And after Williams took over the cornerbacks coaching spot for Brian Stewart, who left to coach at Rice, head coach Mike Riley had a hole in the coaching staff.
After consulting with one another and making a list of potential hires, Riley and Diaco approached Elliott about coming from Notre Dame to Nebraska.
An offer, Elliott said, he couldn’t refuse.
“Coach Diaco and I worked at Notre Dame together, and it’s the same defense and the same tasks that I had there. I was really excited to get back with Bob,” Elliott said. “I have ultra-confidence in Bob Diaco. And I can’t tell you how much confidence I have in him as a defensive coordinator, as a football coach, as a person, and so that made me feel really good to get a chance to be back with him.”
Elliott said he has a good idea of what Diaco wants and needs and thinks he can help the staff in any way he’ll be asked.
“Bob is a great coach and a great person and he’s a lot of fun to be around, too,” Elliott said.
Elliott did not have any connections to Nebraska before Diaco was hired. He has been around the block, however. Elliott was a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1976, then made stops at Kent State, Ball State, Iowa State (twice), North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas State, San Diego State and Notre Dame — in a span of 40 seasons.
That wealth of experience was part of the reason why Diaco was so insistent on hiring Elliott.
For Diaco, the choice of hiring Elliott was important to “balance out the room.” The defensive side of the coaching staff in Lincoln is pretty young, with Diaco (age 44), Williams (age 34), linebackers coach Trent Bray (age 34), defensive line coach John Parrella (age 47) averaging less than 40 years of age.
Elliott, age 63, brings that average up.
“He’s been doing this for over 40 years, so it’s kind of an encyclopedia of knowledge,” Diaco said. “Someone you can play devil’s advocate with that has all this wealth of experience to kind of balance the room and off set it so it’s not so heavily tilted in one particular area.”
Diaco believes Elliott will be a great sounding board for him and the rest of the coaching staff, especially considering how young the staff is.
“I think no matter who it was that he would be communicating, as the sounding board, and be a wonderful resource there.”
Elliott said he thinks the coaching staff is talented as is, but wouldn’t mind helping out when he can.
“I love this staff,” Elliott said. “A lot of energy, really smart guys. They have embraced coach Diaco in this system. There’s nobody holding back, this is a really good group.”