There was a lot to like about the Notre Dame football team during the 2012 season, but nothing was more memorable than the defensive play of the Fighting Irish, as they won 12 consecutive games leading up to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
There were outsized personalities that formed that unit: players like Manti Te'o and Zeke Motta, as well as the young, up-and-coming hot-shot coach in defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. But lost in the four-month circus of gridiron euphoria – and there were parts of that season that definitely could be described as a circus – was the quiet teaching of safeties coach Bob Elliott.
The longtime college football assistant coach passed away Saturday in his hometown of Iowa City following a battle with cancer.
“This was extremely difficult news to hear,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said in a release. “I, along with hundreds of other coaches and players, were blessed to have him in our lives.”
That magical 2012 season was Elliott's first in South Bend after 36 seasons bouncing around the country mostly teaching on the defensive side of the ball.
Following a stealer career athletically at Iowa, Elliott immediately got into coaching and his first job in leading a defense was with the 1980 Mid-American Conference champion Ball State Cardinals, in which his unit played a critical role in helping Ball State finish the season unbeaten in MAC play, as well as 10-1 overall.
Elliott served as an assistant for 18 different bowl teams and coached with his alma mater, Kent State, Ball State, Iowa State, North Carolina, Kansas State, San Diego State, and the Irish before leaving to work as the safeties coach with Nebraska under Husker coordinator Bob Diaco earlier this year.
He had been reassigned to the role of defensive analyst at Nebraska this spring.
“Bob was as genuine and good of a person that you'd ever meet,” Kelly said. “Certainly, he was a tremendous football coach, and anyone that ever spent any time with him discovered that very quickly. His passion and knowledge of the game was obvious.
“But it was his love for the players he coached that truly stood out.”
Following the 2013 season, Kelly moved Elliott up to work with the Notre Dame linebackers, where he coached former Bishop Luers High School and Notre Dame star Jaylon Smith to a team-best 112 tackles. He served the past two seasons as a special assistant to Kelly, in which he helped with defensive analysis, as well as player personnel decisions.
Elliott not only made an impact on his players, but Diaco said his growth as a person, a player, and coach was significantly impacted by Elliott.
“Coach Elliott has been a father figure and mentor to me for almost 30 years,” Diaco said. “During my life, I have met few people that possess the amount of toughness had, while also possessing the same amount of class. Coach Elliott had unwavering principles and that combination of traits put him in company with very few.”
Elliott had football in his genetics, as he was the son of former Michigan coach Bump Elliott and nephew of Pete Elliott, who served as the head coach at Nebraska.
He was 64 years old and is survived by his wife, Joey, and two children, Grant and Jessica.
“My heart is with his father,” Kelly said, “children, grandchildren, and his remarkable wife. She's an incredible woman.
“Bob simply made all of us around him better people. He'll be missed dearly.”
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