But Notre Dame's newest defensive staff member is crystal clear regarding his mentor–as a coach and otherwise.
"As far as my influences as a man and as a person, he's the influence," Elliott said of his father, Bump, head coach of Notre Dame's rival Michigan Wolverines from 1959-68. "I learned that you could be successful in this profession and not give up character and class and all those things, and he was able to do it in a first class way. And I've always tried to do it that way in my career, along the lines of how my father was as a football coach."
Elliott's career choice might not have been predetermined, but a gentle nudge and a few pushes along the way were inevitable.
"Growing up in Ann Arbor, my high school was right across the street from Michigan Stadium," Elliott offered of his early assimilation to the profession. "It was a great experience for me and I didn't know any other way. My dad was a coach all during the time I was growing up. It was cool being around the football team. I was around practice a lot. I was a gym rat and loved every minute of it."
It was a love imparted to, coincidentally, a current quartet of co-workers in South Bend.
Full CircleElliott recruited, subsequently coached, and quickly befriended one of his new cohorts. He has a 22-year relationship as a coach, mentor, friend, and confidant with his new boss. He worked with another staff member for 10 seasons and with a fourth at, of all places, the rival school of Elliott's alma mater, Iowa.
"I love those guys," Elliott began of his former and current friends and co-workers. "Bob (Diaco) and Kerry (Cooks) and Tony (Alford), I worked with Tony at Iowa State. He's a good friend. And (Irish strength & conditioning coach) Paul Longo, he was our strength coach at Iowa forever. He's a close friend as well. There are a lot of strong ties on this staff so it was very comfortable for me to come here and get a chance to start working with those guys."
Diaco began his coaching career directly under Elliott, working as the latter's graduate assistant in 1996-97.
"I met Coach Elliott in 1990 (during his recruitment to Iowa). We've been friends, workers, and trusted loyal brothers for the last 22 years," said Diaco before adding, "I would say I'm very different than I was when I was a player. I didn't play directly for him; I did work for him in my first job as a graduate assistant at Iowa. He was defensive coordinator; I worked directly for him, which was fantastic."
Elliott knew early into the pair's 22-year relationship that Diaco would advance in the profession.
"Bob was always bright, smart, a quick learner," he noted. "He also had tremendous intensity and toughness. Those traits are obvious in his coaching style today. I knew he was going to be a good coach. There was no doubt about that. He was well-advanced even when he was young."
Also advanced at a young age was the newly-promoted Cooks. Notre Dame's co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach ranks as an all-time favorite of Elliott…Joey Elliott, that is.
"Kerry might be my wife's favorite player of all time," Elliott offered with a chuckle. "I participated in recruiting Kerry in high school and coached him in his career at Iowa. He was always the most mature–of course in the secondary sometimes that's not saying much–but in Kerry's case he was always the most mature, furthest along of all the guys in the secondary. He was the glue that kept them altogether and he's taken that and run with it."
Cooks is likewise humbled by the opportunity to coach with his mentor.
"I think in this profession if you stay in it long enough everything comes full circle," Cooks began. "He provided me with the opportunity to play at Iowa and then he provided me with my first job at Kansas State (as a graduate assistant).
"I'm just excited that now we can add him to our staff. He's not the safeties coach (Elliott's technical title), we're going to do the exact same thing that Coach (Chuck) Martin and I did: we're going to work together, tag-team it, and I'm excited about the opportunity to continue to pull and learn from this guy, because I've been learning from him since I was 18.
"He also has a chance to see me grow. I've been doing this for 10 years and he can see the product he put in place and see how I've developed."
That development is cherished by Elliott, not just through Cooks, Diaco, and others who've joined the coaching ranks, but by any of his pupils successful in their chosen endeavors.
"I take great pride in the guys that played for me and what they're doing today," Elliott stated. "Not just the coaches, but in all walks of life. (Cooks and Diaco) are two great examples of guys that have gone to the top of whatever profession they're in.
"I've been in close touch with them over the years and seen how they've grown," he continued. "Bobby (Diaco) has been a resource for me over the years because I've coached linebackers as well, and when I did that I leaned on Bob quite a bit. It'll be a great experience. I'm proud of them and they've certainly grown in the years they've been gone from me."
Egos AsideDiaco is the leader of the defense, and in his first season as assistant head coach, the chief conduit to head coach Brian Kelly. As co-defensive coordinator, Cooks is also technically Elliott's new "boss." It's a reality that might not sit well with some 33-year coaching veterans. It's one the sage Elliott has readily embraced.
"I wanted them to feel comfortable with me coming here," he said specifically of Diaco and Cooks. "You have to be self-confident and sure of yourself to be able to work with someone that was a mentor early in your career. Some guys can't do that. Bob and Kerry are confident, secure guys. That's not an issue, (this) role reversal for them. And it isn't for me.
"I'm at the stage in my career where I don't really need a title. I don't have an ego. It's not about advancement for me," Elliott explained. "That's not what I'm after. I want to contribute to a great experience here and win at the highest level and continue to have great relationships with players. That's why I'm still in this thing."
In short, he's "still in it" because he knows the reward a lifetime in the profession brings.
"I got to know a lot of (his father's) players and it was really gratifying to me that those players, even today, (remain close). "They had a huge reunion this year and he still has those relationships," said Elliott of his father Bump, who recently turned 87.
"He always had time for us and that's something I've always remembered. The No. 1 thing for us was his family, and then everything else came second," Elliott continued of his father and role model. "Obviously your father as a coach is gone a lot and he was, but back in those days it certainly wasn't like it is today. They weren't on the road all the time. Things have evolved a little bit."
They've come full circle as well.