When his wife Kathy sells their home in Bowling Green, Ky., she will move up to West Virginia with their two young daughters, Lauren and Jessica, to join Dave. But for now WVU's newest coach is living out of a suitcase, eating fast food and absorbing as much of the Mountaineers' defensive scheme as he can in the month left before the start of spring drills, which start at WVU on March 28.
He hasn't had time yet to go exploring other streets or even hang a few pictures on the walls of his Puskar Building office. Since he arrived at West Virginia from Western Kentucky, he did put up a corkboard on one wall and a white dry erase board on the other, and he's busy scribbling defensive formations. Elson will eventually find time to add all the amenities, but for now, his sole focus is on getting ready for spring practice.
"I'm still feeling my way around," admitted Elson, who is a native of Indianapolis and a 1994 graduate of Butler University, where he was a two-year starter at strong safety. "I was at Western Kentucky for seven years, so I haven't had to get acclimated to a new staff or new surroundings in a while. We had gotten pretty well situated at Western, and we were comfortable there. Now I have to get used to a lot of new things, but things are going very well so far. I'm still trying to learn guys' faces and names. That's the toughest part of the process."
The jump from Division I-AA to I-A is attractive for any coach, but Elson didn't go blindly into the leap up. He had a good thing going with the Hilltoppers, who won the I-AA championship this past season. After spending 1994 & '95 as a graduate assistant at Southern Illinois, Elson took a position as the defensive secondary coach at Western Kentucky in 1996. He spent seven seasons at WKU, the past two as the team's defensive coordinator.
"Obviously I was excited about the opportunity to move up from I-AA to I-A, but I had seen some guys who made mistakes because they just wanted to get to the I-A level," explained Elson. "A former coach told me a long time ago when I first got into this business, ‘It's not where you go, it's who you go with.' I had a very good situation at Western Kentucky, and I wasn't going to give that up just to go to any I-A program. But coming here, knowing what I know about Coach (Rich) Rodriguez, I felt very comfortable with him right off the bat. And then when I met all the assistants, especially the ones I'll be working with, Jeff (Casteel, WVU defensive coordinator) and Gibbie (Tony Gibson, the cornerback and free safety coach), it felt like a great fit. They are all outstanding people, and I felt very comfortable with them. Then outside of that, when you see how important football is at West Virginia, all the good things going on, I wanted to be a part of that. That's why I came. I didn't just leave to come to Division I-A. I came because I felt that this is a great program to be a part of."
Elson brings a pretty good pedigree to West Virginia. In his two seasons as coordinator, the Hilltoppers led the Gateway Football Conference in rushing, pass, pass efficiency, total and scoring defense, setting a conference record in total yards allowed per game. This year, WKU ranked eighth nationally in turnover margin, 11th in scoring defense and 23rd in total defense, posting a 12-3 record and winning the I-AA title over top-ranked McNeese State. Western was only the second team in Gateway Conference history to hold league opponents to less than 10 points per game.
"We ran a slightly different defensive scheme at Western, so I do have to learn some of the things that they are doing here," noted Elson. "We were an odd 50 defense. We ran a true 50 defense with the slants and angle. So I have some familiarity with the front, because we also were an odd front. We were a little different in the back end with some of our coverage concepts, but Jeff has said he's interested in looking at some of the things we did in terms of coverage. We want to see how we can fit it in with the odd stack that they are running here. That's what we are defensively, but we want to be able to add some things so we can have a fouracross look in the secondary at times and still be able to roll the coverage either way and do some other things from it.
"It's funny, but last year our defensive staff at Western Kentucky went and visited Wake Forest and Dean Hood (the Demon Deacon's defensive coordinator, who at one time was an assistant under Rodriguez at Glenville)," said Elson.
"I had known Dean since the days he was at Eastern Kentucky, and we went there last year with the idea that we were going to look at their 50 package, which is the same stuff we did. What we didn't realize before we got there was that they were wanting to make their base the odd stack. We watched them practice and watched film, so I have some familiarity with the defense from that visit. In our conference, the Gateway, Southern Illinois had run it. You're starting to see more and more people run it. That odd front does seem to be coming back. People are doing different things with the linebackers and secondary, but that odd front does seem to be coming back into vogue. It's all cyclical. The odd front was the rage for a while, and then people started using an even front. Now the odd front seems to be coming back. The Steelers are using a 3-4, and a lot of other NFL teams are starting to use it as well.
"I love the scheme. It's very simple, the way Jeff has the run fits all broken down. The way it all fits together makes a lot of sense to me. I'm still learning, obviously."
This story is a portion of a longer article that was originally published in the February 22 edition of the Blue& Gold News. It's just one of the many articles, columns and features that appear in our print edition that you can't get anywhere else! You can subscribe to our print edition by calling 1-304-291-2242.