Defensive coach finds ‘perfect world’ with Ball State football Elson brings experience, accomplishments to Cardinals.
There have been two constants surrounding the Ball State football defense for over a decade:
* The Cardinals have played poorly on that side of the ball far more than they have played well, and
* The top defensive coach never sticks around for long
Until now. Hopefully.
Ball State recently hired its seventh defensive coordinator in the past 10 years in former Western Illinois defensive coordinator David Elson, and the Indianapolis native could not be more excited to tackle (no pun intended) the challenge of disproving those two aforementioned traits.
“A lot of times I like to say ‘What is my perfect world,” Elson told The News-Sentinel recently, “whether it is any kind of situation in life. When I say ‘perfect world’ for my coaching career, being a defensive coordinator 45 minutes from Indianapolis is about as good as it gets.”
The Butler University and Cathedral High School graduate has over two decades of coaching experience under his belt, including seven years as the head coach at Western Kentucky.
Elson served as the Hilltoppers’ defensive coordinator during the 2002 FCS National Championship season, before becoming the program’s head coach a year later.
During his time as a head coach, he led Western Kentucky to five winning seasons, one of which it was ranked No. 1 in the nation. He was also a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award in one of those seasons.
“He’s been a head coach at a high level,” Cardinal head coach Mike Neu said. “He’s been a national champion. He’s coached defensive backs and he’s recruited the Indianapolis area extensively.
“There were so many boxes that were checked off for David. It’s just a great fit.”
Neu admitted that he loved the unique combination of Elson’s extensive experience, both as a coordinator and head coach, but also the fact that he is only in his mid-40s.
Young or old, experienced or not, the bottom line for Elson is that he needs to restore the confidence of his defensive players, some of whom are on their fourth defensive coordinator since arriving in Muncie.
Especially after former coordinator Tim Daoust left for Mid-American Conference rival Western Michigan last month.
“They need some confidence,” Elson said. “They need somebody to believe in them.”
The Cardinal defenders need to give the Ball State supporters a reason to believe in them.
Five times in the past 12 seasons, including 2016, Ball State ranked dead last in the MAC in total defense. In 11 of those years, the Cardinals were ranked seventh or lower.
“The past affects the psyche,” Elson explained. “You have to be aware of the past. At the same time, you are not going to dwell on it, but you are going to use it to try to craft your plan to say ‘How are we going to get these guys believing in what we’re doing?'”
One way to strengthen that belief is to not make wholesale changes, according to Elson.
He was hired at Western Illinois just one year ago after a stint at Southern Illinois, and he said the last thing this particular group of players and coaches need is a new system. Again.
Elson said his base defense would be a 4-3 (same as 2016), but multiple formations would be used at varying times, and despite the statistics, he has watched film of the 2016 season and he said the foundation for success is there.
“I know the numbers weren’t great,” Elson said. “I know the results weren’t great, but when you look at who is coming back, the strength of the team is coming back, which is the defensive line.”