LINCOLN — Nebraska will have its eighth safeties coach in eight seasons after coach Mike Riley announced Tuesday that Bob Elliott, the safeties coach for the last four months, will step away from that role and instead serve as a defensive analyst within the program. NU had hired Elliott away from Notre Dame, where he’d been in an off-the-field role for the last two seasons.
In Elliott’s place will be one of his former Notre Dame colleagues: Scott Booker, who coached tight ends and coordinated special teams for the Fighting Irish from 2012 to 2016. Booker previously coached defensive backs at Kent State, his alma mater. He will coach special teams at Nebraska as well. This spring, Nebraska hired Booker as a special teams consultant who advised coaches without instructing players.
“We are sorry to see Bob Elliott leave our full-time on-field staff,” Riley said in a statement. “Bob is a wonderful man and a great football coach, and he has built a great rapport with our staff and the players in our program. We respect Bob’s decision, and we are confident that he will continue to have a positive impact on our program.”
Riley said mid-June is “an unusual time” to make a coaching change.
“But we are fortunate that Scott worked with our staff this past spring and brings great experience and energy to our program,” Riley said. “We are confident that he will add to our program as a coach, teacher and recruiter.”
Phone calls and multiple text messages to Elliott were not immediately returned. According to a Nebraska press release, Elliott took himself out of the assistant coaching job for “personal reasons that recently arose.” Elliott is a cancer survivor; he received a bone marrow transplant in the late 1990s. More recently at Notre Dame, Elliott battled kidney failure, giving himself daily self-dialysis. In 2015 and 2016, he served as special assistant to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly before taking the safeties job at Nebraska and reuniting with Bob Diaco, a former Irish defensive coordinator now in the same role at Nebraska.
Elliott built a quick rapport with cornerbacks coach Donte Williams and seemed especially excited about junior Aaron Williams and senior Joshua Kalu teaming up at safety. He wore a wide-brimmed hat to practice each day and coached enthusiastically.
But as coaches went on the road to recruit after the spring game, graduate assistant Tavita Thompson was making the rounds. In order for Thompson to do that, one regular assistant had to be pulled off the road; Elliott did not appear to be recruiting on the road. All three of NU’s 2018 cornerback commits were recruited almost exclusively by Donte Williams.
Elliott also did not attend any of Nebraska’s satellite camps on the road. The World-Herald made two separate inquiries into Elliott’s status — one with a Husker front-office staff member and one with Riley at the St. Louis-area satellite camp — and both declined to comment.
In Booker, Nebraska has a coach who’s both familiar with Diaco and familiar with defensive backs and special teams.
“The opportunity to be a part of a prestigious program at the University of Nebraska is something that few coaches have the chance to do in their career,” Booker said. “This is a special place with tremendous people and a great leader in Coach Riley. I couldn’t be more excited for the 2017 season and the chance to work with the young men in this program.”
Booker himself played defensive back at Kent State from 1999 to 2002. He immediately became a graduate assistant for the Golden Flashes, then took over the defensive backs job for four seasons. During that time he had two players drafted into the NFL: safety Usama Young and cornerback Jack Williams. After one year at Western Kentucky in 2009, he served as a Notre Dame intern for two seasons before coaching tight ends and coordinating special teams for five seasons.
According to 247Sports, Booker landed five four-star prospects at Notre Dame, including three four-star tight ends. Also, in including Booker’s special teams accomplishments from Notre Dame, Nebraska on Tuesday made clear he’ll have a significant role there. Booker’s units scored six touchdowns in 2015 and 2016 — four of them coming in 2015 — and one of his kickers, Kyle Brindza, set a school record with 23 field goals in 2012.
Riley fired his longtime special teams coordinator, Bruce Read, fewer than 48 hours after the 2016 regular season ended. NU had intermittent success in kick coverage and field goal kicker Drew Brown had a strong season, but NU’s punt team was a problem after the death of Sam Foltz.
At safety, Booker has a full cupboard and three seasoned starters: Aaron Williams, Kalu and Kieron Williams. The latter two are seniors, but Nebraska has several promising young options, including Antonio Reed and JoJo Domann, who may miss this season while he recovers from a torn ACL.
Nebraska has had four safeties coaches since 2015 — Brian Stewart coached the entire secondary in 2015 before then-defensive coordinator Mark Banker coached the safeties in 2016. Banker was fired, Stewart took the Rice defensive coordinator job, and then Elliott was hired. Now it’s Booker, who worked as a consultant this spring.
NU didn’t immediately respond to a request for Booker’s salary. It’s not known if Elliott’s salary — scheduled to be $325,000 in 2017 — will be amended to reflect his new job.
Will Bob Elliott’s decision to step down as safeties coach be a setback for the Husker defense?
Bob Elliott, Nebraska's safeties coach for the last four months, will step away from that role and instead serve as a defensive analyst within the program. In Elliott’s place will be one of his former Notre Dame colleagues: Scott Booker. Will the move be a setback for the Blackshirts?