As the youngest member of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot said he never lost sight of the fact that Fisher took a chance on him when he hired Eliot from Rice.
Now Eliot is trying to pay Fisher back for that opportunity with a win against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, the last game Eliot will coach with the Seminoles before joining former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky.
“I always looked at Florida State as a place where they weren't lucky to have me, but I was lucky to have Florida State, and that's the way I approached work every day,” said Eliot, who is FSU’s acting defensive coordinator for the Orange Bowl. “Coach Fisher took a chance on me. I was a young D-line coach at Rice that did a good job in an interview, so I tried to repay him every single day with my work.”
Eliot still has a job to do -- his biggest yet -- but he has already had some on-the-job training for it.
In preparation for the ACC title game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option.
Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, as the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, and he hired Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to lead the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.
For Eliot, it was a no-brainer to stick with the Noles through the bowl game.
“My players mean a tremendous amount to me, so I want to make sure that I finish this thing off for them,” he said. “They bought in early to what we were doing, and they've been very successful, and they've always respected me and done exactly what I've told them to do. So I want them to know that I was going to be here until the end for them, as well.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This season, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, and No. 3 in pass defense. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner said the Noles won’t miss a beat with Eliot leading the defense instead of Stoops.
“I always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, and I’m so happy for him that it worked out,” Werner said. “I’m so happy he didn’t go with coach Stoops, because they were really close. I’m so happy for him and I’m happy that he’s staying. He coaches exactly the same way as coach Stoops, so it wasn’t a big change for us. They play the same technique and all the same stuff. I’m happy for him, and I can see that he’s happy for us that we’re doing so good. He’s going to leave on a good note.”
That’s Eliot’s game plan, anyway.