Elson named new head football coach

Joe Lord

Jack Harbaugh was Hilltopper football’s pappy.

Jimmy Feix, it’s granddaddy.

David Elson?

“It’s like the big brother coming home,” offensive coordinator Willie Taggart said.

Elson, 31, was introduced yesterday afternoon in Diddle Arena as Western’s new head football coach. He replaces Harbaugh, who resigned Friday after 14 years in the position.

The new coach was joined at the press conference by his wife, Kathy, and two daughters.

“Daddy’s home for good,” he told his daughters at the announcement.

Elson, the defensive coordinator and head recruiter on Harbaugh’s championship team in 2002, left last month to become safeties coach at West Virginia University.

He becomes the second youngest head football coach in Division I football, Athletic Director Wood Selig said.

Elson said he was shocked Friday afternoon when he found out his old boss had stepped down.

Selig and Ransdell met with the team and coaches Friday after Harbaugh’s sudden resignation.

Harbaugh was consulted before a decision was made, but he did not endorse a candidate, Selig said.

Harbaugh was not at the announcement and could not be reached for comment. He was visiting family in Milwaukee, President Gary Ransdell said.

About 18 prospects were contacted about Western’s job, Selig said. The list included Taggart, the New England Patriots’ Romeo Crennell and the Oakland Raiders’ Jim Harbaugh, son of the former coach.

Elson came to Bowling Green over the weekend and interviewed for the job, Selig said. Elson was the only candidate offered the position.

“He had a very good interview,” Ransdell said.

Ransdell said the team wanted a coach familiar with the program. Elson, who coached at Western for seven years, fit the bill.

“He recruited most of us, so we know him pretty well,” sophomore punter Brian Claybourn said. “I think he’s going to do a lot of the same things.”

And Elson, like Harbaugh, will be able to run a program clean of rules violations, Ransdell said.

Taggart said he supported his new boss.

“It’s like a big brother,” he said. “I’m next in line.”

Selig said he and Elson’s wife flew to Morgantown, W.Va., yesterday in a plane owned by Regent Cornelius Martin.

They didn’t arrive back in Bowling Green with Elson until 2:30 p.m. CST. Elson met with players for about 20 minutes before he was unveiled to the public.

Elson’s tenure with the Mountaineers ended Monday night when he told head coach Rich Rodriguez that he had taken the Western job.

“I know, in just the month we spent together, he’s an impressive young guy who has a lot of football knowledge,” Rodriguez said.

Elson has been offered up to a five-year contract, but he has not had a chance to review or sign it, Selig said.

Elson wasn’t concerned that he was following a national championship coach leaving on the pinnacle of his career.

“There’s going to be pressure no matter where you go,” said Elson, who is half Harbaugh’s age.

Western may have a new coach, but shades of Harbaugh will remain on the field.

“Continuity is the word of the day,” said Elson, who’ll keep the same coaching staff that took Western to its first national championship in December.

One possible change: The Hilltoppers, under Elson, are going to be fishing for hometown boys when recruiting.

“We are going to recruit the state of Kentucky like the state of Kentucky has never been recruited before in the history of the game of football,” he said. “We’re going to take care of our backyard.”

In the past, most in-state recruits have gone to the University of Kentucky or University of Louisville. Under Harbaugh, Western’s recruiting was focused in Florida.

Elson said there won’t be many changes in defense, an area he oversaw until last month. He said they’ve built a tradition and attitude on that side of the ball that he likes.

Then there’s offense.

“I knew that was going to be a hot topic,” he told onlookers in Diddle yesterday. He said the offense will both run and throw the ball next season. And an old friend will return.

“You will see the shotgun at Western Kentucky University next fall,” he said. “That is not going to be our base, don’t anybody misconstrue that.”

Elson said spring practice may be pushed back a few weeks while he gets adjusted and fills the holes in his staff.

After the announcement, junior cornerback Jeremy Chandler hugged Elson and handed him a foot-long nameplate reading, “David Elson, Head Football Coach.”

“Just told him we are all men, but he is the man,” Chandler said.

Herald reporter Steven King contributed to this story.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]