After accepting the job to become the defensive coordinator at Colorado in January, D.J. Eliot had to break the news to his family that they were on the move again.

Following four years at Kentucky, the Eliots were headed to Boulder.

"Moves are tough on kids," said Eliot, a father of four. "They were nervous and anxious about this move."

In the life of Eliot's oldest child, 12-year-old son Dawson, this will the sixth stop along the coaching trail. Dawson didn't waste any time embracing it.

"When I took this job, he became a huge CU fan," Eliot said. "He watched every episode of 'The Rise,' and he says to me, 'Dad, don't worry. No conflict, no story.'"

That phrase — 'No conflict, no story' - is one often repeated by CU head coach Mike MacIntyre and it was seen during "The Rise," a documentary about CU's resurgent 2016 season.

CU's dominating defense played a huge role in the success of 2016, and it's now Eliot's job to try to keep that going. It's no small task for the 41-year-old coach, who, much like his family, is still settling into his new surroundings.

Eliot takes over coordinator duties from Jim Leavitt, the popular, energetic, Pepsi-guzzling defensive guru who left the Buffs in December to try to work some magic on the defense at Oregon.


In just two seasons at CU, Leavitt took the Buffs from 119th nationally in points allowed (in 2014) to 20th last year. Including Leavitt, CU lost three assistant coaches, eight starters and 10 major contributors from that 20th-ranked defense.

Eliot has to find a way to fill all those holes.

"I'm always challenged because every year is a new year," he said. "Every year you have a new defense, no matter where you are."

Ultimately, it'll be up to the players on the field to get the job done, but all eyes will be on Eliot, whom the Buffs are embracing as their new leader.

"It's different with each coach," senior safety Ryan Moeller said. "You're not going to get the same thing. Leavitt's a great guy and we miss him and understand what he had to do, but I look forward to playing for DJ Eliot.

"He is quirky in his own ways and sometimes he makes you chuckle a little bit; he's only human. He brings energy and he tells you when you're wrong and he tells you when we're being flat; he'll tell us when we're screwing up. He doesn't get all worked up and yell; that's not really how he coaches, but you still know."

Aside from his love for Pepsi, Leavitt was known for bringing a much-needed jolt of energy to the CU defense when he arrived in 2015. Eliot may not be cut from the exact same mold, but there's no shortage of energy on the field.

"When I take the field, I'm attention to detail, very energetic, enthusiastic," Eliot said. "I try to make sure the players are playing with effort, playing with intensity on every single snap and harping on fundamentals. I really harp on those things when practice hits and then when I'm in my office or I'm in the meeting room, I'm a pretty laid back, easy going guy. I try to be a counselor for the players in any way they need."

Several players describe Eliot as "much calmer" than Leavitt, but they've also described him as a players' coach. Senior linebacker Derek McCartney said Eliot has added a focus on technique that was needed.

As a player, Eliot was a linebacker at Wyoming in the late 1990s. He's now entering his 19th season as a coach. All of those years have been on defense, so while his demeanor is "calmer," he also understands the intensity it takes to be successful.

"When you play defense, the only way you're going to be successful is if you play with emotion and passion," he said. "When you coach on defense you have to coach that way, too.

"When we take the practice field, I want it to be upbeat and enthusiastic. I want guys on the hop. With that, too, you have to be a great teacher. I want to make sure I'm teaching them in detail in things they can get better at."

While Eliot has yet to coach a game at CU, players have appreciated his approach. Senior safety Afolabi Laguda said it took him a couple of months to fully trust Eliot, but now "every guy on the defense trusts him."

"I think it's working," Laguda said. "His approach works for me; for everybody else, they'll have to wait to see on game day."

Eliot hopes his approach works for the Buffs, and also hopes it one day leads to the opportunity to guide his own team as a head coach.

"I enjoy being a leader, I enjoy helping organize and mold not only players, but assistant coaches," he said. "I'll continue to grow and hopefully I'll have that opportunity."

For now, the entire Eliot family is embracing this opportunity, which has brought his wife, Miekel, closer to where she grew up in Westminster, and his children closer to their cousins.

On game day, the Eliot crew will be in the stands cheering on dad's new team. He hopes to give them - and CU fans - a reason to celebrate.

"I've been pleased with the way the defense has formed throughout training camp and the guys that have stepped up and become leaders," he said. "I think we have great leaders on defense. That gives me confidence that these guys can do some good things."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or