Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is parting ways with Kentucky, the Herald-Leader has confirmed.
The story, which was first reported on the coaching website Footballscoop.com, said that Eliot is headed to Colorado “in a similar capacity.”
Eliot has coached under UK head coach Mark Stoops at several destinations over the past 20 years and was the coach’s first hire when he left Florida State to take over the Kentucky program.
It’s not clear if Kentucky will replace Eliot or restructure its defensive staff.
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Stoops took over defensive play calling early in the season after an inexperienced UK defense gave up 500 or more yards three straight times.
Eliot, who also coached outside linebackers, did most of the game planning and day-to-day work, Stoops said at the time.
After the win over Vanderbilt in early October, Stoops credited Eliot with helping the defense dramatically improve.
“I want to be very clear about this, there’s no way we would have this success without Coach Eliot putting a lot of this together,” Stoops said after that victory. “I really helped eliminate some of that, some of the pressure of calling the game, because we work well together. We always have. So the structure of it is very good.”
The UK head coach noted that the defensive improvements were a credit to Eliot, too.
“D.J.’s worked his tail off and is doing the same things he’s always done,” Stoops continued. “He’s always been successful, it’s just helping with me being involved in calling it and he can really see what’s going on up there and make quality adjustments.”
Eliot, who has not replied to text messages about his departure, seemed excited about the nine starters the Cats have returning on defense next season.
After the loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Eliot said he saw positive growth throughout the season.
“The problem with the start of the season was the guys were so young and inexperienced and now they have the experience,” he told the Herald-Leader. “They felt the ups and the downs. They know how you have to perform in pressure situations. … With so many of those guys coming back, I think we’ll be even more ready for big things next year.”
On defense, nine of UK’s top 11 tackle leaders return from this season, including the Cats’ top four tacklers in Jordan Jones, safety Mike Edwards, middle linebacker Courtney Love and defensive end Denzil Ware.
Half of UK’s 21 quarterback sacks return next season, including defensive end Josh Allen, who finished the year with a team-high seven. More than 96 percent of UK’s tackles for loss return, too.
The Cats’ secondary will take a hit with six of their 13 interceptions graduating, but it’s a position group that returns key talent like Baity and Chris Westry along with Edwards and Darius West, who missed this season with injury.
“The future is very bright,” Love said. “We have so much potential, guys that are young that will be able to make plays all the time.”
In 2016, Kentucky finished ninth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense, yielding 434.2 yards per game and 11th in the league in scoring defense, permitting 31.3 points per game.
The Cats were No. 12 in the conference in rushing defense (228.2 yards) and No. 5 in passing defense.
Kentucky has two former defensive coordinators on its staff, including inside linebackers and special teams coach Matt House, who had that position at Pittsburgh and Florida International.
Secondary coach Steve Clinkscale was a co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 2015 before joining the UK staff.
After what seemed like a non-stop coaching carousel at Kentucky after last season, this has been a relatively quiet offseason for Stoops’ staff. National signing day is two weeks away.
The head coach has been on the road wrapping up the Cats’ 2017 class, which is ranked No. 23 nationally by Rivals.com.
Colorado has to replace defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who left the Buffaloes for the same position at Oregon. Colorado finished 10-4 in 2016, winning the Pacific-12 South Division and losing to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.