Jim Harbaugh is bringing in former Wolverine Mike Elston to fill his staff's first coaching vacancy of the offseason. Allison Engkvist/Daily. Buy this photo.

Even with Jim Harbaugh’s contract situation yet to be finalized amid NFL rumors, the Michigan football program has filled one notable vacancy in its coaching staff. 

Mike Elston — who has spent the last 12 years on the defensive staff at Notre Dame — will join the Wolverines to replace departing defensive line coach Shaun Nua, as first reported by 247Sports’ Tom Loy and confirmed by several other outlets. 

Elston played outside linebacker for the Wolverines from 1993 to 1996; following his playing days, he remained in Ann Arbor as a student assistant for the 1997 national championship team and later as a video intern and graduate assistant until 2000.

Elston initially joined the Fighting Irish in 2010 as the team’s defensive line coach, a title he held  throughout his entire tenure, outside of a two-year stint in 2015 and 2016 where he coached the linebackers. After being promoted to associate head coach in 2021, he chose not to join departing coach Brian Kelly at LSU, calling it a “family decision” to stay with Notre Dame. 

Evidently, though, the opportunity to return to Michigan was too tempting to pass on. 

In his years with the Fighting Irish — and previous coaching stints at Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan — Elston built a reputation as a solid talent developer. Since 2019, Notre Dame has seen four defensive linemen selected in the NFL Draft, including Jerry Tillery, the 28th overall pick in 2019. 

That experience should serve him well at Michigan, where he will set out to develop a line that improved significantly last season. After inconsistency on the interior plagued the Wolverines’ run defense in 2020, the unit took huge strides forward in 2021 — particularly with the growth of junior defensive tackles Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith. Helped by that presence on the interior, Michigan surrendered just 126 rushing yards per game on the season, a huge step forward from the previous year’s mark of 178.8. 

The departure of Hinton — alongside senior and junior edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo — to the NFL Draft will make carrying that momentum more difficult for Elston, but by no means will the cupboard be bare. Rising junior Kris Jenkins should see more time alongside Smith on the interior in 2022, while Braiden McGregor has the potential for a breakout junior season on the edge. 

As of now, the Wolverines’ assistant coaching staff is filled for 2022. Whether any other spots open up — including that at the top of the program — remains in question.