David Elson, Ball State football’s new defensive coordinator, wasn’t hired to reinvent the wheel.

Head coach Mike Neu said he was looking for someone who could work with the pieces Ball State had, and Elson’s Western Illinois defense ran a familiar system. 

Where some coaches might have balked at a pass defense allowed the most yards per game in the Missouri Valley Conference, Neu saw a silver lining for the Cardinals, who finished with the most passing yards allowed per game in the Mid-American Conference.

“The good thing is that those are some of the same weaknesses that we had here," Neu said. "So his mindset going into the offseason at Western Illinois was very similar to the mindset for us going into the offseason.”

Elson, originally from Indianapolis, said that was one of the big draws for him as well.

“From the common people that we know, Coach Neu and I, everybody that I would talk to would say, ‘Hey, you would love to work for Coach Neu. You guys have a lot in common,’ etcetera,” Elson said. “It was kind of a no-brainer for me, honestly. It’s close to home and the direction they’re going, it’s blown me away.”

Elson was the head coach of Western Kentucky from 2003 to 2009, leading the program’s transition from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Neu said Elson’s coaching experience was a major plus, especially his time working for Bill Lynch at Indiana in 2010.

Lynch, head coach at Ball State from 1995 to 2002, was the offensive coordinator when Neu was still suiting up for the Cardinals. He’s also the father of offensive coordinator Joey Lynch and running backs coach Kevin Lynch.

Neu, also a former quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, said Saints offensive line coach Dan Roushar spoke highly of Elson, too.

“Those are some guys that I trust in the coaching fraternity,” Neu said. “So when you can call and you know what they’re all about — not only as a coach, but in terms of off the field and kind of family men that they are — those were certainly two guys that I trust a lot in this business that spoke very highly on his behalf and that certainly always helps the case.”

Elson said he’s to keep the 4-3 base defense Ball State ran last year and build off the defensive line — redshirt senior defensive end Anthony Winbush (8.5 sacks) and junior defensive tackle Kevin Thurmon (4.5 sacks) both return from the defense that finished second in the MAC with 31 sacks last season.

But Elson will have to contend with a young linebackers corps and secondary — all three starting linebackers last year were seniors, and the Cardinals have six new defensive backs and six new linebackers joining the program next season.

Neu, though, said he was impressed by Elson’s knowledge of the team and the incoming recruits during the interview, and Elson looks forward to working with a recruiting class that ranked second in the MAC.

“I was interested in the job regardless, but boy, when I went in through and looked at the signing class of the defensive players and watched the video of all of them, that was eye-opening,” Elson said. “Wow, there’s all kinds of possibilities.”

Ball State opens up its season on Sept. 2 at Illinois.