Duke football has hired Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko as its next coach, the school announced Friday. Elko, 44, takes over the Blue Devils after multiple years coaching at private schools and against ACC teams, including at Wake Forest.
"We are absolutely thrilled to announce Mike Elko as our next head football coach," Duke athletic director Nina King said. "He has an innovative football mind and a natural ability to connect with both players and coaches around him. Mike has a proven track record of success and is deeply committed to the overall student-athlete experience. From our first conversations, I knew Mike, Michelle and their children would make phenomenal additions to the Duke family!"
Elko has transformed Texas A&M into one of the nation's top defensive programs in four years since joining the Aggies on Jimbo Fisher's initial staff. The Aggies ranked No. 20 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense in an 8-4 campaign in 2021. The same units ranked No. 78 and No. 87 respectively before Elko's arrival.
Texas A&M posted a 34-14 record over Elko's four seasons, including a breakout 9-1 record in 2020. Six defensive players have been drafted under Elko's watch, with defensive end DeMarvin Leal -- an FWAA All-American -- projected as a top 10 prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.
"Duke stands for excellence," Elko said. "The university has excelled in everything they've ever tried to do, whether that'd be in academics or athletics. I'm excited to get to work."
Elko takes over Duke from David Cutcliffe, who built the Blue Devils into a steady program during 14 years at the helm. He posted a 77-97 record overall at Duke, including a period of five bowl appearances in six years. However, Duke finished 3-9 and 0-8 in ACC play in Cutcliffe's final season.
When Elko takes over a defense, it gets better. He took Bowling Green from No. 102 in total defense to No. 6 in just two seasons. At Wake Forest, he jumped a unit playing across from Dave Clawson into the top-40, before moving Notre Dame into the top-50.
However, his best work has been done at Texas A&M. The Aggies have gone from a defensive laughingstock to perhaps one of the premier defenses in the SEC West. They peaked at No. 2 in rushing defense a year ago to carry the program to SEC contention.
While Elko will be a departure from the offensive-minded Cutcliffe, his experience recruiting and developing defensive players will stand apart. Especially in a state suddenly defined by offense -- North Carolina and Wake Forest posted top-15 offenses -- zagging could be just what Duke needs.
Experience out east
Elko, a New Jersey native, has been rumored for several jobs in the Northeast over the years. While Duke takes him a little further down the East Coast, it's a natural fit for a coach with familiarity both in the region and the ACC.
Before taking the job at Texas A&M, Elko spent a year helping Brian Kelly take Notre Dame from 4-8 to a No. 11 finish. Prior, he was at Wake Forest for three years as defensive coordinator where he helped make the Demon Deacons an aggressive unit. Other stops including Hofstra and Fordham.
Point is, Elko has long experience both in the region -- and at private schools with academic restrictions. On Day One, Elko will come in with understanding of the job and should be able to give it a distinct defensive identity.
Timely hit to the Aggies
There has been little change on Fisher's staff since he first brought it to College Station, Texas, in 2018. In fact, Elko and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey have both stayed put during the entire rebuild there.
However, Fisher is losing both Elko and highly-regarded strength coach Jerry Schmidt right as the Aggies try to put the finishing touches on their potential No. 1 overall recruiting class of the modern era. Five of the top eight players in the recruiting class are defensive players, including five-star defensive linemen Walter Nolen and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy.
With only five days to go until the Early Signing Period opens, it's unlikely that there's any sort of mass exodus with Elko's departure. Fisher will have plenty of options to replace Elko, whether it's paying top dollar for an outside hire or looking internally. However, Texas A&M has been able to sell stability for four years. Fisher has a tall task ahead -- though with plenty of funding.