Duke names Texas A&M defensive coordinator as new head football coach

10December 2021

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — Duke is turning to Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko to turn around its football program after a two-year slide and a winless Atlantic Coast Conference record.

Elko has been the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Texas A&M University for the past four seasons.

He succeeds David Cutcliffe, who held the position for 14 years. Elko will be Duke’s 22nd football coach.

The school announced Nov. 28 that Cutcliffe wouldn’t return following the first winless league mark of his 14 seasons. Yahoo! Sports first reported that Duke had reached an agreement with Elko.

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce Mike Elko as our next head football coach,” Duke Vice President and Director of Athletics 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 been a coach for 23 years, and In his final season at Texas A&M, his defense ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 15.92 points per game and ninth in pass efficiency defense (112.00). The Aggies’ defense also ranked in the Top 15 nationally in several other categories.

“I am delighted to welcome Mike Elko to Duke as our next head football coach,” Duke President Vincent E. Price said. “We look forward to his leadership and vision on the field and his commitment to the highest standards of academic success. We could not be more excited to have Mike on our team as a teacher and mentor for our student-athletes.”

This will be his first college head coaching job. His defensive experience could be particularly valuable in helping Duke stabilize after a wobbly few years, which included surrendering 46.6 points per game against ACC opponents in 2021.

Elko, 44, has also coached at Notre Dame, and closer to home, spent three seasons at Wake Forest (2014-16). His 2016 Demon Deacons unit ranked in the top-20 nationally in fumbles recovered (3rd), turnovers forced (10th), sacks (12th), defensive TDs (17th), red zone defense (17th) and scoring defense (20th).

“I want to thank Nina King and President Price for this great opportunity,” Elko said. “Duke stands for excellence. 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 also served on current Wake Forst head coach Dave Clawson’s for five seasons (2009-13) at Bowling Green where he was defensive coordinator and coached linebackers and safeties.

Elko’s stop in Winston-Salem with the Demon Deacons gave him experience working through similar challenges to what he’ll face in Durham, from working at an elite private university to relying on player development to compete in the ACC instead of repeatedly reloading with five-star prospects.

Duke was last out of 130 FBS teams in total defense (518 yards per game) and 127th in scoring defense (39.8 points).

But the defensive troubles were only part of what became a steep, and rapid, decline from the past two-plus seasons. That has returned Duke to the bottom of the ACC after Cutcliffe had transformed the program from one of the nation’s worst performers into a regular bowl contender and even an ACC division champion in 2013.

Duke won 77 games in Cutcliffe’s 14 seasons with six bowl appearances and three postseason wins, the program’s first since 1961. But the Blue Devils struggled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with Duke having lost 23 of 29 games – including 21 of 23 in the ACC – dating to midway through the 2019 season. That includes 13 straight in league play since beating Syracuse in October 2020.

Still, Elko will inherit a program with better infrastructure than when Cutcliffe arrived in December 2007. That includes renovations to Wallace Wade Stadium to remove the track and add the Blue Devil Tower of suites, meeting space and media areas, as well as the construction of an indoor practice facility.

This marks the second major hire for King in her first year as athletic director. Shortly after King’s predecessor Kevin White retired, Duke announced that Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski would retire after the 2021-22 season, with associate head coach and former Blue Devils player Jon Scheyer named his successor.

A native of South Brunswick, N.J., Elko graduated from Penn with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1999. As a safety, he helped the Quakers to the 1998 Ivy League crown.

Elko is married to the former Michelle Madison of Franklinville, N.J., and they are the parents of three children Michael, Andrew and Kaitlyn.

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