Aggies bring back former defensive boss after successful run leading Duke

Texas A&M has hired Duke’s Mike Elko as its next football coach, the school announced on Monday. The former Aggies defensive coordinator emerged as the top choice, sources told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, one day after a pending deal between Texas A&M and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops reportedly fell apart.

“Coach Mike Elko is one of the best leaders and coaches in college football and has had high-level success at each stop of his career,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said. “He is known amongst coaching circles as one of the best defensive minds in the country and has shown his ability to lead and turn around a program as a Power 5 head coach.”

Elko, 46, quickly became a favorite among Texas A&M faithful after a highly successful run with the Aggies as defensive coordinator under former coach Jimbo Fisher. He came to Texas A&M after successful stints at Wake Forest and Notre Dame as part of Fisher’s initial staff in 2018. Under his watch, the Aggies defense ranked among the best units in the country, especially against the run.

During his tenure as defensive coordinator, Texas A&M went 34-14, capped by a 9-1 Orange Bowl campaign in 2020. The Aggies also began their run recruiting at an elite level, during which they were especially effective when it came to locking down standout prospects on the defensive side of the ball.

The longtime defensive coordinator left to take over at Duke in 2022. In his first season, Elko led the Blue Devils to an impressive 9-4 campaign, its best mark since 2014. He followed it up with a 7-5 record in 2023 despite dealing with major issues at the quarterback position.

After Elko left Texas A&M, the Aggies went just 12-12 over the next two seasons. Fisher was fired just 10 games into his sixth season earlier this month. Elko is now tasked with guiding Texas A&M back to SEC contention as the league prepares to add Texas and Oklahoma in the 2024 season.

Texas A&M interim coach Elijah Robinson, who was hired away from Baylor as part of Elko’s first defensive staff with the Aggies, is expected to stay on Elko’s staff. Several players had publicly expressed support for Robinson to receive the full-time job.

Maintaining the roster
Texas A&M recruited at an elite level over the past several years, reaching No. 4 in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite. Hiring Elko and retaining Robinson is a direct attempt to try and keep together one of the most talented rosters in Texas A&M history.

Star wide receiver Evan Stewart, a former five-star recruit, did not travel with the team to play against LSU. Fellow wide receiver Raymond Cottrell officially entered the portal and is rated the No. 3 overall player. More players could be on their way to the portal if things aren’t handled right. Elko is the safest option to salvage this talent and field a strong team in 2024 as he begins his quest of guiding the Aggies to prominence in an expanded SEC.

Leaning on substance
Texas A&M was linked with numerous high-profile candidates over the course of the search but ultimately decided to lean with familiarity over flash. The good news? Texas A&M has found success in the past with a similar plan.

After Jackie Sherrill resigned in 1988, the Aggies promoted legendary defensive coordinator R.C. Slocum to the top position. He went on to become the most successful coach in modern program history. His 72.2% winning percentage ranks as the best since Dana X. Bible in 1928 as Slocum won four conference championships in 14 years. The Aggies have not won a conference crown since.

Key assistants
One of the greatest stumbling blocks for a defensive coordinator becoming a head coach is overlooking the offense. Elko quickly dismissed that concern, hiring well-regarded offensive coordinator Kevin Johns from Memphis to run his offense at Duke. Despite playing a backup quarterback for half the season, the Blue Devils averaged nearly 28 points per game.

Elko will have an open checkbook to put together his staff, especially considering that he should come at a relative bargain. According to tax documents, Elko made just $3.5 million after signing a contract extension through 2029 at Duke. The Aggies can double his salary and still identify the top choices on the market.

A handful of former Texas A&M assistants followed Elko to Duke, including defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci and cornerbacks coach Ishmael Aristide. Elko will have to weigh bringing the band back together vs. looking forward with proven SEC pros on his first staff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *