DURHAM — 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.
The school announced Elko’s hiring Friday night, ending a nearly two-week process to hire the replacement for David Cutcliffe. The school announced Nov. 28 that Cutcliffe wouldn’t return after the first winless league mark of his 14 seasons. Yahoo Sports first reported that Duke had reached an agreement with Elko.
Elko, 44, has spent the past four seasons as defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Texas A&M, but he has also worked as a coordinator at Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Bowling Green in the past decade. This will be his first college head-coaching job.
In a statement, athletic director Nina King said Elko possesses “an innovative football mind and a natural ability to connect with both players and coaches around him.”
“The university has excelled in everything they’ve ever tried to do, whether that’d be in academics or athletics,” Elko said in a statement. “I’m excited to get to work.”
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.
Wake Forest, led by coach Dave Clawson, won the league’s Atlantic Division and played in last weekend’s ACC championship game.
Elko led this year’s Aggies to rank third in the FBS in scoring defense (15.9 points per game) and No. 20 in total defense (327.5 yards). 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.
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.
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