In former Duke coach Mike Elko, Texas A&M made a hire that checks three important boxes:
Familiarity with the program. Elko was the defensive coordinator for the school’s best seasons under former coach Jimbo Fisher, including a 9-1 finish during the COVID-shortened 2020 season that saw the Aggies narrowly miss an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Power Five experience. Elko won nine games in his first season at Duke and had this year’s team in the Top 25 before injuries took their toll in the second half. The only other Duke coach in the modern era to spend less than four years with the program was Steve Spurrier, who led the Blue Devils for three seasons before being hired at Florida.
A defensive focus. Elko’s working-class approach contrasts with that of his four immediate predecessors at A&M. Failed hires Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, Kevin Sumlin and Jimbo Fisher brought their offensive backgrounds to College Station.
Given the roster in place and resources available, Elko has the chance to make an equally quick turnaround and return the Aggies to contention in the obscenely deep SEC.
Here’s what the new hire means and what to expect:
A rental on a high floor
Elko represents a safe recruit, focused on content rather than style, even if he doesn’t have the same name value or national reputation as Oregon’s Dan Lanning, Washington’s Kalen DeBoer or even Mark Stoops of Kentucky, which seemed about to leave the Wildcats late Saturday night before deciding to stay in Lexington.
That’s not a bad thing: Jimbo Fisher brought a national championship and an ego the size of Texas to A&M, and we’re aware of how his inability to adapt and evolve contributed to one of the most disappointing coaching tenures in recent SEC history.
Elko will emphasize defense and player development as a starting point. As a coach, one thing you learn at Duke — or don’t learn, then lose a lot before getting fired — is that the little things matter. How you practice matters. How you develop your depth chart is important. There is so little room for error that success requires perfection, or something close to it.
In that sense, Elko’s experience at Duke should translate well to the new tools and resources he has at his disposal. Even though the program doesn’t offer recruiting classes as highly ranked as the ones Fisher brought to campus, the combination of the Aggies’ recruiting base and a deeper commitment to the details of winning football in make an extremely intriguing solution.
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Set realistic expectations
Athletic Director Ross Bjork has already stated this. A&M is not an eight-winner job and that the school will pay a coach a national championship salary.
In return, of course, the Aggies will expect a national championship.
Elko’s six-year contract calls for a base payment of $7 million per season with major incentives: $1 million for making the playoffs, $1.5 million for reaching the playoff quarterfinals to 12 teams or win the SEC championship, $2 million to reach the playoff semifinals. , $2.5 million for reaching the championship game and $3.5 million for winning the national championship.
Good luck with all that.
It’s not just that getting this program from the current eight-win level to the top of the Bowl Subdivision is unrealistic given how many teams the Aggies have. There’s also some history to consider: A&M has only one double-digit winning season since 1998, never finishing higher than second in the SEC West since joining the conference in 2012 and did not win a national title in 1939.
In reality, we should expect Elko to reach the eight-win threshold right off the bat. He should be expected to lead a team that competes with the best of the best in the SEC, doesn’t fail in marquee games, avoids disappointments against inferior competition and, of course, beats the old and new conference rival Texas more often than not.
But all the chatter about championship or failure is nonsense that will only serve to diminish the achievements of the new staff and create an environment not conducive to long-term sustainable success.
What will Mike Elko expect from the offense?
His best hire at Duke was offensive coordinator Kevin Johns, an experienced signal caller who did his best last season with a group depleted by several costly injuries, including that of starting quarterback Riley Leonard.
Johns has extensive experience, including previous positions as a Power Five coordinator at Indiana and Texas Tech. This is an option to follow Elko to A&M.
But the checkbook is open. The fact that Elko can spend millions on his hires makes you wonder: will he stick to continuity and bring most of his offensive assistants with the Blue Devils or will he choose- to launch in a new direction?
If he puts this position on the open market, A&M will be on the list of every top offensive coordinator looking to add a few zeroes to his bank account as part of the freedom typically afforded by working under a coach -defense-focused leader.
An essential key: keep the list as intact as possible
The program’s player development was poor and player accountability even worse under Fisher, making it easy to identify these failures as two of the biggest keys to his failed tenure.
But let’s be clear: A&M does not have a talent problem.
There is no shortage of elite game-changing personnel on the Aggies roster. According to 247Sports.com’s team talent calculator, A&M has the fourth-most talent of any FBS program, behind Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State. (Those three are currently 34-2.)
Keeping this talent on campus will go a long way in determining whether or not Elko can hit the ground running.
In this case, the fact that Elko was on campus as recently as 2021 and is a known commodity to much of the roster — and even helped recruit a good number of returnees – should limit the exodus of talent and give him a very solid roster at his disposal next season.