Bill Murray retired as Duke football coach following the 1965 season. Since then 10 men have helmed the Duke program. Only Steve Spurrier had a winning record at Duke.
Mike Elko will try to become the second.
Elko was introduced to the Duke football community Monday morning. He certainly said all the right things and made a positive impression. He’s coached at small, private schools before and he knows the challenges and the possibilities.
Elko says Duke is a special place with a chance to establish a special program.
AD Nina King introduced Elko and said the kind of things that one would expect an AD to say about any new coaching hire. But King did say that she consulted the current players and asked them what they wanted in their new coach.
“An innovative coach, with energy and enthusiasm, who was a proven winner and knew how to develop players.”
King said Elko checked all those boxes.
Elko has been mentioned as a potential head coach for some time.
Why now? Why Duke?
Citing Duke’s “vision of how academics and athletics could blend together on this campus,” Elko said this was the right time.
“I really look forward to rolling up my sleeves and elevating this program.”
Elko said the goal was to win championships. Those of us who were around 14 years ago remember David Cutcliffe making the same promises and Cutcliffe came pretty darn close before it all went sour in the last few years.
Elko used a few buzz words that may be illustrative. “Embrace the grind,” for example.
”Live in the now” was another.
But mostly he talked about Duke and its excellence in numerous endeavors.
“I believe that now is the time for Duke football. The Duke brand is nationally recognized as a brand of excellence. The combined accomplishments of this university, in academics and athletics is truly unparalleled. We have a world-renowned faculty. We have an amazing group of coaches that have achieved greatness in their fields. Now, it’s time for football to hold its end of the bargain and get on that level and elevate itself to being a national brand and a nationally-recognized program.”
Elko previously coached at Wake Forest. When he was asked about Wake Forest as an analog for Duke, he suggested Duke had greater resources and that Notre Dame, another stop, was a better analog due to its national reputation.
“I think we don’t want to sell ourselves short. We want to have the ability to be a developmental program and make kids the best they can become. But I also think we have a strong national brand. We want to beat down doors across this country to find elite-level athletes who want elite-level academics. They’re out there. They exist. We’ll strike a balance The difference between the two programs is that we have a national brand. We can go a lot of places across this country and sell Duke football. We’ve just got to roll up our sleeves and work.”
He added that Duke should be able to recruit with anyone.
He also added that recruiting will always start in North Carolina.
Elko said that he was working hard to hold together this year’s recruiting class. He said that he was putting together a staff but that getting it done right took precedence over getting it done quickly. He recognizes the value of the transfer portal and the potential benefits of NIL but wants to go slowly on both.
“That starts with our own locker room. We’ve to build a culture and a family atmosphere in our locker room, that our kids understand that this is the only place they want to be.”
The transfer portal coming in?
“I think the transfer portal in college football today is a tool and you’d be naive not to use it in some way. We certainly don’t want to make a living there.”
“A touch thing, right now. It kind of got thrust upon us this fall. I don’t think anybody was really ready for it. But it’s certainly an opportunity for things out there that we’re going to have to take advantage of.”
Elko is a defensive specialist but says he’s always surprised by the idea that he doesn’t know or care anything about offense. He said that Duke will be more “pro-style,” multiple offenses, adapting to the talents of the players on hand.
Elko says he’s not waiting around.
“This all starts fresh, starting today,” Elko told his team. “We’re going to win with this group as fast as we possibly can. We don’t have a vision of a long-term rebuild. We have a vision of this team when it played in six bowl games in seven years.”
Starting fresh. Mike Elko and Duke football.