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Elko’s Replacement: Who Is Nina King Looking At?

The good news is there are a lot of promising candidates

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Duke at Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 18: Duke Blue Devils wide receiver Jalon Calhoun (5) rushes up field attempting to elude Virginia Cavaliers linebacker Josh Ahern (33) during a college football game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers on November 18, 2023, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA.
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The search for Mike Elko’s replacement is well under way behind the scenes and the thing that strikes us immediately is the confidence Duke fans have in AD Nina King. We have yet to see a single negative comment and that’s highly unusual for someone in that position. You may remember that even Mike Krzyzewski, regarded by many as the GOAT, regularly got criticism for one thing and another, and by that we mean from Duke fans. So the confidence in A.D. King is really striking and heartening.

She has retained Parker Executive Search to streamline the process, which is probably a good move. We don’t know how Tom Butters managed to hire Coach K, Steve Spurrier and Gail Goestenkors without some outside help, but most people couldn’t do that.

Among the names we’ve seen mentioned so far:

  • Curt Cignetti, James Madison
  • Charles Huff, Marshall
  • Manny Diaz, Penn State defensive coordinator
  • Jim Knowles, Ohio State defensive coordinator
  • Alex Atkins, Florida State offensive coordinator
  • Steve Spurrier, Jr, Tulsa offensive coordinator

In one way, we’d really like to see a young hire, because a job like Duke’s takes a high level of energy to succeed. The problem is that a young coach, like Elko, may see Duke as a stepping stone. Still, there’s a strong argument for youth, which might favor Huff (40). Spurrier is relatively young at 52 and of course he’d have a great advisor in his dad should he choose to ask. And realistically it’s not like Duke is going to get Nick Saban (we hear Jimbo Fisher is available though).

Duke’s fishing grounds are rising head coaches and promising assistants.

Diaz is 49 and was the head man at Miami. That didn't work out, but he’s a superb defensive coach and he certainly knows the ACC.

The thing about any head coach in any sport but especially football is how they handle the whole enterprise. A successful head coach needs to have a vision, the ability to communicate and inspire, the ability to find talented staff and the courage to delegate and trust.

And, not least of all, to have solid character and very high-end organizational skills. You can have some flakes in basketball. There are only 13-15 guys to deal with and the history of the sport is rife with eccentrics. Think of Al McGuire, Bobby Cremins, Jim Valvano, Abe Lemon and Benny Dees.

Football doesn’t do that as well. So whoever Duke hires, however splashy it might be, if you can’t organize, delegate, inspire and set a direction, it won’t work.

This is just a speculative list obviously since King and Parker aren’t going to tell people who they’re considering. But it’s a pretty good starting point.