DURHAM — For the first time since Dec. 14, 2007, Duke introduced a new head football coach.
While 45 men have served as head coach of other ACC schools over that span, Mike Elko became just the second man at the helm of the Blue Devils. The former defensive coordinator for Wake Forest, Notre Dame and, most recently, Texas A&M was introduced in the Duke practice facility in front of a crowd of media, current and former players, and the Duke and Durham community on Monday morning.
“We got our guy,” said Duke director of athletics Nina King, “and I could not be more thrilled.”
Elko replaces David Cutcliffe, who was let go following the season. Cutcliffe inherited a program that was one of the worst in FBS and rebuilt Duke football, going to six bowl games in seven years and winning an ACC Coastal Division title.
Elko is hoping to take the program to even loftier heights.
“We will win championships on the field in the fall,” Elko told the crowd, to rousing applause. “I want to make sure I say that again — we will win championships on the field in the fall.”
Elko praised Duke’s brand and world-renown accomplishments in research as well as the success of the school’s sports teams, particularly basketball.
“Now it’s time for football to get on that level,” he said. “It’s time for football to hold its end of the bargain and elevate itself to being a national brand and a nationally recognized program.”
Elko summed up his coaching philosophy with five key components.
“We’re gonna have to learn to embrace the grind,” he said. “That is a word that gets thrown around by every student-athlete that I’ve ever played with or played or coached in my tenure. We’re gonna turn it into an acronym.”
The GRIND consists of Grit, Relentless effort, Integrity, living in the Now and being Dependable.
“The beauty of these five pillars is that they require zero talent,” he said. “There’s no level of excellence that you need in your athleticism, it’s simply a mindset. It’s a mindset that we have to change. It demands us to make a choice that we will not settle for anything else but excellence in anything we do. Once we truly understand that and truly embrace these five pillars, success will follow, and success will follow on the field.”
Elko promised the current players that he wasn’t working toward a long-term rebuild. He intended to win right away with the players currently on the roster. He also expressed confidence that the budget King and the Duke administration promised him would allow him to build a staff with salaries competitive in the ACC and nation.
Hiring a staff has taken a back seat in the early going, however, as Elko has worked to try to hold together the recruiting class Cutcliffe and his staff assembled. The early signing period begins on Wednesday.
“They’ve been through a tough two weeks trying to find out who they are going to send their son to play for, their son trying to figure out the man they are going to play for,” Elko said of the class of 2022 and their families. “So I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of days trying to make sure we get to Wednesday and get this class signed and part of this community.”
While Elko praised Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson — the man he coached under for a dozen years at four different schools — for helping him reach the heights he has, he said that he expected his experience at Notre Dame to be more relevant to what he hopes to do with the Blue Devils.
“I just think Duke means something,” he said. “Anywhere you go across this country, Duke means something, and it means an awful lot in terms of excellence. … I can get on the phone with any kid across this country. And I can talk to him and I can say, ‘What does Duke mean to you?’ And in about 30 seconds, I’ll figure out whether he’s the right fit for us. And if he’s the right fit for us, we can recruit him against any school in the country because there’s no school in the country that matches our balance of academics and athletics.”
Elko is a former quarterback but made his coaching reputation on the defensive side of the ball. That doesn’t mean, however, he wants to win grind-it-out, low-scoring affairs.
“We’re going to score points,” he promised. “For some reason, there appears to be this belief that defensive coaches don’t want to score points. So I’m going to make sure that’s clear. We’re going to run a multiple offense system that really allows us to utilize who we are.… I think our offensive philosophy is going to be very simple. We want to get (the ball) into the hands of our best playmakers as much as we can, and we want to allow them to be successful and make plays.”
Flanked by his wife and three children, Elko presented a high-energy, focused face of Duke football, the first new face the program has seen in 14 years.
“I believe that now is the time for Duke football,” the new coach concluded.