HILL: At what price loyalty

Duke head coach Mike Elko crosses his arms as he looks out to his team during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Virginia, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Mike Caudill)

Have you ever had anyone knock on your door and offer you $10 million to come work for them? $5 million? $1 million? $250,000?

What would you do if they did? Ask any question other than “what plane do you want me to catch and when can I start?”

Duke football coach Mike Elko abruptly left Durham for a guaranteed six-year contract at $7M/year with incentives which could boost his pay up to $10.5M depending on how far he takes Texas A&M in the playoffs. He was making $3.5M with the Blue Devils ― not an insignificant sum by any stretch ― a program he took from a brief downslide to the most wins in the first two years of any Duke football coach in history.

His success brought him the enormous Texas A&M contract. Had Elko led Duke to two 0-12 seasons, he surely would have been fired ― and no one would have blamed Duke University for doing so or questioned their “loyalty” to the fired coach.

At what price does loyalty figure in to anyone’s personal decision-making about their careers and ability to provide for their family? From either side, the employee or the administration?

Loyalty goes both ways, you know.

There may not be a single person who wouldn’t jump at the chance to double their salary right now with a six-year guaranteed, no-cut contract knowing they will be paid in full if things don’t work out and they get fired quickly. Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is probably paying more to his three fired coaches than he will pay the next coach he hires.

Coaching carousels bring into question the whole issue of loyalty, commitment and personal integrity. Generations are different ― the Greatest Generation who grew up in the Great Depression and fought in World War II generally abided by the “my handshake is my commitment” code of ethics and placed a high value on personal loyalty. During those tough economic times, a person’s personal integrity was all they had to rely and trade on, especially when it came to life-and-death decisions during the war.

Legendary Duke football coach Wallace Wade was one of those men of integrity. He came to Duke from Alabama in 1931 after leading the Crimson Tide to their first three national championships. He left Alabama because he wanted to be head football coach, athletic director and ― as hard as it to be believed today ― director of the men’s intramural program. He saw his role on the college campus as a “molder of men,” not solely as a coach of national championship teams.

Wallace Wade exemplified principle above all else when he volunteered to join the Army in 1942 ― at the age of 48. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge at age 52. He said his greatest regret was not being allowed to be in the first wave of liberators at Normandy during D-Day because of his age.

No modern-day coach comes to mind who has done anything close to his sacrifice and patriotism.

Wallace Wade was paid well as head football coach at Duke. There are only two other modern era coaches, both of whom were compensated well for their services, who come to mind who must have turned down millions of dollars to coach elsewhere in college or in the NBA ― UNC’s Dean Smith and Coach K at Duke. Both men saw themselves as teachers and mentors of young men first and basketball coaches second. Both stayed at their respective schools and became legends never to be forgotten in the college basketball world.

All three legendary coaches just had different goals in life than making the most money possible when it came to college athletics.

Mike Elko grew up in a trailer park in New Jersey. He was a good enough student to get a scholarship to go to the Ivy League where he played safety for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers. He succeeded because of merit and hard work ― which is how any American should choose to be evaluated.

After being an assistant coach over 22 years of moving and uprooting his family at nine different colleges, he brought his talents to Duke University in 2021. Duke gave him his first chance at being a head coach ― but does that mean Duke, the students and their fanbase had a claim on his services for the rest of his life?

Coach Elko won’t be a legend at Duke ― but maybe he will win a national title at Texas A&M and be able to put his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren through four years at Duke when tuition hits $1 million per year.

What is so wrong about that?