Mike Elko Isn't Exactly the Big Hire Texas A&M Was Aiming For

Duke v North Carolina
Duke v North Carolina / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

When Texas A&M spent $75 million to push Jimbo Fisher out on November 12, a lot of noise was made about the Aggies going big with their next hire. Several big-name coaches and a few rising up-and-comers were mentioned as candidates. Fast forward a few weeks and Texas A&M settled on ... Duke head coach Mike Elko? I'm sorry if I wasn't blown away by the hire.

To be clear, I'm not saying Elko is a bad coach. Heck, he might even be great at Texas A&M. He was the defensive coordinator under Fisher from 2018 to 2021 and did well there. He was excellent as Notre Dame's DC in 2017 as well. He knows all the Texas recruiting connections from his time in College Station. But the 46-year-old has only been a head coach for two seasons and he didn't exactly set the world on fire.

Elko took the Duke job in December of 2021, he went 9-4 (5-3 in conference) in his first season and was named ACC Coach of the Year. But Duke didn't beat a single ranked team in that campaign and the Blue Devils lost to 5-7 Georgia Tech and 6-7 Kansas. Still, for a first season at a tough program to win at, Elko did a solid job.

This season, the Blue Devils went 7-5 (4-4 in conference). They beat then-No. 9 Clemson to start the season but the Tigers started 4-4 before figuring it out. Duke also lost to 3-9 Virginia. It is true they lost quarterback Riley Leonard to injury for the final three weeks (they went 1-2). All-in-all, Elko's Duke teams went 16-9 (9-7 in conference) and finished 1-4 against top 25 teams. I'm super impressed here.

When the Fisher was fired, the targets listed included Oregon's Dan Lanning, Washington's Kalen DeBoer, Arizona's Jedd Fisch, Kansas' Lance Leipold, Oregon State's Jonathan Smith and Florida State's Mike Norvell. Heck, Dabo Swinney's name was even thrown around. Instead, the hire came down to a battle between Elko and Kentucky's Mike Stoops. That's quite the comedown.

Again, Elko is an excellent defensive mind and did a solid job at Duke. But given the money flowing through Texas A&M's football program this isn't exactly a splash hire. It's hard to see him going toe-to-toe with the SEC's best coaches. Then again, the Aggies tried to do the splashy thing with Jimbo Fisher and that was a massive -- and expensive -- bust. Maybe getting a "solid" hire was the way to go.