As 2021 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.
Coming in at No. 3: Duke football enters the Mike Elko era after parting ways with David Cutcliffe. For the full list, click here.
David Cutcliffe transformed Duke football over the first half of his tenure in Durham. Between 2012 and 2018 he led the Blue Devils to six bowl appearances in seven years, a stretch that also included an ACC Championship Game appearance in 2013 and the program’s first bowl win since 1960 in 2015.
But all (or at least most) successful runs come to an end eventually, and over the past three years Cutcliffe’s earlier success at Duke had become a distant memory. The Blue Devils have gone 4-22 in the ACC since 2019, with their 0-8 conference record this past season (the program’s first winless season in the ACC since 2006) proving to be the dagger. On Nov. 28, just a day after the team’s 47-10 loss to Miami in the regular-season finale, Duke announced that it had mutually parted ways with Cutcliffe.
It wasn’t initially clear who the program would turn to for the next era of Duke football. But within the following week several names emerged as candidates, including Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko and even former New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. And after Elliott took the vacant head coaching position at Virginia, the Blue Devils pounced on the opportunity to snag Elko, officially hiring him as Duke football’s next head coach Dec. 10.
Elko comes to Durham with 18 years of experience as a defensive coordinator, including the past four seasons at Texas A&M, one with Notre Dame and 12 with head coach Dave Clawson by his side at Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green and Wake Forest. He’s been a coach in various roles since 1999, a year removed from a four-year career as a safety at Pennsylvania.
The New Jersey native touched on a variety of topics throughout his introductory press conference Dec. 13, including the need for support from the student body, his ambition to bring championships back to Durham and his goals on the recruiting trail. The latter served as the most immediate concern for Elko, with his hiring coming just five days before National Signing Day. In the end, though, he was able to retain every player from Cutcliffe’s 2022 recruiting class, which ranks 53rd in the country and ninth in the ACC.
It’ll likely take some time before Duke is able to become a true contender in the ACC. However, Elko’s confidence throughout his first several weeks on the job seems to have sparked a newfound energy throughout the program that eventually Duke football can reach the heights that Cutcliffe proved this program can reach.
READ MORE on Duke football’s coaching change:
Duke football bring on Lyle Hemphill as safeties coach, expected to hire Robb Smith as defensive coordinator
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