“Now is the time for Duke football.”
With those seven words, the Mike Elko era kicked off in earnest Monday morning. Elko, who replaces longtime sheriff David Cutcliffe, was introduced as the 22nd head coach in Blue Devil history to an assembled group of players, fans, University officials and media members inside Pascal Field House.
Elko touched on many topics during his remarks and in response to questions from the media, but here are the main takeaways from the festivities.
'We need your support'
Elko’s press conference began in modest fashion, as the 44-year-old thanked those in his life who have helped him get to this point. That included his wife and three kids, his former players and the coaches he has served with over the years—particularly Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson, LSU head coach Brian Kelly and Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher.
But then, it was time to lay out his plan for Duke, starting with an impassioned directive for everyone with a semblance of connection to the program.
It started with the Durham community.
“Bull City, we are your team,” Elko said. “We need your support of this great program for us to achieve the things that we want to achieve.”
Creating a vibrant home field advantage in Wallace Wade Stadium was a struggle throughout the latter stages of Cutcliffe’s tenure, despite multiple seismic home victories during a run of four straight bowl appearances and a Coastal division title starting in 2012. Elko, citing the support that has been shown for the men’s basketball program, believes that has the possibility of changing.
“To the student body, I have been amazed at what you can do from a school spirit standpoint from afar for a long time,” Elko said. “What you do in Cameron Indoor as the Cameron Crazies is amazing. We need that same energy and passion on Saturday’s in the fall at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"There’s nothing better for a young football player to run out of the tunnel in front of a rowdy student section and a packed house, and get ready to play the game that they love to play.”
With Duke mustering just four wins in conference play over the last three seasons, Elko has his work cut out for him over the coming months and years if he is to build a winning organization. But if the buy-in is there from the outside, that process will feature broad support.
‘We will win championships’
Since 1960, Duke has captured just three conference championships and has only reached one major bowl game. That did not dissuade Elko from setting the bar high Monday, with a statement that reverberated throughout the room.
“We will win championships, on the field, in the fall. I want to make sure we say that again. We will win championships, on the field, in the fall,” Elko said on his aspirations for the program.
Those lofty predictions aside, though, championships will not come to fruition without the development of a stable culture. A culture that will apply not only to the gridiron, but to every aspect of every player that wears the blue and white.
“We will be competitive in the classroom, we will graduate our student-athletes,” Elko said. “We will be a lifelong partner with them in whatever future endeavors they choose to pursue, whether it be in the NFL or in the workplace.”
In today's era of college football, programs that utilize the transfer portal and recent NIL legislation can speed up these sorts of transitions. Elko mentioned both as tools that the Blue Devils can use, but the true focus of his time at the podium was the culture he plans on implementing. A culture he believes will lead to trophies.
A wise man once said, "It's not the X's and the O's but the Jimmys and the Joes."
No matter where they reside, the primary goal of every coach in this business is to identify and acquire the best talent out there. While Duke is not some sort of five-star pipeline, the principle still holds. To compete in the ACC, building depth at every position is an essential quest.
For Elko and his yet to be finalized coaching staff, that quest starts in Duke’s backyard. North Carolina harbors no shortage of elite prospects, and Elko has high school recruits within the nearby radius at the top of mind.
“Everything we do [in] recruiting has gotta start inside-out. We’re gonna make sure we scout the great state of North Carolina, find every kid that we think matches our program’s goals,” Elko said.
It will not stop there, however. Elko referenced the Duke “brand” throughout the morning, and pledged to use that brand as a tool to bring in talent from around the country.
“I think we can expand to a lot of places across this country to find football players that want to be great in everything they do. They’re out there. I’ve done it nationally, I’ve done it in a lot of different places, we’ve just gotta roll up our sleeves and work,” Elko mentioned.
With Early National Signing Day just two days away, the task of locking down a 2022 class, one that currently ranks seventh in the conference and is made up of 17 commits, will put Elko’s recruiting touch to the test.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.