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Defensive coordinator Robb Smith not returning to Duke football

Mike Elko was all smiles after closing his first year in Durham with a bowl victory, becoming the first Duke head coach to do so.
Mike Elko was all smiles after closing his first year in Durham with a bowl victory, becoming the first Duke head coach to do so.

Duke’s renaissance in 2022 can attribute much of its success to a revitalized defensive unit. As of Saturday morning, however, the captain of that ship will not be with the program this fall.

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith is not returning to head coach Mike Elko's staff for a second season, Elko announced Saturday morning via the team's social media. The news comes after Smith helped Duke to a 9-4 record and Military Bowl triumph in 2022, completing a remarkable turnaround from 2021’s 3-9 campaign. ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Smith's departure Saturday morning.

"Robb and I have talked about him wanting to get back home closer to his family in Minnesota," Elko's statement read. "In the end, this was just the right time for him. We appreciate Robb’s commitment to our program over the past season and wish him the best moving forward."

Smith’s defense held opponents to 22.1 points per game, good for sixth in the conference, and a turnover margin of +16, second nationally to Lincoln Riley’s improved USC. Both metrics are a monumental improvement on the year prior, during which the Blue Devils conceded 39.8 points per game and found themselves minus-seven in turnovers.

According to the same report, Duke is targeting Texas A&M co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tyler Santucci to assume the vacated role. Santucci worked with Elko during his time in College Station, Texas, where the Aggies finished 8-4 in 2021 and brought in the nation’s top recruiting class. Santucci also previously worked under Elko at Wake Forest and Notre Dame.

This article was updated Saturday morning after Elko's announcement of Smith's departure.


Andrew Long | Blue Zone editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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