Another year, another new look for the Blue Devil defense.
Duke is bringing on former Texas A&M co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Tyler Santucci as its next defensive coordinator, the program announced Tuesday evening. Santucci, 34, assumes the role left vacant by Robb Smith after one turnaround season with head coach Mike Elko and the Blue Devils.
"I am excited to welcome Tyler, his wife Arielle, and their daughter Liana into our Duke football family," Elko said in a team release Tuesday. "I've known Tyler for quite a while and I'm confident he'll be a great fit for us here in Durham. His work ethic, leadership, passion and understanding of the sport made him an easy choice for this opportunity. I am eager to see our defense reach new heights under his direction."
Elko and Santucci have a shared coaching history dating back to 2014, when Santucci was a graduate assistant at Wake Forest with Elko as defensive coordinator. Santucci then served as a defensive analyst on Elko's defense at Notre Dame in 2017 before the two joined forces in 2021 for a second stint together in College Station, Texas, where Santucci coached linebackers with Elko as defensive coordinator until the latter was hired at Duke in December 2021. In their final year together at Texas A&M, the two guided a defense that was among the nation's best, fielding the third-best scoring defense in the country at 15.92 points per game.
Before first linking with Elko in nearby Winston-Salem, N.C., Santucci graduated from and began his coaching career at Stony Brook in 2010, where he played four years as a linebacker and earned Big South Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009. Today, he is a member of Big South All-Decade Team and the Stony Brook Hall of Fame.
In joining the Blue Devils, Santucci inherits an improved defense that helped Duke bounce back from a winless ACC slate in 2021 to claim a Military Bowl victory in 2022. The Blue Devils, led by junior captain and Second Team All-ACC selection DeWayne Carter, boasted the fifth-best scoring defense in the conference at 22-1 points per game and trailed only USC in turnover margin nationally. For reference, Duke allowed an ACC-worst 39.8 points per game in 2021.
"My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to join this prestigious university and football program here at Duke," Santucci said in Tuesday's release. "I would like to thank Coach Elko and Nina King for believing in me to lead and coordinate the defense. Coach Elko and staff have done a remarkable job over this past year of laying the foundation for the future of the Duke football program. I am looking forward to building and sustaining meaningful relationships with our student-athletes as we help them chase their dreams. My wife Arielle, daughter Liana, and myself could not be more excited to begin the next chapter of our lives in Bull City."
Duke announced Smith's departure from the program Saturday morning via social media, with Elko saying that Smith "[wanted] to get back home closer to his family in Minnesota." ESPN's Pete Thamel reported earlier Saturday that the Blue Devils were "targeting" Santucci for the vacant role.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.