With former head coach Mike Elko’s time at Duke officially over, let’s walk back through what happened while he was here — a very eventful 716 days full of triumphs, heartbreak and plenty of milestones.
Dec. 10, 2021
Twelve days after Duke football and athletic director Nina King officially parted ways with former head coach David Cutcliffe, King announced the hiring of then-Texas A&M defensive coordinator Elko to fill the vacancy.
"I believe that now is the time for Duke football,” Elko said at his inaugural press conference in Durham. He set about crafting his first roster.
April 16, 2022
The Blue Devil faithful got their first glimpse of an Elko-led Duke team in the spring Blue & White game — a game where then-freshman quarterback Riley Leonard impressed with 246 yards in the air.
Sept. 17, 2022
Three games, three wins. Elko had his Blue Devils in the win column — the first program head coach since Fred Goldsmith in 1994 to take his first three contests. The 49-20 bludgeoning of North Carolina A&T was Duke’s biggest offensive output since its final win under Cutcliffe, a 52-32 home defeat of Kansas nearly a year before.
Oct. 1, 2022
After 13 consecutive conference losses, Elko broke the streak on his very first attempt. Duke defeated Virginia in dominant fashion.
"We're not going to be a highs and lows type of program," he said after the game.
The Blue Devils took it 38-17 in a momentum-shifting 60 minutes of play.
“The expectations around here are changing,” Elko said.
Oct. 15, 2022
In a sold-out Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke gave Drake Maye and North Carolina a run for its money. It was a back-and-forth battle and it looked like the underdog home team was going to come away with the Victory Bell. But with 16 seconds left, Maye did what Maye does, finding Antoine Green for the go-ahead touchdown, sealing the 38-35 Tar Heel victory.
“We have to stop questioning whether this team is going to respond,” Elko said after the game. “This team is going to fight, they’re going to fight for four quarters, they continue to show it every single week. And so we went through a stretch where we didn’t play real well on offense, we didn’t play real well on defense, but nobody blinks.”
Nov. 4, 2022
On a Friday night in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Duke became bowl-eligible for the first time since the Daniel Jones era of 2018. The Blue Devils defeated the Eagles in a 38-31 barnburner, rushing for 232 yards.
"It's a monumental night because it symbolizes where we've come from," Elko said after the game. "... Obviously it's the first step in a successful season as an ACC program is becoming eligible."
Dec. 1, 2022
Elko was rewarded for his eight-win regular season and remarkable program turnaround, being named ACC Football Coach of the Year. His 5-3 conference record was the program’s best since 2014. Elko dominated the vote, taking 44 of the 65 total ballots.
Dec. 28, 2022
The dream ending to a dreamlike season. Elko capped off his inaugural year with a lopsided 30-13 victory against UCF in the Military Bowl. The defense forced two turnovers, emblematic of its head coach’s driving philosophy and emphasis on the turnover margin.
July 24, 2023
Following his overwhelming success in his first year, Elko signed a massive contract extension, agreeing to stay in Durham through the 2029 season. The move included escalating pay scales and additional resources for his staff.
“Coach Elko's vision acutely aligns with the principles of the university, and I could not be more excited to have him guide Duke football well into the future,” King said in the team release.
Sept. 4, 2023
The Blue Devils entered the 2023 season with high expectations and higher hopes. Those were realized in Week 1, when then-No. 9 Clemson came to Wallace Wade. Duke dominated. In front of a packed student section, the Blue Devils took down their first top-10 opponent since 1989. The ‘Wade Wackos’ rushed the field, and Duke jumped to No. 21 in the AP Poll. In an instant, its sights were set on Charlotte and the ACC title.
Sept. 30, 2023
Then-No. 11 Notre Dame arrived for the second top-15 game in Durham of the season. With the Fighting Irish came ESPN’s College GameDay, setting up shop in front of the chapel for the first time ever. Blue Devil fans camped out for a front-row view of the broadcast. Wallace Wade — including the student section — sold out. It went down to the wire, and Duke led into the final minute. But a Notre Dame fourth-and-16 conversion and subsequent touchdown put the Blue Devils back on their heels. The last-ditch effort was ruined by a strip sack of Leonard. The junior sprained his ankle on the play, and the undefeated bid ended.
Nov. 3, 2023
With his freshman third-string quarterback, Elko engineered a gritty Thursday night win against Wake Forest, capped off with a Todd Pelino game-winning field goal to end it in regulation. The win was No. 6, making Elko the first head coach in program history to be bowl-eligible in each of his first two seasons.
Nov. 11, 2023
A chance for redemption. Freshman quarterback Grayson Loftis against a top NFL prospect in Maye. Elko’s second Victory Bell showdown was in Chapel Hill, and even with a depleted cast, the head coach kept it interesting. Duke had scoreless first and third quarters, but dominated the second and fourth (17 points in the second, 22 points in the fourth) to keep up with North Carolina. The Blue Devils took a three-point lead with 41 seconds remaining in regulation. That was more than enough for Maye to get his team into field goal range. The game went to double overtime, with the Tar Heels taking it 47-45 after Duke failed its final 2-point conversion.
“I'm very committed to this place…” Elko said at his weekly media availability following the loss to North Carolina. “We love to love everything that this place is for.”
Nov. 25, 2023
In the last game of the 2023 campaign, the Blue Devils defeated Pittsburgh on Senior Day. Duke had 39 players walk in the Senior Day celebration. The 7-5 record, while underwhelming given the early season expectations, kept the team above .500 and would have been nearly unthinkable two years prior.
Nov. 26, 2023
Former Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher was fired on Nov. 12. After two weeks of rumors, the news broke on X that the Aggies had offered Elko the position, and he had accepted. He flew to College Station, Texas, that night, with each program releasing official statements and holding their respective press conferences Monday.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.