ChronSports Top 10 of 2023 — No. 7: Mike Elko leaves Duke football for Texas A&M, causing widespread fallout on transfers, coaches

Former head coach Mike Elko looks on from the sideline during Duke's loss to Virginia.
Former head coach Mike Elko looks on from the sideline during Duke's loss to Virginia.

As the bow gets tied on 2023, The Chronicle’s sports department is reviewing the biggest storylines in Duke athletics throughout the year. Each day until the calendar flips to January, we will cover two of the most significant moments in Blue Devil sports from 2023.

Coming in at No. 7: After two years at the helm and a notable shift in the tone surrounding Duke football, former head coach Mike Elko made the late-night switch to Texas A&M, causing a change in head coach, personnel and the vision for the program's future. For the full list, click here.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, Duke was riding a high: fresh off of a short-handed victory against Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils moved to 7-5 with just a bowl game remaining in head coach Mike Elko’s second season in blue. What the Blue Devil faithful did not realize, however, was that the good times would not keep rolling. 

Under 24 hours later, Elko made further national headlines, not for his coaching abilities nor Duke’s successes on the gridiron, but for his rumored coaching switch to Texas A&M. For the Duke community, mixed reports left fans and players on the edge of their seats

Nevertheless, as Duke students closed textbooks and campus buses stopped running later that Sunday night, Elko boarded a private jet to College Station, Texas, to sign a contract with the Aggies.

Regardless of the exit, Elko will be known as a culture-shifter for Duke football, and the results speak for themselves. Prior to Elko’s arrival in 2021, Duke mustered just three wins, none of which were in the ACC. Turning around the program, Elko led the Blue Devils to a 9-4 record with a Military Bowl championship. Arguably, Elko’s most impressive victory came in 2023 as Duke topped then-No. 9 Clemson in Wallace Wade Stadium. 

Importantly, the student body rallied around Elko off the field, perhaps leading to ESPN College GameDay’s first appearance in Durham for a marquee football matchup against Notre Dame after a 4-0 start. 

The fallout of Elko’s departure, though, was vast — a plethora of transfers in and out of the program, including a former ACC head coach joining the Blue Devils to replace Elko in Manny Diaz

Diaz joined Duke following a short stint at Penn State as defensive coordinator of the Nittany Lions. Prior, Diaz served as head coach at Miami for three years, his only head coaching role in his college football tenure. Diaz led Penn State to a dominant defensive year in 2023, leading the nation in opponent yards per play and finishing third in the country by allowing 11.4 points per game. 

Throughout and after athletic director Nina King’s search for a head coach, current Duke players and verbally committed recruits were deciding their fates as well. Notably, starting quarterback Riley Leonard and defensive end R.J. Oben announced their commitments to Notre Dame, defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles signed with Virginia Tech, running back Jordan Waters announced his transition to N.C. State and linebacker Dorian Mausi made his switch to Auburn.

Leonard was not the sole signal-caller to announce his intentions elsewhere as four-star recruit Tyler Cherry decommitted following the coaching change, leaving the Blue Devils with a sizable hole for the future of the position.

Luckily for Duke, Diaz answered the mass exodus of transfers out of the program with a four-star transfer quarterback of his own: Maalik Murphy of Texas

Murphy, in his sole season with the Longhorns, sat in a loaded quarterback room filled with high-echelon talent at the position. Nevertheless, he started and delivered victories for Texas in two games this season, passing for a cumulative 418 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Regardless of prior statistics, Diaz found his starter at the quarterback position just weeks after taking over the Duke job, a promising glance into his recruitment talent. 

There’s no doubt about it: December was a busy month for Duke that will hold lasting implications for the future of the program. 

Through the noise, the Blue Devils delivered in the Birmingham Bowl, defeating Troy 17-10 behind a dominant defensive performance. Notably, Duke defied prior customs and started some of its transfers, including Peebles. Assistant coach Trooper Taylor said it best in a postgame interview. 

“We talk about family,” he said. “Blood just makes you kin … love, trust, respect, commitment, hard work, that makes you family.”

Although it is rumored that Taylor will head to College Station to join Elko, Diaz will surely look to Taylor’s principle of family as he looks to continue Duke’s upward trajectory. 

Until then, the new year will surely bring more change to the Blue Devil program as Diaz looks to fill Elko’s shoes as a program-defining head coach.

Read more:

Head coach Mike Elko leaves Duke football for head coaching job at Texas A&M

After Leonard, Elko's departures, Duke football fans express range of emotions for program's present and future

How Duke football players reacted on social media to Mike Elko's late-night departure for Texas A&M

Live tracker: Assessing the fallout of Elko's departure from Duke football on transfers, recruits, coaching staff

Analyzing the numbers behind Mike Elko's tenure as Duke football head coach — and whether they will stick

Timeline: A retrospective on the major dates, games and moments of Mike Elko's era of Duke football

Manny Diaz hired as next Duke football head coach

'Just something about Duke': New head football coach Manny Diaz outlines vision at introductory press conference

FALL OF TROY: Duke football closes book on 2023 season with dominant Birmingham Bowl win against Troy


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