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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Elko embraces hard work, high expectations in return to Aggieland

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Texas A&M Head Coach Mike Elko speaks to the media at the Kyle Field Hall of Champions on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

Mike Elko understands that building a championship-caliber football program is easier said than done.

But that’s not fazing Texas A&M’s newest coach, who received a warm welcome back to Aggieland with an introduction ceremony in Kyle Field’s Ford Hall of Champions on Monday, Nov. 27. The event featured plenty of pomp and circumstance, with the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, Reveille X and the Yell Leaders in attendance.

“My vision for this program is very simple,” Elko said alongside Interim President Mark A. Welsh III and athletic director Ross Bjork. “We are going to build the premier football program in the country. We are not going to talk about it anymore. We are going to be about it. We are going to chase excellence in every aspect of our life.”

Elko makes his way back to College Station after serving as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2021 under coach Jimbo Fisher. Defense was a staple of the teams that went 34-14 in that time, including the 2021 squad that had the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense.

Elko’s success as an assistant coach made him a hot commodity for a head coaching role, leading him to take over the Duke program in 2022. The Blue Devils went 16-9 under his watch, as Elko engineered a major program turnaround that earned him 2022 ACC Coach of the Year honors.

By many accounts, one could argue that Elko overachieved at Duke, a school that has long been more recognized for its basketball and academic prowess than success on the gridiron. He won’t have to overachieve at A&M, though, a program that has all the resources in place to compete for conference and national titles.

“The best version of Texas A&M football, our way, wins the national championship,” Elko said. “But we also embrace who we are right now and where we need to work and where we need to improve to get where we want to go.”

Based on Elko’s contract, it’s evident that Bjork and the university administration have similar faith in him to take the Aggies to the top of the college football scene. His six-year contract features a base salary of $7 million with a range of postseason incentives, from making the College Football Playoff to winning the National Championship.

Should A&M win the title, Elko is set to receive an additional $3.5 million. Other incentives include being named SEC Coach of the Year for $50,000 and appearing in the SEC Championship for $100,000. Making the Playoff will add an additional year to the contract as well.

“I think with the CFP [College Football Playoff] expanding to 12 teams and, again, given where we are, given our resources, given the commitment to football, that if we have the right coach and the right plan, that we should be in the hunt every year for those playoff spots,” Bjork said. “If you hire the right person and they believe in themselves and you have the resources like we have here, that contract should be what it’s all about.”

The Aggies’ new coach recognized that such success doesn’t come without hard work and dedication, which is a year-round commitment. Fantasizing about winning championships and actually doing it are two very different things.

“We can’t just say we want to be something,” Elko said. “We can’t just say we want to arrive somewhere. We’ve got to be committed to all the work that it’s going to take from today until we kick off next September of doing that … It’s easy to take pride in making big plays on Saturday in front of 110,000 people. Are we willing to do the things that we need to do when no one is looking so that we can have the results that we want come the fall?”

Elko’s hiring is unique, as he becomes A&M’s first head coach with a defensive background since 2002 when R.C. Slocum was fired after 14 seasons. The Aggies have cycled through four head coaches since, yet Slocum’s 1998 Big 12 championship remains the program’s last conference title.

Therefore, it was only fitting that Slocum, the school’s all-time winningest coach, was in attendance at Monday’s ceremony to greet Elko. The duo shares a similar coaching philosophy, as Slocum’s “Wrecking Crew” defenses overwhelmed opponents for four conference championships over eight seasons.

“I think if you look around at what has won national championships recently, I think there’s a couple things that stand out,” Elko said. “One, there’s a toughness that’s built within the program that obviously has to do with defense. I think every one of those teams at some point in the season has had to dig deep on defense and find a way to win a really important game. But, I think all of those teams have also been explosive on offense with really talented quarterback play. I think every single one of those teams has won a game, 38-35, 41-38.”

Bjork thanked Slocum for his assistance and insight during the coaching search while saying he spoke with at least 25 former A&M players as well, including the likes of linebacker Dat Nguyen, defensive back Ray Mickens and 2012 Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“They see the opportunity,” Bjork said. “They want to win championships. They want a tough-minded program … They want a program that they can say ‘This is what Aggie football is, an identity.’ They want a program that develops players each year. They want a program they can be proud of when they have that Aggie Ring and a program that embraces the Aggie traditions.”

Manziel, who led A&M to a 11-2 campaign in 2012, had a more descriptive vision for the program.

“Johnny Manziel is the one that said we need to be an intimidating bully,” Bjork said. “He actually had another adjective, but I can’t say that.”

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Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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