Mike Elko, Potential Homerun DC, Interviewing with Notre Dame

Mike Elko's Wake Forest defense bottled up the Irish offense a year ago. (© Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports)
Mike Elko’s Wake Forest defense bottled up the Irish offense a year ago. (© Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports)

Monday wasn’t a great day of news for Notre Dame with Deshone Kizer leaving for the NFL and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford potentially leaving to be the head coach at Western Kentucky.  Notre Dame got one bit of good news today, however, with multiple reports of Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko interviewing with the Irish.

There haven’t been many names mentioned in connection with the open Notre Dame defensive coordinator position thus far.  Charlie Strong’s name was floated by bloggers such as myself, but it was more pipe dream than reality as Strong drew heavy interest for open head coach positions and was hired by South Florida last week.

Of the current defensive coordinators whose names have been mentioned on wish lists though, Mike Elko’s name has been near the top.   In his third season at Wake Forest, Elko has turned the Demon Deacons into one of the best defenses in college football.  This past season Wake ranked 20th in points allowed, 12th in sacks, and 10th in turnovers.

After watching Brian Vangorder’s defenses fail to generate any semblance of a pass rush and struggle to generate turnovers, those statistics should have any Notre Dame fan excited about the possibility.  Simply put, Mike Elko would be a home run of a hire.

Elko’s Defense Give Up Yards, Not Points

Much like Bob Diaco’s defenses, at Notre Dame, Elko’s unit at Wake Forest this year gave up some yards, but they kept the points down.  Wake Forest allowed 370.1 yards a game this fall to Notre Dame’s 378.8.  Wake gave up six fewer points a game (21.8 vs. 27.8), sacked the opposing QB 23 more times (37 vs. 14), and generated 11 more turnovers (25 vs 14).

Elko’s defense was able to do all of that was substantially less talent that what Notre Dame had to work with.

This year wasn’t a one hit wonder for Elko at Wake Forest either.  In 2014, Jimbo Fisher called the Wake Forest defense the best his defending national champion Seminoles faced.   Here’s what he had to say about the Demon Deacon defense that day after they gave Jameis Winston a tough time.

“Wake is the best defense we’ve played. Wake is very good on defense. And they have probably the best set of corners we’ve faced. Other teams have been more talented. Wake was very talented in the secondary, brought multiple blitzes, multiple looks. They’ve got a corner, probably one of the top seniors in the Southeast, their boundary corner, probably the top senior corner in the Southeast. One had 35 starts, one had 33. The other field corner is a very good player.

Elko’s Defense Have Been Turnover Machines

Forcing turnovers isn’t new for Mike Elko led defenses either.  Prior to being hired by Wake Forest, Elko served as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green for five seasons during which his defenses averaged 1.7 turnovers a game.  Elko followed Dave Clawson to Wake Forest in 2014 when Clawson got the head coaching job at Wake.

Notre Dame fans also should still vividly remember the egg the Notre Dame offense laid last year one senior day when Wake Forest came to town.  Deshone Kizer completed 13 of 19 passes that afternoon for just 111 yards and no touchdowns.  Josh Adams did have his 98 touchdown run that afternoon, but the uneven performance started the narrative that Oklahoma should pass the Irish in the CFP rankings at the time.

Elko’s defense was also able to bottle up one of Notre Dame’s most dynamic wide receivers ever to suit up for the Irish – Will Fuller.  The future first round draft picked hauled in just 3 passes for 37 yards .

Elko is the first name to officially be linked to the open position at Notre Dame.  Brian Kelly is expected to give internal candidates such as Mike Elston and interim Greg Hudson a chance to fill the role as well.

Outside of landing someone like Strong or Dave Aranda – who was also never a real possibility – Elko would be a no-brainer, home run hire for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly.  Notre Dame needs to make this happen.

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  1. “After watching Brian Vangorder’s defenses fail to generate any semblance of a pass rush and struggle to generate turnovers, those statistics should have any Notre Dame fan excited about the possibility.  Simply put, Mike Elko would be a home run of a hire.”

    Brian VanGorder is a great coach by any standard.

    Question to prove my above statement valid if not a exacting-point:
    What statistics disprove my above statement regarding ND’s defense & BVG the coach? The ND defense as a group clearly as weak or worse spotty. I seem to remember after BVG’s sudden termination, a pathetic D particularly special teams tackling, coverage, pass coverage and consistent focus by the defensive squad.

    1. ND’s defense was ranked 110 with BVG. ND’s defense moved up in rank IMMEDIATELY after BVG got canned and finished ranked 45. Now he’s an ANALYST on a 7-5 Georgia team. Or maybe they’re calling him a “consultant” now. Either way, he not “a great coach by any standard.” You’re a joke, grandpa. Please stop posting here.

  2. To many people that have never coached and probably never played anything other than the bench in some cellar dweller high school are running their mouths on here. Go back to your fantasy football leagues. There is no head coach above Kelly’s caliber thats ever going to go to Notre Dame. Kelly at Bama and their zero rules or regulations, never loses a game. Some of you would cut off your nose to spite your face.

    1. Like Ray, agree completely. Forget the fact that I’m a Bostonian (suburb) and BK’s a virtual bostonian. Film coming out today (in Boston) “Patriots Day” illustrates the bond we Bostonians share. That aside, BK is far-and-away the best coach Notre Dame could hope for right now. Best coach in America? Likely not. Best coach for NotAdame? (as we Bostonians say it) Absolutely. Idiots who call for his firing should just accept that he’s coach of NotAdame. Accept his strategy with NotAdame standards. And, as my mom used to tell me, “LEARN TO LIKE IT.”

      1. I’m sure if Charlie Weis had been a Bostonian “HURLS” would still be on here supporting him, regardless of his record and coaching mediocrity.

        BK is a fraud! He’s not anywhere near what should be the ND gold standard for a HC. Of course, given the exceedingly low standards espoused ad nauseum by “HURLS,” no doubt BK meets and exceeds them. That’s not saying a whole hell of a lot, however.

        Once more, “HURLS,” I’d be very careful calling anyone on here an idiot given your penchant for idiotic commentary!

      2. @SteelFanRob – A Weis-Kelly comparison is dumb. Yes, I’m a homer. Yes, BOSTON ROCKS! But no, BK is not a Trump-tard fraud. Hurling invectives (apt choice of terminology) at BK is mental-masturbation. Useless. G’day.

      3. Mrs. Hilary “HURLS,”

        The comparison is apt in that both came to ND with a lot of bravado and have proven to be mediocre coaches in S. Bend. Even if we keep the 2012 season, which as of now officially never happened, that was merely an anomaly, “HURLS.”

        Let me reiterate, BK is a fraud. He’s a college Pop-Warner-level coach, that’s all. ND is too big for him, as it was for Weis.

        Now, as for your Trump allusion, well, watch out. Shaz will no doubt call you out as a Hilary lover. Then again, perhaps not. He’d rather accuse me of being a Hilary supporter without proof but will sidestep your repeated anti-Trump comments because he’s a loser who agrees with losers about the loser coaching at ND!

      4. @ Hurls…was your mom talking about your face, or your pea sized brain??

        Please, please coax NE to offer BK something, anything just to get him the hell outta here.

  3. I am seeing Wake Forest with the 66th toughest schedule in 2016, which includes games against Tulane, Delaware, Syracuse, Army (loss), and Boston College (loss). But hey, at least they beat Duke. ND, on the other hand ranked 37th for strength of schedule. I am sure the fact that Elko is very experienced working at other schools that also de-emphasize football is a big factor in his consideration as DC. He understands AD’s like Jack who feel that winning is secondary to enthusiasm and a willingness to practice.

    1. You forgot to mention that WF also is 60th in recruiting rankings. What does this tell me, WF (a Power 5 Conference School) took that 66th ranked schedule with average recruits to a bowl game this year. They held FSU to 17 points and played this years Heisman Winner and another QB who was a two year Heisman finalist. Defense Pt/game rankings 21st in nation, 39th in the nation in defensive yards/game. Don’t forget that WF is not a good offensive team. Ranking 121st (out of 128) in Pts/game and 124th in yards/game. What does that mean? That defense was out on the field way more often then most teams and still finished in the top 25 in points allowed.

      Let’s also compare points given up to mutual opponents
      Duke – ND – 38, WF – 14 (WF played 2 weeks Prior)
      Syracuse – ND – 33, WF – 9 (Played within 1 week of each other, virtually the same team)
      NCS – ND – 10 (Hurricane Conditions), WF – 16 (Not Hurricane Conditions) (Played within 1 week of each other, virtually the same team)
      Army ND – 6, WF – 21
      PT Diff -27 to WF

      My Point is, Strength of Schedule means absolutely nothing unless you look at the results as well as the statistics. The numbers definitely show that WF defense if coupled with a stronger offense probably could have had a different year. Just the same as if NDs offense if coupled with a stronger defense would have had a completely different year. WF has had a stout defense the last two years (especially for a school that “de-emphasizes football”), and if ND can pull Elko away that would be a huge win for ND. Given Elko’s past success as DC in the FBS. Don’t believe me look at his past history.

      1. You obviously don’t have very high standards if your main argument for wanting Wake’s DC is due to your opinion that Wake’s defense was better than ND’s this year. Just FYI, ND lost 8 games this year including losses to Navy, Duke, MSU and Texas. So you’re little comparison there is completely irrelevant. And you better believe I am looking at the results. I see a .500 record against a bunch of sorry teams. You’re actually touting a 6-6 record in your argument, as well as a a trip to the Military Bowl where Wake is a 13 point underdog to Temple. And how many bowls are there now? Over 40? Wow. But you’re right, they only lost to a 3 loss FSU team by 11 points. Congrats.

      2. @ MRP…I think you made 3 points. Para #1…let’s keep looking for a DC replacement. Para #2…head to head, we found our man. Para #3…actually I don’t get that point. It’s kinda a little bit of #1 and #2.

        Here’s my stance…I want Kelly GONE. So bring in a new Kelly-hopeful DC, who will get ND 5 losses in a really soft 2017 schedule. Then sit back and watch the boosters do their thing.

      3. I can’t speak too much to Elko in particular since he’s not someone I’m familiar with (I honestly don’t know too much about other schools assistants unless they are a household name).

        I’d certainly be open to other DC’s who might be better and would be willing to come to ND under current circumstances. For example, most people would probably think Alabama’s DC coaches one of the best defenses out there, but there’s fat chance he’d leave Alabama for ND.

        Elko sounds like a guy that can bring improvement to ND. I know that’s not saying much in and of itself, but I don’t think you can just write off his success at Wake Forest just because it’s Wake Forest. Is there some reason people think he will stink it up at ND?

      4. George, we could go round and round on this. My point has been you are grossly underrating Elko based of Strength of Schedule as well as ignoring fact that they manage to make a bowl game with one of the worst offenses in the nation. If Notre Dame hires Elko and it turns out to be a bust, then it’s egg of my face. I’m very confident that he is a huge step in the right direction. His track record speaks for itself.

    2. @ George…I loved it. I agree …let’s keep looking…instead for a new HC and a new AD. Then the search for a DC will follow.

      1. Subway & George

        Unless BK has a “potential HR” year in 2017, he’ll be headed for some booth job as some offensive consultant for some very lacking offensive offense in the NFL in 2018. That isn’t going to happen for 2017. BK and Jack are back. To quote MLK, “How long? Not long!” In the meantime, Elko might be the best fit ND is going to get now- having coached at a school that has academic requirements, and shown good stats with talent less celebrated than ND. Plus, as an outsider, a different perspective might help.

  4. The sacks & turnovers sound great. Jimbos critique sounds great.

    However, 8 fewer yards allowed and 6 less points a game doesn’t exactly get me excited.

    Perhaps the althletic abilities at ND will allow for a greater result than the kids at Wake Forest.

    I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know who else to get. But I was really hoping to find a defense that looks a lot like Michigans.

    1. 6 less points a game would have resulted in at least an 8-4 season versus a 4-8 season. 3 other games were decided by 7-8 points. Who knows, a slightly better defense may have turned those three losses to a W as well. We could be talking about a new years bowl or the playoffs right now versus the future of the program and BK.

  5. I wouldn’t mind a bend but don’t break defense again, like we had under Diaco. It adds to the high blood pressure since you give up yards and you have to hope they hold up in the red zone, but it was successful at ND. I can’t comment too much on Elko because I haven’t followed his career, but I’ll trust Frank’s instincts. I definitely think BK needs to go outside the box. I certainly wouldn’t hire someone internally. I’ll give Hudson credit for at least making improvements in the defense that made them at least competent, but we need someone to come in to fix the defense today. Hudson seems like the type of guy that needs 2 or 3 years to really turn things around and time is a luxury right now.

      1. How about just dropping the phrase “home run hire” altogether. That’s just hyperbole, Frank V. Certainly this man doesn’t seem to warrant that grandiose epithet.

  6. I say give Mike a chance. We need new fresh ideas. A hungry, up and coming DC to prove Himself on the national stage.

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