COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M interim president Mark A. Welsch III began the welcome celebration of Mike Elko to Aggieland by admitting the quiet part out loud, “turns out, hiring a big-time college football coach is hard, and scary for the people organizing the search.”
The Aggies took a winding route to a straight-forward destination. Welsh addressed that, too, while introducing Elko to an excited crowd in Kyle Field’s Hall of Champions. Welsch said he learned four things during his first search for a major college football: You can’t make everyone happy. The rumor mill is stupendous. Facts are sometimes optional. And nothing is final until it is final.
News surfaced on social media late Saturday night that Kentucky’s Mark Stoops was believed to be the next head coach at Texas A&M. Those reports led to backlash from fans and players, and eventually to Stoops announcing on Twitter that he was staying at Kentucky. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork didn’t run away from questions about the process and what was important to the Aggie brass.
“The end result is what matters most,” Bjork said to the media following the public welcome. “We had a process that was very thorough. We talked to around 30 coaches in various degrees. The process was very fluid until the very end, and that’s why we had to get it right. I think the process yielded the right results.”
The first 18 hours of the Elko era prove one thing – he’s not Fisher. He arrived at 2 a.m. to little fanfare and was escorted away in a white Ford truck. Elko spent most of his public appearance on Monday thanking others for his success – his mentors, Duke, his former players, and most of all, his family. He choked up and teared up while thanking his wife, showing more emotion in his first 10 minutes in front of the 12th Man than Fisher did in six seasons in charge.
The reception was one of a hero’s return. Whoops and howdies filled the air, as did the Fighting Texas Aggie Marching Band. Even Reveille showed her approval with a bark five minutes before the program began. And no one left. They stood up and cheered as Elko walked to the podium. They stood up and cheered again when Bjork gave a public thank you to interim head coach Elijah Robinson, who will remain the acting head coach through the bowl game and Elko said was a “priority” to keep on his staff.
Elko checked every box that Bjork laid out when the job initially opened. The Aggies wanted their new R.C. Slocum, the program’s winningest coach who was also in attendance. Elko is the first defensive-minded coach hired by Texas A&M since they promoted Slocum from defensive coordinator to head coach in 1989. Elko spent two seasons apprenticing for this job as the head coach at Duke, but this felt like an inside hire. He said during his press conference that he knew around 50 players in his first team meeting.
When Elko was at Texas A&M from 2018 through 2021, he only spoke to the media once a year. He joked about that fact at the beginning of his press conference that the media finally had their chance to pepper away. The first press conference is always the easiest, but it was hard not to notice the comfortability Elko possessed as the leader of the program. He spoke like a football coach comfortable in his skin, and slow enough for the rest of us to understand.
Texas A&M was 34-12 in the four years Elko ran the defense. The Aggies were 12-12 in the two years he was at Duke. He was 16-9 in two seasons at Duke, including a nine-win season in 2022 and a season-opening win over Clemson in 2023. Welsh and Bjork said that when they looked around at the national championship coaches, most had some things in common – they were defensive-minded coaches who recruited NFL talent and had an explosive offense led by a talented quarterback. They feel Elko is the guy to deliver those goods.
“The best version of Texas A&M football wins the national championship,” Elko said. “There is no elevator. There is no button to push to reach the top. There are stairs you have to climb every single day.”
The stairs start in a three-pronged direction for Elko. He must first recruit his own roster and keep the fourth-most talented team in college football in one piece in the face of a transfer portal that opens Dec. 4. He must also keep and add to a potential top-10 recruiting class. And he needs to assemble a national championship level staff.
“We are going to be the premier football program in the country,” Elko told the crowd. “We’re no longer going to talk about it, we’re going to be about it.”
Elko signed a six-year contract with an annual base salary of $7 million with up to nearly $4 million in bonuses. His salary pool is $11 million.
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