Mike Elko is officially Notre Dame's defensive coordinator.
Notre Dame announced on Tuesday the hiring of Elko, who previously was Wake Forest's defensive coordinator from 2014-2016, as the program's permanent defensive coordinator. Elko takes over for Greg Hudson, who steered the Irish defense for eight games last fall in an interim role after Brian VanGorder was fired four weeks into the season.
"Mike has consistently coordinated defenses that keep the points down, negate big plays, create negative plays, excel in the red zone and, quite simply, force opposing offensives to execute at an extremely high level to move the football,” coach Brian Kelly said. “This rare combination of consistent success in those facets of defense, along with a proven ability to develop talent and fit it into his system, really places Mike in a class by himself among defensive coordinators across the country.
“As importantly, Mike’s commitment to helping young men reach their full potential in the classroom and in the community make him a perfect fit for Notre Dame.”
Elko's defenses have had plenty of success despite a lack of recruiting star talent at Bowling Green and Wake Forest, and the 39-year-old has groomed a handful of NFL players over those two stops as Dave Clawson's defensive coordinator. Most notable among those players is cornerback Kevin Johnson, a former two-star recruit who spent a year under Elko and was the 16th overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Wake Forest did not field a former four- or five-star recruit on defense in 2016 but ranked 40th in yards per play (5.34) and 20th in points per game (21.8). Wake Forest's defenses ranked 37th, 60th and 28th in defensive S&P+ under Elko, and at Bowling Green he took a defense that ranked 82nd in S&P+ in 2009 to 38th in 2013.
"I’m excited to join a program with the prestige of Notre Dame that can recruit the nation’s highest caliber of student-athlete and compete for a national championship,” Elko said. “We hope to dictate the pace of the game with an attacking and aggressive style of defense, mix physicality and toughness with exceptional fundamentals and, lastly, play with great effort at all times. I can’t wait to dive in and help these players achieve the standard of success necessary to win at the highest level.
“It was extremely hard to walk away from everything we built at Wake Forest, especially with those players, and I’m so appreciative of everything that Dave (Clawson) and Ron (Wellman) did for me and my family.”
The Irish defense Elko inherits remains young, but features a few high ceiling freshmen who he'll be tasked with developing. Chief among those players are defensive end Daelin Hayes, cornerbacks Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. and safeties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott. Elko, in addition to serving as Wake Forest's defensive coordinator, also coached the Demon Deacons' safeties.