Notre Dame to hire Wake Forest's Mike Elko as defensive coordinator

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko has accepted the same position at Notre Dame, a source confirmed to the Tribune on Thursday.

Elko was in South Bend to interview for the job on Tuesday.

Elko, 39, spent the last three seasons as the Demon Deacons' defensive coordinator and helped elevate a unit with average recruiting rankings into one of the country's best. In Wake Forest's 6-6 2016 season, Elko's defense ranked 10th nationally in turnovers gained (25), 12th in sacks per game (3.1), 20th in scoring defense (21.8 points per game) and 24th in forced fumbles per game (1.1).

In a 28-7 defeat on Senior Day at Notre Dame in 2015, Elko's Wake Forest defense allowed just 282 total yards, 111 passing yards and 15 first downs — all Irish season lows. Notre Dame managed just three offensive touchdowns and was held without a touchdown pass for the first and only time in a 10-3 season.

Wake Forest's recent recruiting classes ranked 61st nationally in 2016, 52nd in 2015, 59th in 2014 and 58th in 2013, according to Rivals.

Elko's hiring comes one day after Notre Dame offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford left to become the head coach at Western Kentucky and two days after the Irish relieved tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker of his duties.

Notre Dame fired third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder following a 38-35 home loss to Duke on Sept. 24, the low point in a disastrous 1-3 start. Head coach Brian Kelly promoted defensive analyst Greg Hudson — a Notre Dame alum and, most recently, the defensive coordinator at Purdue from 2013 to 2015 — to interim defensive coordinator for the remainder of the 2016 season.

Under the watch of Hudson and linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston, Notre Dame's defense showed consistent, modest improvement. The Irish finished a 4-8 regular season ranked 45th nationally in total defense (378.8 yards per game), 60th in scoring defense (27.8 points per game), 70th in rushing defense (182.4 yards per game), 79th in pass efficiency defense (134.6), 102nd in tackles for loss per game (5.1) and turnovers gained (14) and 118th in sacks per game (1.2).

Elston interviewed for the defensive coordinator position on Wednesday. He and Elko were the only two candidates to interview for the position.

Prior to his stint at Wake Forest, Elko served as the defensive coordinator at Bowling Green from 2009 to 2013. The Falcon defense led the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense in each of his last two seasons at the helm. In 2013, four Bowling Green defensive players were named to the All-MAC first or second teams.

Elko has held the role of defensive coordinator for 11 consecutive seasons and with three different programs — Wake Forest (2014-16), Bowling Green (2009-13) and Hofstra (2006-08). He has spent much of his career working under head coach Dave Clawson, including stints at Wake Forest, Bowling Green, Richmond and Fordham.

Before he pursued a coaching career, Elko was a linebacker at the University of Pennsylvania from 1996 to 1999. He has a wife, Michelle, and three children: Michael, Andrew and Kaitlyn. 

Wake Forest's Mike Elko is Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator. (Photo courtesy of