Defensive coordinator Mike Elko leaving Notre Dame for Texas A&M

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

On Thursday, Notre Dame's defensive rebuild was dealt a massive blow.

Mike Elko — the program's defensive coordinator, who closed his first season in South Bend with a 21-17 victory over LSU in Monday's Citrus Bowl — will accept the same position under Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed on Thursday.

"We appreciate his work and effort over the last year with our program and wish him the best moving forward," Kelly said in a statement.

"Notre Dame simply attracts people at the top of their profession, and, with a young and talented football team coming back in 2018, we'll certainly add our next great defensive coordinator in very short order."

Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Jones, meanwhile, handled the departure a little differently.

"This must be what getting cheated on feels like ..." Jones tweeted after the news broke.

When asked by ND Insider about his potential interest in outside programs last week, Elko laughed and said, “I learned a long time ago not to answer any of those questions. You guys will be talking about me on the hot seat if we don’t beat LSU.”

Elko will sign a three-year contract with Texas A&M worth $1.8 million per year, according to Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel.

Notre Dame hired Elko in Dec. 2016, after firing third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in September of the same year.

In Notre Dame's recently wrapped 10-3 turnaround season, Elko's group finished 31st nationally in scoring defense (21.5 points per game), 51st in rushing defense (154.5 yards per game), 46th in pass efficiency defense, 46th in total defense (369.2 yards per game and 50th in turnovers gained (20).

On Dec. 20, Notre Dame signed 12 defensive players — including five consensus four-star recruits — on the NCAA's new early signing day. Among that group, Elko — who was also the Irish safeties coach — helped sign two future safeties: four-star prospect Derrik Allen and local product Paul Moala. 

Last month, Texas A&M gave Florida State's Jimbo Fisher a whopping 10-year, $75 million contract to become the program's head coach. Multiple reports surfaced linking LSU's Dave Aranda to the open defensive coordinator position, but he opted to accept a raise to remain in Baton Rouge, La.

Elko has been a defensive coordinator for 12 consecutive seasons, with four programs: Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Bowling Green and Hofstra. Another member of the Irish staff, linebackers coach Clark Lea, came with Elko from Wake Forest to Notre Dame last offseason.

As for Notre Dame's future at the defensive coordinator position, Kelly interviewed just two candidates for the job last offseason: Elko and current Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston, who has coached alongside Kelly dating back to Central Michigan in 2004. 

"Notre Dame football is bigger than any one player or coach," Notre Dame special teams coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian tweeted on Thursday. "This is an incredible university with a rich football history and tradition.

"Coach Kelly will attract and hire a great (defensive coordinator) and the improvement made by this team will continue in 2018!"

Notre Dame's next defensive coordinator — whoever he is — will be the program's fourth since Kelly took over in 2010.

Still, like Polian said, not everybody came to Notre Dame for a specific coach or coordinator.

"We came to Notre Dame for the tradition of excellence," junior defensive back Shaun Crawford tweeted on Thursday night. "Better players on the field and better poeple off.

"People come and go through ND ... which is why ND is bigger than any one person. We will take what we learned from them and continue building for the future."

Part of the buisness. Sign to a place cause of their cultures and beliefs not because of a coach ✊️ https://t.co/XgCNdNfQTQ

— Derrik Allen (@DsmoothAllen) January 4, 2018

This must be what getting cheated on feels like... pic.twitter.com/6eqNFBPwSI

— J. Jones (@KingCaarlos) January 4, 2018

Can’t trust everything you see nowadays .. salt looks a lot like sugar

— J-Shmoney (@Jamion_Franklin) January 4, 2018

Coaches pic.twitter.com/m9oxOKGLE4

— young slide & glide (@tiassum) January 4, 2018

But a player can't leave... ‍♂️

— Shaun Crawford (@ShaunCrawf20) January 4, 2018

About to be the 3rd DC in my 3rd year

— Jamir Jones™ (@JJammer44) January 4, 2018

We came to Notre Dame for the tradition of excellence. Better players on the field & better poeple off. People come and go through ND.. which is why ND is bigger than any one person. We will take what we learned from them and continue building for the future. Go Irish!☘️

— Shaun Crawford (@ShaunCrawf20) January 4, 2018

CAME TO THIS SCHOOL BECAUSE I FELT GOD HAD SOMETHING FOR ME HERE THAT IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN ME. I CAME BECAUSE OF THE RELATIONSHIPS I MADE WITH THE GUYS ON THE TEAM AND IN MY RECRUITING CLASS. PEOPLE COME AND GO BUT ND REMAINS THE SAME. WE ARE ND☘️☘️☘️

— THE NEIGBORHOOD DJ (@__DJMICAHDEW97) January 5, 2018

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko watches players warm up for the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN