Texas A&M football: New coaching hires graded; is Elko being undersold?

247Sports gave grades to the new coaches this cycle, and they could be a little higher on the new head man for Texas A&M football.

Nov 18, 2023; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko looks on from
Nov 18, 2023; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko looks on from / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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New head coach for Texas A&M football receives "B+" grade from 247Sports; should he have been higher?

Texas A&M football fans, after a tumultuous coaching search, are on the whole extremely happy with how things turned out following the dismissal of Jimbo Fisher. Mike Elko has been a home run hire in all facets so far; whether it has been roster retention, high school and portal recruiting, or building the staff this program needs, the former DC for Texas A&M football has knocked it out of the park so far.

This has been pretty obvious to everyone who has paid attention to the Aggies’ situation. Texas A&M football was in a bad way, and Elko has injected the program with life, energy, and momentum.

With all this in mind—the fit, the change in narrative, and the results (such as they can be at this point in time)—it’s hard to argue that Elko isn’t one of the top hires of this cycle. There’s a solid case to be made that he is the top hire of the cycle, given what he has been able to do so far.

247Sports sees it differently, however. Now, up front, I’ll say this: they gave Elko a B+, which—in a vacuum—I think is a fair score. For however adeptly he has risen to the challenge thus far, there’s still some questions given that he hasn’t had a job this big before, and he has yet to coach a game for the Aggies.

But comparing that score to others on the board raises some questions. Kalen DeBoer, Curt Cignetti, Jonathan Smith, and Jedd Fisch all got higher grades than Elko did.

Smith and Fisch are great coaches, to be clear. Cignetti and DeBoer did amazing at their previous stops. I fully expect DeBoer to continue to do well (though Cignetti is more of a question mark). But I’m not sure that every one of those guys belongs above Elko.

Smith was a great hire for Michigan State. I think he’s a great culture fit and can do well in East Lansing. However, he certainly hasn’t had the portal success of Elko so far, nor has he built as impressive a staff.

Fisch has an extremely high ceiling as a coach. His turnaround at Arizona took some time, but his final year, as a proof of concept, is a strong case for what he can build up in Seattle. He came in after the portal window, to be fair, but has done a decent job keeping the Washington roster together. 

Even so, I think—given what Elko has accomplished so far—he and Fisch are on a level playing field. Elko’s turnaround of the Duke program was immediate, and just as impressive for a similarly moribund program; and I still favor his staff over Fisch’s.

I’m not sure there’s much of an argument for Cignetti over Elko. He did great at JMU, but there are so many question marks with him. JMU is not only a smaller D1 program, but they were recently FCS.

DeBoer is one I’m fine having over Elko, given the proven record he has at all levels. Even so, though, there’s still an argument to be made here. DeBoer has had some issues with filling out his staff. Ryan Grubb, by far his best staffer, has left to the NFL after originally committing to come to Tuscaloosa. Travaris Robinson departed, leaving DeBoer high and dry. The names he has landed aren’t exactly luminaries. Finally, he’s lost more players—including big time contributors—to the portal than the Aggies have.

I’m not saying that the new head coach for Texas A&M football is better set up for success than each of these guys. But I do think that some of these grades are failing to reckon with the question marks that are present with these other hires, or maybe underrating what Elko can do and has already done.

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