Texas A&M football: Elko talks NIL, wildest portal story, and building a culture

The head man for Texas A&M football sat down with Texags for an extended interview.
Duke University Head Coach Mike Elko speaks during the ACC Kickoff Media Days event in downtown
Duke University Head Coach Mike Elko speaks during the ACC Kickoff Media Days event in downtown / Ken Ruinard / USA Today Network / USA

Mike Elko discusses culture in Texas A&M football, getting off the ground in College Station, wild portal story

The new head coach for Texas A&M football, Mike Elko, has seemingly been working nonstop since stepping foot on campus a couple of months ago. Accordingly, he has had very few sit-downs with the media, and the meetings he has had have been formal press conferences rather than casual conversations. Today, though, he was able to spend about 35 minutes with the folks over at Texags for a conversation, which you can view at this link or below. It’s well worth the time for any Texas A&M football fan.

Here are some notes from what he talked about.

He opened by talking about how huge of a job it was to get the roster situated, especially in those first 30 days. Things were substantially different even from two years ago when he took the Duke job, he said, but timing had something to do with that—when he arrived in Durham, it was only days before the dead period, so he had some time to work on his staff first. Even then, the portal wasn’t as big of a player as it is now.

He spoke about the familiarity that the players currently on the roster had with him, specifically mentioning Conner Weigman, though he said that he knew the “vast majority” of the guys from recruiting only. Even so, it did help set a base for the relationships, which aided in roster retention. The high school recruiting was the toughest, though—as Elko mentions, he had never had a conversation with Tristan Jernigan before he became the head coach. The fact he was able to keep him in the boat is a huge testament to the work he did early on.

When asked about what a Mike Elko-coached team will look like, he said that they will have an appreciation for the opportunity to represent Texas A&M football. Far too seldom has it felt like that has been the case in recent years, so this was refreshing to hear.

With regard to recruiting, though, he gave an interesting answer that showcased some good perspective. He mentioned that recruiting, essentially, is identifying future NFL talent; therefore, how to judge the job they do is by looking at the draft. No matter how talented a guy is in high school, he is not getting drafted at 18. Something still needs to happen, and that includes intangibles. To that end, those are part of the evaluation process, and part of what they want to develop in the Texas A&M football program.

He spoke of his respect for both OC Collin Klein and DC Jay Bateman, as well as the public perception of the A&M program. He mentioned he was pleased with the job they were able to do in the portal and that they had a very high hit rate—something they needed.

Asked about the wildest portal story he had in his short time in College Station, Elko said that it had to be Dezz Ricks. He wasn’t on the radar at first, and then all of a sudden he was in the portal. They strove mightily to get him on campus, and not long after they earned a commitment. Then—and Elko was perhaps intentionally vague here—something came up, where it apparently seemed to the coaching staff that Ricks wouldn’t make it to A&M. Within 24 hours of that concern, though, the young man was on campus taking classes. The whirlwind of that process was emblematic of how crazy things have been in the portal season.

Near the end of the interview, he gave a message to fans about NIL. He mentioned that there are obviously a lot of opinions about it, but ultimately, those don’t matter since it’s here to say. He also mentioned that, for the majority of players, the NIL doesn’t go to wild extravagance; rather, it goes to supporting family and people back home. It aids, ultimately, in helping people in the program feel valued. If you can keep them feeling as though you value them, a lot of times it won’t come down to giving them the highest amount as much as it comes down to doing it the right way.

Elko closed with a message about playing Texas, given the Longhorn AD’s recent comments about when that game might be played: “put a ball down, and we’ll be there.” It seems like he is as ready as anyone to face off against the in-state rival.