A&M’s Elko Not Setting Benchmarks in Year One

Texas A&M head football coach Mike Elko
Texas A&M head football coach Mike Elko | Image by Texas A&M Football/Facebook

New Texas A&M head football coach Mike Elko has his hands full as he takes over a program with lofty expectations after failing to reach its goals over the past few seasons.

The Aggies have had top-10 recruiting classes seven times since joining the SEC in 2012, including the No.1 class in 2022, but they have yet to win more than nine games since coming up with 11 wins in their debut season in the conference. The program has also had plenty of attrition in recent years, adding even more pressure to the season as the former defensive coordinator takes over for Jimbo Fisher in College Station.

“Nine days in, I would just define us as a work in progress, which is to be expected,” Elko told the media after spring practice on Friday. “It’s a lot of new stuff. It’s a lot of new schemes and situations. Every time our kids are going out on the field, they’re doing something for the first time, and I think that’s what makes the first spring so challenging. Very happy with our guys in terms of their mindset, how hard they’re working, and the things that they’re doing to try to get this thing going in the right direction.”

While many coaches set goals and benchmarks for their teams to hit as the offseason progresses, Elko is avoiding such measurements to keep his team concentrated on getting better a day at a time.

“I think benchmarks are useless,” he explained. “I think anybody who thinks you have them — they don’t work. Our benchmark is today. Today has to be better than yesterday, and there has to be an urgency about today and the work we put in today. … That, hopefully, makes us better tomorrow. That’s the mindset, and if you do that every day for the next 100-plus days between now and the opener, you’ve got a shot to be what you want to be.”

Elko hopes to instill toughness and finishing plays in his team, particularly along an offensive line that has plagued the Aggies and their quarterbacks over recent seasons.

“I think our focus is a lot less on cohesiveness and a lot more on strain: learning how to strain and finish blocks, learning how to strain through the whistle, and learning how to do things that are really hard and really uncomfortable because I think that’s the nature of playing offensive line,” Elko said. “We don’t put a lot of stock right now in cohesion. We want to see kids playing harder and blocking better. To me, that’s the challenge we’ve presented to that group.”

The 46-year-old is also trying to revamp the team’s scouting and recruiting abilities and has turned to a veteran in the business to get it started.

Walter Juliff was brought onto Jimbo Fisher’s staff right before last season and was kept by Elko as a “Senior Personnel Executive.” Juliff was most recently with the Reese’s Senior Bowl staff and has 38 years of NFL scouting experience, including 31 years with the Dallas Cowboys.

He also coached at Angelo State in San Angelo and at various Texas high schools, all experiences that, as Elko describes, can serve him well in his new role.

“It’s a role that I’ve always had on the staff,” the head coach elaborated. “… You have a seasoned scout, and I think one of the things — whether it’s the transfer portal, or recruiting, or whatever the case may be — evaluation is critical. … The path is to take the right players. … It’s imperative that we take the right ones, the talented ones.”

“… Taking a scout that’s got multiple Super Bowls, 30 years-plus of NFL experience, and has evaluated players for a long time, that’s a piece of this,” Elko continued. “Recruiting is a big part of the game for sure, but evaluation is as big a part of it because if you waste all your time recruiting the wrong people, you don’t get to where you want to go.”

For A&M, that’s becoming a consistent contender in one of the country’s premier conferences, a place it has tried to reach many times with plenty of talent. Can Elko’s approach finally get it there to stay?

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