Duke is coaching candidates to replace Mike Elko: Curt Cignetti, Jason Garrett and more
With news of Mike Elko leaving Durham to return to Texas A&M, Duke is searching for a new head coach. Elko has done a great job in his first leadership role, propelling the Blue Devils into the Top 25 and going 16-9 over the past two seasons. This job is much better than it was 15 years or so ago, before David Cutcliffe, Elko’s predecessor, began leading this program toward respectability. The coaches now know that you can win there, but the task is still very difficult. However, there are a number of strong options that have strong ties to the area or to Duke itself.
One of the coaches sitting we think will get some attention is James Madison Curt Cignetti, who might be open to jumping from Dukes to Dukes. He built JMU into a legitimate FBS program, earning top-25 consideration in the two seasons immediately following JMU’s move from the FCS. The Dukes are 19-4 over the past two seasons and 13-3 in Sun Belt competition. Overall, the 62-year-old is 52-9 in James Madison’s tenure. He is also familiar with North Carolina, having spent two seasons in the state while head of the FCS Elon program. Cignetti is also reportedly in the mix for Indiana State’s head coaching vacancy.
Marshall Charles Huff He is a Maryland native who learned under James Franklin and Nick Saban before landing the Thundering Herd job. The 40-year-old is considered a charismatic leader and a strong recruiter. He led the Herd to a win over Notre Dame in South Bend last year, part of a nine-win season. This year’s team beat Virginia Tech and came close to taking down NC State in Raleigh. Overall, Huff is 22-16 at Marshall. We think he’ll definitely listen if Duke comes.
Marshall is determined to win right away under new coach Charles Huff in 2021 despite a tough end to 2020.
One former ACC coach we hear Duke may pursue is him Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. He was 21-15 in three years in Miami and 16-9 in ACC play. The 49-year-old has also coached at FSU and NC State. Diaz is really smart and would likely fit in well at Duke, and like Elko, is considered one of the best defensive minds in college football. Last year, Diaz led Penn State to a fifth-place finish in yards allowed per game. This year, Diaz’s defense ranks first in the country in yards allowed per game, total defense and sacks.
Another top DC we expect Duke to consider is Ohio State Jim Knowles, who was Cutcliffe’s defensive coordinator at Durham for eight years. His defense at Ohio State is No. 2 in the nation in scoring and No. 3 in yards per play allowed. Like Elko, the 58-year-old Knowles has Ivy League roots, having played college ball at Cornell before beginning his career at Ithaca as a defensive line coach. Knowles has spent much of his coaching career working at top academic institutions.
Versatility is key for Ohio State’s defense — and its veteran coordinator
Florida State offensive coordinator/O-line coach Alex Atkins It was a great hire for Mike Norvell. The Seminoles were terrible up front toward the end of the Jimbo Fisher era, and Atkins deserves most of the credit for fixing that. In his debut season in Tallahassee in 2020, Florida State averaged 200 yards per game, the best for the program since 2016. In 2022, the Seminoles led the ACC and ranked eighth in the nation in yards per carry. They also led the ACC in yards per play. This season, FSU is undefeated with a chance to make the CFP. They’re No. 10 in scoring, No. 14 in yards per game, and No. 9 in plays of 30+ yards. Atkins has also coached at North Carolina State before: As Charlotte’s offensive coordinator in 2019, he helped lead the 49ers to their first bowl game in school history behind the top rushing offense in their conference. The Chicago native also spent three seasons as a Tulane assistant coach, so he has plenty of experience working in a highly academic program.
Tulsa OC Steve Spurrier Jr., the son of Florida legend and former Duke coach Steve Spurrier, is a former Blue Devils player who, prior to this season, spent five years on Mike Leach’s staff at Washington State and Mississippi State. The 52-year-old former Duke is someone we could see getting some interest for the vacant position.
One wild card option to consider is NBC football analyst Jason Garrett, former Dallas Cowboys coach. The 57-year-old Princeton graduate has never coached college football, but he received strong interest in the Duke job a few years ago during the search that led to Elko. Garrett was 85-67 in his decade as head coach of the Cowboys. Does he want to jump into college coaching now? And if so, does the Duke leadership want him? we will see.
(Top image by Curt Cignetti: Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
(tags for translation) Duke Blue Devils(R) College Football