Les Johns

Wake DC Mike Elko demands the best of all those around him

A few thoughts on Mike Elko leaving the Deacs for the defensive coordinator position at Notre Dame.

The Deacs had finished their fall camp workout, I’d completed post-practice interviews and made it all the way back to the parking lot ready to leave campus.

Suddenly I got a Twitter direct message with a tip that senior linebacker Brandon Chubb had tore his ACL. Panicked, my memory went foggy. I thought I’d seen Chubb on the practice field, but was I thinking about seeing him the day before? Did Chubb get hurt during practice and I had just missed it?

At this time (before the start of the 2015 season), the media watched practice behind a roughly four-feet high brick wall, with all the action taking place on the full expanse of one football field. There was always a lot going on, and it was easy to miss things.

So I literally ran back to the practice area looking to see if the tip was correct. I found Wake Forest football sports information director Steve Shutt and told him what I’d heard.

Shutt also thought he’d seen Chubb that day, but went into the football offices to see what he could determine.

He came back out and addressed me looking much like the Cheshire Cat — I knew Shutt’s trademark sarcasm was about to be leveled my way.

“Why does it matter?” Shutt asked me. “You never write about the defense anyway.”

I looked at him dumbfounded.

“That’s what coach Elko told me to tell you,” Shutt said.

“Brandon is fine,” Shutt followed up, letting me off the hook as we both chuckled.

It was a subtle, good-natured rib from a coach I was still just getting to know, but it’s something we returned to many times the last two years.

Despite the fact that Elko was mostly just kidding with me, I did make a point to talk to the guys on the defensive side of the ball a little bit more, and I definitely took every opportunity to talk to Elko as well.

I’m glad I did.

As it turns out, the performance from his unit the last two years has DEMANDED I cover that side of the ball. Standout players along with winning schemes led to a top-20 defense for the Deacs.

And along the way I got to know Elko a bit more. I realized that if you treat him and his players fairly that he will treat you with respect as well. His knowledge of football is superior, but he also knows people. He gets the best out of those around him. His unit buys into the team and the concepts they’re taught. They believe what he’s selling, and the results on the field during his tenure at Wake speak for itself.

I’m confident that Wake coach Clawson will make the right moves to ensure the Deacs don’t miss a beat, and I’m also confident that Elko will get the Notre Dame defense moving in the right direction.

Despite that, there’s a lot of things I’m going to miss.

Elko had this incredible daily habit of busting his ass from the outdoor playing surface to the new indoor for break-out sessions. He outraced many a current Wake player, and he let them know about it in the most jovial, boisterous manner.

I’m also going to miss how Elko was seemingly in mid-season form regardless of the date on the calendar. Miss an assignment in mid-March during spring camp and he’ll dress you down just as fervently as if it’s the day before a game in the fall. He’ll show you love when needed — but the intensity is always bubbling at the surface.

Most of all, I’m going to miss reminding him when I write about the defense.

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