After two strong seasons as the head coach for the Duke Blue Devils, head coach Mike Elko has decided to head back to Texas A&M, where he was the defensive coordinator, to be their head coach. Elko went 16-9 overall for Duke as the Blue Devils went 7-5 this season with a 4-4 conference record in the ACC.
With Duke now having to find Elko’s replacement, here are some candidates to keep in mind for the job.
Top Five Candidates for Duke
Kevin Johns (Current Job: Offensive Coordinator Duke)
Looking internally first, at their own coaching staff, Kevin Johns has been given a lot of credit for the job he has done with Duke’s offense over the last two seasons as offensive coordinator.
The Blue Devils’ offense was fourth in the ACC in 2022 in terms of total offense, averaging 415.7 yards per game. Their offense took a dip this season, but Johns helped the offense through a beleaguered period without quarterback Riley Leonard to secure a winning season.
If the team wants to keep continuity with the program, especially if Leonard comes back for his senior season, Johns has the locker room’s trust and keeps the program in line. Johns has been a successful offensive coordinator for Indiana, Western Michigan, Texas Tech, and Memphis, so the next step to head coach could be in his future.
Jim Knowles (Current Job: Defensive Coordinator Ohio State)
Since coming to Ohio State in 2022, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has done an outstanding job bringing the Buckeyes’ defense back to being one of the best in the country.
The year before Knowles came to Ohio State, the Buckeyes ranked 52nd in the nation in total defense. After Knowles came, they were ranked 11th in 2022 and this season got to third in the nation, allowing 260 yards per game. They are second in the country in points per game with 11 right behind Michigan.
There is some uncertainty with Ryan Day as to whether he will stick around after losing once again to the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday. Knowles has ties to Duke, having been their defensive coordinator from 2011 until 2017. He was also a head coach at Cornell for six seasons, going 26-34. A familiar face for the fan base can give some hope that the Blue Devils will be in good shape with an experienced coach.
Scottie Montgomery (Current Job: Assistant Head Coach/Running Back Coach Detroit Lions)
Detroit Lions assistant head coach and running back coach Scottie Montgomery is an alum of Duke — he has both played and coached with the Blue Devils in his career.
Montgomery’s coaching career began at Duke as a wide receiver coach for four seasons in his first stop from 2006-2009. He also coached at Duke from 2013-2015, becoming the offensive coordinator. His success running the offense resulted in him taking the East Carolina head coaching job for three seasons, going 9-26 during that time.
He has played a critical role in Detroit’s turnaround this season as the Lions are currently holding an 8-3 record. His running backs have helped make the Lions the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 136.9 yards per game.
Bringing in someone who went to school at Duke and has both head coaching experience and offensive success would be something the Blue Devils should think about. Montgomery has coached on the college level, so he would be returning home to the Carolina area where he recruited for over a decade.
Gene Chizik (Current Job: Defensive Coordinator North Carolina)
A former national champion, North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has been a head coach for a Power Five school with plenty of success.
At one time, Chizik coached former Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at Auburn. The two won the national championship for the Tigers in 2010. Chizik was head coach of Iowa State in 2007 and 2008 before taking the Tigers job and coaching them for four seasons. His career coaching record stands at 38-38, including one undefeated record at Auburn in 2010 when they went 14-0.
MORE: CFB Coaching Carousel
He has been the defensive coordinator at North Carolina for the last two seasons to help the Tar Heels find two winning seasons during that span. With the connections to recruiting in the North Carolina area, it’s an advantage for Chizik not to move far away and still go after the players he covets.
Curt Cignetti (Current Job: Head Coach James Madison)
Everywhere James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti has been a head coach, he has been able to produce winners.
Cignetti has been a head coach since 2012 coaching at IUP, Elon, and James Madison. In that time, he is 119-35 overall — winning five conference titles and never having a losing record. Since taking over the Dukes in 2022, James Madison has gone 52-9 in five seasons, including a 19-4 record since joining the FBS in the Sun Belt Conference. They finished the regular season this year with an 11-1 overall record.
Here is another coach who knows how to recruit in the Carolinas from his time with Elon and knows Virginia well with James Madison under his belt. The Blue Devils wouldn’t lose a beat on the recruiting front as Cignetti has done an exceptional job bringing in good talent. Cignetti is a proven winner, making him an attractive name for head coaching jobs for a Power Five team.