While Alabama’s Crimson Tide captured yet another college football crown with an impressive 26-23 comeback overtime win over Georgia, seemingly leaving only the hype over where many of the nation’s top high school seniors would choose to play come National Signing Day, there was also coaching news to end the 2017 season. And it centered around an aspect of major-college sports that doesn’t often get discussed.
In December, long-time Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher resigned to take over the reigns at Texas A&M. Sources reported that Aggie officials approved a 10-year, $75 million, fully guaranteed contract for Fisher, the richest package in college football history. The deal also makes him the second-highest paid FBS coach, after Alabama’s Nick Saban, with an average salary of $7.5 million annually.
Yet in December, 2016, Fisher signed a contract extension with Florida State through 2024 which provided him a base salary of $5.5 million per season. His buyout from the Seminoles was also thought to be from $5 to $7 million. Meanwhile, A&M will pay Fisher more than double what it paid previous coach Kevin Sumlin, who made $35.5 million over six seasons (including a $10.4 million buyout). Guess the students at Texas A&M should be prepared to pony up for tuition.
Fisher’s resume at Florida State was impressive, highlighted by a record of 83-23 over eight seasons and a 2013 BCS national title. And naturally, this not only helped him attain such an unheard of level of job security at Texas A&M but also the power to entice well-respected assistant coaches to join him. Enter Mike Elko.
Elko is a well-respected defensive coordinator who spent the 2017 season with Notre Dame. Prior to signing with the Fighting Irish, Elko drew rave reviews for his work in three seasons at Wake Forest and five at BGSU. The news of Elko’s hiring in South Bend was met with much fanfare since it was assumed he would repair a defense in decline and be a coaching fixture there for the foreseeable future.
Shortly after Notre Dame’s momentous victory over LSU in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, few Irish faithful suspected that Elko was having thoughts of moving on to Texas A&M. In fact, he was likely offered the position even before Notre Dame took the field in Orlando, Florida. Controversy would ensue once Elko signed a three-year, $5.4 million contract on Jan. 4 to become A&M’s defensive coordinator.
Once the news became official, Notre Dame was initially blamed for being cheap in letting Elko get away, until more details emerged. Before signing with the Aggies, Elko had apparently agreed to a new deal to stay with the Irish for $1.5 million per season, making him the third-highest paid assistant coach in all of college football. This, coming on the heels of a late-season defensive letdown by the Golden Domers, was something to crow about. But Elko wasn’t finished.
Instead, he went back to College Station and told them what Notre Dame was offering to keep him. At that point, the Aggies increased their financial offer, whereupon Elko returned once more to Irish officials to see if he could finagle a still-better deal from them. The truth was Elko had already verbally agreed to a new deal to remain in South Bend. Irish officials finally said no to his antics, and that was the end of Elko. Hoo-ray for Notre Dame!
Mike Elko knows defense but is not a man of his word (nor is Jimbo Fisher for that matter). When was the bidding war to end? Was Elko really invested in his ultimate destination? Would Notre Dame face the same dilemma at the end of the 2018 season? What precedent would be set for other Irish assistant coaches watching the scenario unfold? And what about morale within the coaching staff heading into next season?
This is certainly not the first time that scenarios such as Elko’s and Fisher’s have played out in a world where getting the most money is paramount. And the time when a man was as good as his word is increasingly a thing of the past; especially in the world of big-time athletics.
Notre Dame has moved on from the Elko debacle; promoting his right-hand man in former Irish linebacker coach Clark Lea to defensive coordinator. As the old saying goes, “It might not be illegal, but it’s certainly unethical.”
Clearly, this is something that Elko puts little stock in. But here’s one Notre Dame fan who speaks for many others in hoping that Lea understands what his boss didn’t. Doing the right thing is the best thing and a man’s word is his bond.
Mark Figley is a political activist and guest columnist from Elida. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News. Reach him a email@example.com.