The Texas A&M Aggies lost 25 players to the transfer portal during the first wave of the offseason. Now, the Aggies will have to replace a longtime defensive assistant.
According to multiple reports, Duke is targeting Texas A&M linebacker coach Tyler Santucci as its next defensive coordinator. Blue Devils defensive coordinator Robb Smith reportedly left the program earlier this week due to "personal reasons."
Santucci was expected to be in the running for the Blue Devils position due to his long history with second-year coach Mike Elko. Santucci, 34, previously worked with Elko at Wake Forest and Notre Dame prior to his arrival at Texas A&M. He was a graduate assistant for the Demon Deacons in 2014-15 when Elko was Wake’s defensive coordinator.
When then-coach Brian Kelly hired Elko to take over the Fighting Irish defense, Santucci joined him as a defensive analyst in South Bend. After Elko left for Texas A&M, Santucci returned to Wake Forest to coach linebacker until he was reunited with Elko in 2020.
Elko, who became a staple in College Station as the Aggies' defensive coordinator, worked with Santucci from 2020-21 and was influential in helping him develop linebacker talents such as Buddy Johnson, Anthony Hines, Andrew White Jr. and Edgerrin Cooper.
Elko, who helped the Aggies finish with back-to-back top 20 defenses in 2020 and 2021, was hired last offseason to replace David Cutcliffe in Durham. In one year, Elko vastly transformed the program's culture and production, leading the Blue Devils from a 3-9 to a 9-4 record.
For his efforts, Elko was named ACC Coach of the Year. Duke's defense under Elko allowed 22.1 points per game last season, which was No. 31 nationally and fifth-best in the ACC in Year 1. The year prior, the Blue Devils allowed an ACC-worst 39.8 points per game (No. 127 nationally) and an FBS-worst 517.6 yards per game (No. 130 nationally).
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Following Elko's departure, Santucci was named co-defensive coordinator, along with new coordinator D.J. Durkin. Last season, the Aggies led the country in pass defense, allowing 156.2 yards per game. Texas A&M also allowed 21.2 points per game, the third-fewest among all SEC programs.
The Aggies' coaching staff will look vastly different in 2023. Texas A&M fired Darrell Dickey after five seasons and recently hired former Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino for the same title. Durkin will remain with the team for a second season, though it is unclear if coach Jimbo Fisher will be looking to replace Santucci with a second co-coordinator.
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