Cutcliffe prepared for task at Duke
By: By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — David Cutcliffe molded quarterback after quarterback into Heisman Trophy contenders and prized NFL draft picks.
Now comes an even tougher construction project: Transforming downtrodden Duke into a winner.
The Tennessee offensive coordinator and mentor to the Manning family of quarterbacks was introduced as the Blue Devils’ head coach Saturday.
And while the coach with deep Southeastern Conference ties promised no quick fixes, he pledged to propel the Duke program back to relevance.
“There are no magic dusts, there are no ways that are easy to get this done,” Cutcliffe said. “But we’ll be on a fast track to get it done.”
Cutcliffe, an Alabama graduate who is serving his second stint on Tennessee’s staff, spent six seasons as Mississippi’s head coach, churning out productive quarterbacks at both schools — from Heath Shuler to Peyton and Eli Manning — and his reputation for producing talent has given his new players a bit of optimism.
“You can just see on the field what (the Mannings) have done over the past, it’s absolutely amazing and I really look forward to working with him,” Duke quarterback Zack Asack said.
Cutcliffe went 44-29 and led Ole Miss in five bowl games from 1999-2004, and will remain with Tennessee for its Outback Bowl appearance next month against Wisconsin while also embracing the challenge of reversing the fortunes of a program that has struggled mightily while most of Duke’s teams have flourished.
“You look at what (men’s basketball coach) Mike Krzyzewski has done here, you look at the other sports here, it all comes together when you put those strategic plans in place,” Cutcliffe said. “I believe we have 100 percent commitment from the administration to make that happen.”
The Blue Devils have suffered through 13 consecutive losing seasons, haven’t reached a bowl game since 1994 and fired Ted Roof following a 1-11 finish — the school’s third straight year with at least 10 losses.
“It wasn’t about just making a change of one person or a personnel change,” Duke president Richard Brodhead said. “That was really a moment for Duke University to recommit itself to the proposition of excitement in football and winning seasons in football. We went to look not just for a coach, we went to look for the change agent and the leader who could produce that change.”
Athletic director Joe Alleva declined to discuss the specifics of Cutcliffe’s contract, as is customary at the private university. He hired headhunter Chuck Neinas to assist him and the other six members of the search committee, which spent nearly three weeks interviewing six candidates before settling on the 53-year-old Cutcliffe, who met the AD’s main criteria as an offensive-minded leader with previous head coaching experience at the sport’s highest level.
“We’ve hit them all right on the head,” Alleva said. “I think I found someone who can score some points.”
Cutcliffe has longed for another head coaching opportunity ever since Ole Miss fired him following a 4-7 finish in 2004, a year after winning the Cotton Bowl and the first season of the post-Eli Manning era in Oxford.
He said Duke called last Tuesday to offer him an interview, and he was so enthusiastic he drove nearly all night from Knoxville to Durham, arriving at his hotel room at 1:30 a.m.
“I was looking for a sign, am I in the right place doing the right thing?” Cutcliffe said. “I didn’t find a penny, I didn’t find a nickel, something to tell me I’m in the right place. I didn’t find any trash. I was at a place that just spelled pride. The buildings, the ground, you felt like you were on hallowed grounds.”