Duke Beat: Cutcliffe’s Job Safe

Duke head football coach David Cutcliffe is arguably the best coach at Duke since Steve Spurrier was roaming the sidelines.

However, he has never led the Blue Devils to a bowl game or even a .500 record in his first four years on the job. Fred Goldsmith, the last Duke coach to lead the Blue Devils to a bowl, did that in year one.

But that was about it for him, and for the football program it was all downhill from there.

There are a lot of Duke football fans out there (yes they really do exist) who are wondering if Cutcliffe could find himself on the hot seat if the Blue Devils fail to reach that all too elusive goal of a bowl game. And really, any bowl game would do.

Personally, I doubt Duke, with their daunting schedule, can pull off six wins, though perhaps it could happen if the Blue Devils get a little lucky. I think five wins is a more realistic goal.

The Blue Devils, after all, play 10 teams out of their 12 game schedule who were bowl eligible last season.

So what happens if Duke doesn’t go bowling? It is a question I’ve been asked quite a bit already by various Duke fans, and it is a topic of discussion on a lot of Duke message boards.

Would Cutcliffe be on the hot seat and could the Blue Devils really cut (no pun intended) ties with a coach that has, at the very least, restored some semblance of respectability? Well if you ask me no; not if they have any brains in their head.

Cutcliffe certainly doesn’t boast an impressive win total at Duke. He is a modest 15-33 in his first four years on the job. But when you compare that to his predecessors, his record really isn’t all that bad.

Barry Wilson, the first coach post-Steve Spurrier, was 13-30-1 in his four year stint on the job. Goldsmith, his first year (8-4) aside, was a combined 17-39 in five years at Duke.

Goldsmith’s first year featured a senior laden team that he guided to a quick start, but they faded down the stretch, though they played in the Hall of Fame Bowl, a loss to Wisconsin.

But like the end of his first season, the rest of his Duke career didn’t see his teams sniff a bowl game.

Things didn’t get any better after Goldsmith was let go. Duke hired Carl Franks on the recommendation of Steve Spurrier, and other than that recommendation he had no credentials. He would be a bust, going 7-45 in four full seasons. He was let go midway through the 2003 season after Duke started 2-5.

Franks was replaced by one of his assistants, Ted Roof, who energized that Duke team to finish the season strong and give whatever Duke football fans remained some hope.

But that strong finish never produced anything close to a winning record over Roof’s four full years at the helm, and his final 6-45 record was no better than his former boss, Franks.

To both Franks’ and Roof’s defense, the Duke administration was not very cooperative in giving the football program what it needed in terms of financial and recruiting support to help  make the program a viable competitor.

After Roof was fired, the search for a replacement took a while, as you’d expect. To its credit, Duke didn’t rush into the first guy that showed interest, but in order to land a guy of Cutcliffe’s caliber, it took a whole new commitment to the football program.

Cutcliffe saw to it that the university made football a priority and has helped spur on an overhaul in facilities that was easily the worst in all of the FBS level.

When Cutcliffe arrived in Durham after years as an assistant at Tennessee, a drastic change was needed. It just wasn’t the fact that Neyland Stadium seats 102,000 versus Wallace Wade, which only seats just over 33,000.

The Blue Devils didn’t even have a full length practice facility, and the visiting locker rooms were poor by high school standards.

Cutcliffe’s first order of business was to have the practice facilities upgraded, with the expansion of the field to a full 120 yards. The commitment of the university, though, was only part of the equation, as Cutcliffe has inspired $10 million in donations from former Duke football players Bob Pascal and Steve Brooks.

The Brooks field Halftime House with visiting locker rooms and training facility was constructed first, after the building’s namesake donated $4 million. Pascal’s name was put on the indoor practice facility that opened last August after his donation of $6 million went into the construction.

Duke has also built new concession stands and bathrooms as part of a long term plan for upgrades to Wallace Wade which will include removing the track, building a new press box, closing in the horseshoe and the construction of suites and club seats.

All this has gone a long way in attracting more attention to the program, and it is obviously appealing to future Blue Devils, as Duke has been attracting bigger, faster, stronger and more highly touted recruits.

And the results are showing on the field, as the Blue Devils have clearly been more competitive, even against some of the best programs in the ACC. Case in point, Duke nearly and probably should have beaten Virginia Tech last season, but fell short 14-10.

Cutcliffe will be the first to tell you that close isn’t good enough, but Duke is close to being more than just a stair step for the top ACC schools. It is a program that the Florida States, Clemsons and Virginia Techs will have to at least start taking a bit more seriously.

The last time you could say that was when Spurrier was the head coach, and that was over 20 years ago.

The fact is that Cutcliffe hasn’t achieved Duke’s goals, but he has taken some big leaps toward them. Unless Duke puts up another disappointing 3-9 or worse season, I think that, bowl game or not, his job is safe, at least for the immediate future.

— Mike Kline

Mike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night.

 

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