I still remember every detail about the night I had dinner with Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, and his wife, Karen.
(I opted for the chicken. It was dry.)
We were at ACC Media Days in July 2010, and I have no idea how I was lucky enough to get seated at a table with one of the coaches during the dinner banquet. Before I sat down, there were definitely other coaches in the ACC I’d rather sit with. I mean, come on — Jimbo Fisher and Frank Beamer were there.
But after a couple of minutes, I realized I got really lucky to be talking with Cutcliffe, instead of the other 11 coaches.
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Cutcliffe is an old-school Southern gentleman. He looks you right in the eye and answers every question you throw his way with pleasure. A friend I made at the weekend event was Sam Fortenbery, a UNC student who was selected to be the ACC’s campus correspondent for Duke Football in the upcoming season. He was sitting to my left, and Cutcliffe was to my right. Naturally, Sam had a slew of questions for Cutcliffe about football, life and coaching.
Duke’s head coach didn’t speak with a mouthful of food, so Karen spoke for him on the personal questions — a trait of the strong, Southern wife who raised four kids. But when her husband spoke, he said a lot of things that made me a believer.
I know: believing in Duke Football? It’s true … I’m not surprised at all to see the Blue Devils contending for a division title in this year’s ACC Coastal.
He had great philosophies on life and football. Cutcliffe coached at Tennessee and Ole Miss while the Manning brothers shredded their respective program’s record books. He was being chased by Tennessee to become their head coach when Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California. But he didn’t budge, and turned down UT to remain at Duke.
Cutcliffe brought the Duke offense into respectable territory, which hasn’t been done in decades. They rank No. 23 in the country in passing, with 289 yards per game. They’re averaging 35 points per game. And this weekend, they get rewarded for a 3-1 start in ACC play by being a four-touchdown underdog at Florida State.
At least one person who covers ACC Football thinks Duke could pull off the upset this weekend at Doak Campbell Stadium. It’s not me, but the fact that someone will say it proves this is a different Duke program.
Now, he’s likely to be pursued by the Volunteers again when Derek Dooley is removed from the program at the end of this season, if the rumors are true. It would be an upgrade, sure, but is it what Cutcliffe really wants?
After getting to know him, I doubt it. He is a job-finisher, and he hasn’t reached the end of the road with Duke Football.