Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Duke embracing new expectations
By Matt Fortuna
Four teams are still alive in the race to the ACC Championship Game.
The best measure of Duke's success under David Cutcliffe comes on Sundays. The sixth-year Blue Devils coach gets into his office at the Yoh Football Center on the southwest side of campus for some early day-after-game work. Then he meets his wife, Karen, and 13-year-old daughter, Emily, for 11 a.m. mass at the on-campus chapel nearby.
The routine has become seemingly busier by the week. Sure, there is Father Mike Martin, a close family friend. But more and more visitors, mostly students, have come up before, after and sometimes even during the procession to congratulate Cutcliffe on the previous day's victory, and to thank him for providing another addition to the school.
Duke football might be doing the same for the ACC as well. The Blue Devils will play in their league's title game if they win Saturday at rival North Carolina, a scenario that seemed unfathomable before Cutcliffe's arrival, as the program went 13-90 in the nine years prior. But two straight years of postseason play and a number of new heights reached this fall have set the course for what the 59-year-old coach says is here to stay.
"We're not going away, I can promise you that," Cutcliffe told ESPN.com. "And I don't mean that to sound arrogant, but we're not going anywhere. We're going to be a good football team each year."
David Cutcliffe and the Duke football team have taken the ACC on storm, as a win Saturday would give the program its first 10-win season.
"I already know we'll have a good football team next year," he continued. "That's got to be the mentality. If it's not, there's something flat wrong with what we're trying to build here, and you can't accept anything else. You have to be prepared to accept expectation."
A win over the Tar Heels would give Duke 10 victories for the first time in school history. It would mark the Blue Devils' first eight-game winning streak since 1941, when they won nine straight. And it would give them consecutive wins over UNC -- which comes into Saturday's game on a five-game winning streak -- for the first time since 1987-89.
Cutcliffe, who would joke that his degree from Alabama is in "Knowology," believes he has now completed a PhD in the field.
"I've now changed it to 'Macro-Knowology,' by the way," he quipped. "I felt like I got a little smarter, so I just use that kidding with my wife. My wife's a Tennessee graduate."
Kevin White sees the matter as closer to reality than fiction. Arriving at Duke five months after Cutcliffe's hiring in December of 2007, the athletic director saw a guy who knew what he had to work with, and how to go about it.
On a scale of 1 to 10, White said, Cutcliffe's passion is a "14." The coach knows where to find all of the right buttons in a program, the AD added, and how to push them.
"He wasn't in a position to go and to recruit ready-to-play players, so he wasn't in the player-acquisition business," White told ESPN.com. "He very quickly understood that for him to be successful, he needed to move earnestly into the player-development business."
Win No. 6, last month at then-No. 14 Virginia Tech, served as a bit of a watershed moment for the program. Cutcliffe had seen 60 minutes of intensity before, but this featured a different kind of demeanor, from pregame through halftime and on the trip back.
More importantly, Cutcliffe said, his players left Lane Stadium hungrier than ever.
"There's just a whole new attitude and want for the football program to be good, not only by just the players but also the administration," sixth-year linebacker Kenny Anunike said. "I mean, President (Dick) Brodhead has been into our locker room numerous times to talk to us to tell us how proud he is. Everybody just wants to provide for our team, give us everything, all the tools we need to be good."
A team that dropped five straight once getting to 6-2 a year ago has gone about finishing stronger this time around. A defense that finished last in the ACC in scoring has improved to No. 5 in the league (22.8 ppg).
White is not surprised by the progress, insisting he had told anyone who listened in recent years that a sea change was on the way.
That sentiment has been echoed throughout the regime.
"There's one architect for this program, and that's Coach Cutcliffe, and the rest of us are builders," defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. "We're all builders, and if you've been around us at all there's been that vision from Kevin White and Coach Cutcliffe that this was the way it was going to be. Even through the tough times, we all sold that to the defense, that this was going to happen. It was inevitable, because we knew we were doing all the right things, [like] how Apple knew 10 years before they were a success that they were going to be a great success."
Said Cutcliffe: "I appreciate Jim's comment. I think the key to this has been good people. I think the reason that it's been effective is I really don't lead from the top. I feel more like I'm kind of in the middle, in the traffic circle, and I'm just kind of holding up one for a second, moving the other one, and you seem like a traffic police officer in Columbus Circle."