Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There is a refreshing yet simple concept going on at Duke that isn't necessarily shared throughout the rest of the ACC -- or the country for that matter.
If a player steps out of line, he's off the team.
Imagine how many athletes would be missing this fall if other coaches' tolerance levels were as low as David Cutcliffe's.
Since January, Cutcliffe has dismissed running back Tony Jackson, freshman linebacker Trent Mackey, and safety Zack Asack. He also suspended freshman defensive back Randez James for spring practices, and sophomore defensive back Eddie Morgan was dismissed in November. James has since been reinstated.
Mackey would have been a top candidate to fill one of the starting linebackers slots, Jackson was the third-team running back, and Asack, formerly a backup quarterback-turned-safety, was good athlete but probably would have seen most of his action on special teams.
Remember, this isn't a coach who has a bottomless cup of talent he can keep refilling. One of the biggest problems Cutcliffe inherited was finding athletes, so it's no small sacrifice to dismiss the few he has.
Now, who knows how many chances Cutcliffe gave those players before they struck out, or how egregious their offenses were, but it doesn't sound like he's the kind of guy who has a lot patience for wayward athletes.
"Dismissal is a tough thing," Cutcliffe said. "First of all, it's usually the best thing for the youngster involved in making him understand consequences and truly project him on a path of doing the right thing. We have a standard of conduct, and they all understand it -- it's real simple. And when you get outside of that, I just don't believe as a parent or as a coach that continuing to say 'don't do that' works."
Of course it doesn't. How many times did Frank Beamer have to say that to Branden Ore until he finally threw his hands up and kicked Ore off the team? How many chances did Florida State wide receiver Preston Parker get until he was sent packing? Maybe as many as Jackson, Mackey and Asack, but because they played for Duke, it wasn't as publicized.
The one benefit to losing football games is that your program isn't under the microscope like the storied programs with winning traditions. When a Duke football player gets kicked off the team, it registers about as much interest as a ballet at halftime. When a Florida State player gets kicked off the team, the felony charges obviously weren't dropped. If four players were dismissed in less than a year at almost any other program, you'd know. No coach, though, is immune to off-field problems.
"It's not a thing I take lightly," Cutcliffe said. "I don't like doing that. It's my least favorite thing to do. It hurts. I usually don't even sleep after you go through those times, but the benefit is far greater. Since January we've lost three guys who could be significant to our program, and we ain't got a whole lot of athletes. If you line those three, up, they'd be in our top 20 athletically. I think the value far outweighs any negative aspect of it."
As Cutcliffe and his staff continue to recruit better, faster athletes to Durham, their challenge to balance talent and character will increase. Some coaches, like Jim Grobe, have mastered it. They've won an ACC title with minimal off-field distractions. It can be done.
Cutcliffe said there's no trend, and they were all isolated incidents. He'd like to keep it that way, and quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said the players have gotten the message.
"It's not about striking fear, it's about being smart and letting people know what Duke football is all about," said Lewis. "There has to be a certain standard you have to live up to to be a Duke football player. You can't do just anything and make it in this program because Coach Cutcliffe is stressing how you live off the field and how you perform on the field. If both of them coincide with each other, you'll be alright. If one goes in one direction, and the other another, you might be in trouble. So I guess you better get on the bandwagon and the Cutcliffe train. What he says is what he means. It's not going about things your way, it's going about things the Duke program way."