Joe Alleva’s jump from Duke to LSU was one from football purgatory to paradise.
Six years later, Duke has finally gotten its payoff on the football field, thanks primarily to a parting gift from Alleva.
It was Alleva, Duke’s athletic director in December 2007, who hired David Cutcliffe, then an assistant at Tennessee, instead of former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell.
“Most of the people, who are still at Duke, wanted to hire (Dorrell),” Alleva said this week. “He’s a good guy, but he was working on the West coast and I didn’t think he was the right fit.”
Good call, Joe.
Dorrell, who was fired by UCLA after the 2007 season, is working as the quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans. Cutcliffe took Duke to a bowl game last season and has the Blue Devils (8-2), ranked in the top 25 and leading the ACC’s Coastal Division.
“It’s wonderful to see all the pieces come together,” Alleva said. “David deserves all the credit.”
The Blue Devils were coming off a 2-33 span when Alleva hired Cutcliffe after the 2007 season. When Alleva got to LSU in April 2008, the Tigers had just won the national title, their second in six years.
Alleva, who worked at Duke for more than 30 years and was its AD for 10, had always hoped Duke could rebuild its football program. Alleva knew when he hired Cutcliffe, his third football coach, he at least gave Duke a chance to get where it is now.
Alleva wasn’t as confident in his first two hires at Duke, Carl Franks (1999) and Ted Roof (2003). Neither had any head coaching experience, and their five-year records, 7-45 and 6-45, respectively, reflected their on-the-job training.
The third time wasn’t so much the charm for Alleva, rather a chance to get it right. The school needed to make commitment to invest in the football program, Alleva said.
The Yoh Football Center, built in 2002, was the first step. When Cutcliffe was hired, there plans were in place for the Pascal Field House, the indoor practice facility built in 2011.
What Duke needed was a coach who knew what he was doing.
“It’s tough job,” Alleva said. “David had the intelligence and ability and he had already done it.”
Cutcliffe went 44-29 in seven seasons at Ole Miss, from 1998 to 2004, with five winning seasons and a high-water mark of 10-3 in 2003.
“I mean, he was SEC coach of the year,” Alleva said. “If you can coach in this league (the SEC), you can coach in that league (the ACC).”
To get Cutcliffe, who had worked as an assistant at Tennessee the two years before he was hired at Duke, it took more money than Duke was previously willing to spend, Alleva said.
Cutcliffe made $1.7 million in 2011, according to tax records, which is more than three times what Roof’s salary was.
“Duke didn’t want to commit the resources to hire a coach that had experience,” Alleva said.
“You know, in this world, you get what you pay for.”
For Duke, it’s all paying off now. After winning seven ACC games in Cutcliffe’s first four seasons, the Devils have won seven since the start of the 2012 season.
With wins against Wake Forest and North Carolina, Duke would win the Coastal Division and play in the ACC title game on Dec. 7 in Charlotte.
There’s even a chance Duke could face Alleva’s new school in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve.
“That would be something,” Alleva said.
It already is.