David Cutcliffe makes history and friends at Duke

November 28, 2013 

Some alumni of Ole Miss, otherwise known as the University of Mississippi, are still angry about what happened to David Cutcliffe in December 2004. Cutcliffe got fired after his only losing season. He’d been successful, so he declined the orders of the athletics director to fire some of his assistant coaches.

It was a sign, perhaps, of some uncommon qualities in an understated, relatively soft-spoken football coach. He has made history this season at Duke University, with nine victories and a chance Saturday to pave a route to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. If Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils beat North Carolina, they’ll play for the title.

Cutcliffe’s a quipster, but it’s his contemplative moments that give pause. After last Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest, Cutcliffe said, “I really feel like I’ve just kind of been along for the ride, I do. I’ve watched a lot of people, players, commit to this process. What I try to do is have fun every day. I try to get out of everybody’s way and keep somewhat light-hearted and whether we have struggled to win or we’re winning, I try not to change. Maybe that’s my role.”

That’s a healthy dose of introspection there. Of course, Cutcliffe already showed his character to Duke fans. In 2010, he declined to be considered for a job he might easily have won, head coach at the fabled football power, Tennessee. Cutcliffe announced he and his wife had decided Duke was the place for them.

Cutcliffe, who’s 59, has established a clean, academically sound program at Duke, where over decades alums, if asked about the football team, would say, “Have you seen the expansion at our world-famous medical center?” The university’s Wallace Wade Stadium is modest, and the university has not tolerated any academic rule-bending, which has made it tough for a succession of football coaches.

But now ... now Duke fans will be getting their suitcases ready for a bowl trip and perhaps even readying a celebration for champions. Mercy. Apparently, nice guys do not always finish last. Sometimes, they even finish first.

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