Sunday and Monday in Greensboro. Tuesday dinner. Thursday lunch. The coaches of the Triangle’s three ACC teams have spent so much time together lately they may develop separation anxiety.
In a year where all three schools play each other, raising the interpersonal stakes a bit, it has been an unusual week. Duke’s David Cutcliffe, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren were with the other 11 ACC coaches for two days for the league’s kickoff event, spent Tuesday night together at the North Carolina Coaches for Charity event and were back at one table again Thursday for the annual Pigskin Preview luncheon.
“Now we’re going out to eat together tonight,” Cutcliffe said. “Not really.”
The rubber-chicken circuit is part of the job, but the vast majority of it is spent at school-specific events, alongside basketball coaches and speaking to boosters and fans. At this time of year, the rivals are always thrown together.
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A coincidence of the calendar this year packed it all into a single week – a very long, very collegial week.
“It’s unique to be around them this much in one week, I can say that,” Doeren said. “Not that I dislike it, but it’s not normal. I think we’re all looking forward to coaching our teams right now, and all these things, as important as they are, take us away from our teams. It’s part of the job, you have to do it, you want to do it – it’s just hard to do it all in one week.”
In years past, that much exposure to each other in such a short time might have brought Chuck Amato and John Bunting to blows, or elevated the exchanges between Butch Davis and Tom O’Brien from passive aggression to actual aggression. But Thursday, Doeren and Fedora were seated next to each other on the dais, with no buffer of coaches and sponsors for the first time in years.
Because Doeren is new and has yet to face Fedora or Cutcliffe on the field, the time spent with them this week has been perhaps a bit more welcome than it would be otherwise, a little getting-to-know-you time for the new kid in school, although still not much of it. Cutcliffe and Doeren have yet to even broach the common ground of fishing – although Cutcliffe is a bass guy and Doeren is a fly guy, so there may not even be any common water there at all.
And Doeren didn’t rouse any rabble Thursday. While Cutcliffe and Fedora eat this kind of thing up, in Doeren’s appearances so far, he has been thoroughly professional without showing any additional enthusiasm for this kind of thing. He’s clearly ready to stop talking and start coaching. That attitude he shares with his predecessor, although O’Brien always managed to sneak in a couple of one-liners, usually at Davis’ expense.
Perhaps down the road, after a game or two and some of the on- and off-field shenanigans that always seem to accompany rivalry games in this area, there will be a little more friction, a little more intrigue. (Maybe not – after this season, N.C. State won’t play Duke again until 2020.)
“I like being around other coaches, I like talking football with them,” Doeren said. “But this close to when we’re trying to beat each other? It’s overkill, a little bit.”
It’s been a long week of togetherness. For now, the coaches are happy to go their own separate ways, not out of dislike, but out of eagerness to get back to their own teams and get started.