How Duke football’s Matt Guerrieri helped coach from afar after the death of his dad

Duke co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri learned of his father’s death hours before the Blue Devils’ game at Baylor.
Duke co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri learned of his father’s death hours before the Blue Devils’ game at Baylor. Duke Photography

A few hours after learning of his father’s death, Duke co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri helped coach the Blue Devils to a 40-27 win at Baylor. He returned to his hometown of Cleveland the day after the game and he’ll be returning to Durham Wednesday night, meaning he’s been absent for three practices this week.

Guerrieri missed two practices last week, prior to the Baylor game, while he returned home to see his ailing father, Jim Guerrieri, for the last time.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe wants his 29-year-old coach to spend as much time as he needs to with his family. While doing so, Guerrieri has stayed in touch with his players and fellow defensive coaches to ensure the team’s defensive game plan doesn’t suffer.

“God bless Matt,” Cutcliffe said “They are having FaceTime meetings and using technology to send scripts and film back and forth. I don’t know when he is finding time to do that. But he’s his daddy’s son. That’s how his dad went about working. I’ve tried to stay out of there when they are FaceTiming because it makes me sad, honestly.”

Junior cornerback Myles Hudzick credited a team effort for making a difficult situation as smooth as possible.

“All of the coaches have stepped up and all of the leaders on our team are stepping up,” Hudzick said. “We feel for Coach Guerrieri. He hasn’t been with us but we are not allowing it to hinder our team. We are going to do everything we can to be successful for him.”

On Tuesday, Cutcliffe led a Duke contingent that flew to Ohio to attend a celebration of life for Dr. Jim Guerrieri, an obstetrics and gynecology physician who was 60 when he died. They returned in time for Wednesday’s practice.

“It was just, I almost used the word `amazed’ last night,” Cutcliffe said. “Not totally unexpected at the number of people and energy that was in that room. Jim Guerrieri lived a great life. What an incredible family and a great tribute to a great man who was an OB/GYN that brought 7,000 babies into this world. I don’t know if you can do better work than that.“

Cutcliffe credited Duke’s players and the defensive coaching staff -- co-defensive coordinator Ben Albert, linebackers coach Lanier Goethie and cornerbacks coach Derek Jones -- plus the graduate assistants for pulling together to help in Guerrieri’s absence.

“He’s tried to do as much as he can humanly possibly do, which doesn’t surprise me,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s the person that Matt is. That’s the person that Ben Albert, Derrick Jones and Lanier Goethie and the rest of that group. They’ve realized it. It’s just the right kind of people and that’s what you do when things are tough for the people you love.”

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