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Cirminiello: Duke's Very Brilliant Day

Campus Insiders & CFN
Posted Oct 28, 2013


Rich Cirminiello Thought After Week 9 - Duke's Very Brilliant Day

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Duke ought to give David Cutcliffe a lifetime contract, locking down the program’s most influential figure since a youthful Steve Spurrier was in Durham in the late 1980s.

What Cutcliffe has done with the Blue Devils in a little over five seasons is remarkable. On a micro level, he and his staff have changed the culture and the climate of an entire program, which is a lot harder than it might sound. On a big-picture scale, Cutcliffe has become the latest proof that success in this sport has always hinged upon the ability of leaders to maximize the talents of the young men they inherit and recruit.

With Saturday’s stunning upset of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Duke is now bowl-eligible in consecutive years for the first time in the program’s 119-year history of playing football. Nah, the 13-10 victory wasn’t a Picasso, but it was good enough to knock down all kinds of barriers, such as the Blue Devils’ first win over the Hokies since 1981 and their first road win over a ranked opponent since 1971.

Cutcliffe has succeeded in doing what Ted Roof, Carl Franks, Fred Goldsmith and Barry Wilson before him couldn’t do—transform young men into believers. Sure, Cutcliffe excels at X’s and O’s, and his teams are in great shape, but turning around a University, such as Duke, required him to get under the helmet and inside the heads of his players. The Blue Devils, once content to simply compete, now expect to win. The Blue Devils, who used to tally moral victories, now detest losses of all kinds.

Duke was able to defeat Virginia Tech, which began the weekend on a six-game winning streak, as much because of its mindset and its preparation as its personnel on the field. The Blue Devils don’t have as much talent as the Hokies, and they sure as heck didn’t execute well on offense in Week 9. But the swarming defenders, like linebackers David Helton and Kelby Brown, carried the team on a day when PK Ross Martin was the offensive MVP. Good teams find ways to win games that it probably shouldn’t, when the final score looks much better than the film does on Sunday. The Blue Devils are gradually becoming one of those teams.

Duke is a basketball school. Always has been. Always will be. But Cutcliffe has given fans of the school something to cheer before Coach K’s kids plays their first game at Cameron Indoor. What Coach Cut has been accomplishing in the fall also lends hope to any number of struggling football programs across the country, from Connecticut to Virginia and from Colorado to Purdue. If you hire the right leader and exercise some patience, prosperity is always a realistic possibility. Heck, Duke is bowl-eligible and it’s not even Halloween, so just about anything might be possible when the right staff in charge.