David Cutcliffe to take over Tennessee
OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD ... we have to get a head coach in NOW,
or else what's going to happen to our recruiting class?! (Breathing and
It's the strangest quirk in the hiring process of college football head
coaches. Administrators panic and get so freaked out about getting a guy
in to take over the ship that they often lose sight of what needs to be
done to get the right guy. Make a mistake, and it's going to
set the program further back than just one recruiting class.
Just ask Michigan what it's like to be impatient. It wanted Les Miles
and could've had him, but it couldn't sit still and wait the extra month
needed to get him, hired Rich Rodriguez, and now the program is one
mediocre year away from starting from scratch all over again. This same
situation recently came up at Notre Dame, where the powers-that-be
wanted Brian Kelly, but wasn't fired up about waiting until after the
New Year's Day bowls to get him. Had Cincinnati been playing for the
national title, Kelly might not be the head coach of the Irish, and why?
Because ADs get really, really jumpy when they see early February
breathing down their necks.
And now there's Tennessee, who scrambled after getting jilted by Lane
Kiffin and almost came up with a huge addition by subtraction by trying
to get Will Muschamp, got rejected once again, and now it's ... David
And Nick Saban isn't going to lose a wink of sleep tonight.
Cutcliffe is fine, whatever, but does he have what it takes to make
Tennessee a national title superpower? Is this the splash needed to be
made to get recruits to put on a Dreamsicle orange hat over a Crimson,
Gator blue, or Georgia red lid? Maybe for some offensive players who
want some of the best coaching they'll ever get, and putting points on
the board won't be a problem for the Vols, but unless there are any more
Mannings out there, Cutcliffe has to prove he can make a program a
This hiring assures a hard floor on where things can go. Tennessee will
make a bowl game every year, but that's not really the point. Kiffin
might have been a lot of things, but he was also an X factor who
appeared to be on the verge of doing some interesting things with some
great recruits on the way. Tennessee went with the safe and sane when it
needed to do something a bit dumb and dangerous. With Florida taking a
powder the timing was never going to be better, and now the rest of the
SEC caught a bit of a break.
Did Lane Kiffin do Tennessee a huge favor this week?
Call me a blind optimistic, but I'm convinced that the hiring of David Cutcliffe means the Volunteers have traded up at head coach in the last 72 hours. Of course, this has been disruptive, especially to the recruiting process, and at times painful to endure, but two years from now, the folks in Knoxville will be inclined to send a thank you bouquet out to Los Angeles.
The indisputable fact is that Kiffin may be the better salesman, but Cutcliffe is the better coach. And it's not even close. Pitchmen are a dime a dozen, even if they make a few more headlines along the way. Coaches, like Cutcliffe, are a different breed. They're leaders, teachers, and program-builders. They endure. Tennessee needs just this kind of guy to lead it back up the SEC mountain.
No more blustering. No more embarrassing press conferences. No more hints of NCAA infractions. Tennessee has landed an honest-to-goodness head coach and a decent gentleman to run its program. In two seasons at Duke, Cutcliffe flashed more coaching acumen than Kiffin has in his entire career. Poor Blue Devils, by the way, which finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel, only to get burned once again by the Southeastern Conference; a modern-day Steve Spurrier to Florida circa 1989.
Cutcliffe knows the SEC and Tennessee about as well as anyone this side of Phil Fulmer. He'll view this as a final stop on his coaching journey. And he's one of the best developers of quarterbacks in America, something that's plagued the Vols since he last left. It didn't seem possible a couple of days ago, but by bringing Cut back to Knoxville, Tennessee is in a better place than it was when Kiffin was calling the shots.
1) My, how quickly the world turns, and my, how tangled the college football coaching community really is. People in Knoxville, Tenn., and Oxford, Miss., are surely doing some reflecting tonight… or at least, they need to.
David Cutcliffe, Phil Fulmer's longtime right-hand man, is the person who has been asked to ride to the rescue in the realm of Rocky Top. David Cutcliffe is the one who was begged by Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton to help a wounded program just 14 months after the Fulmer era gave way to Lane Kiffin's destructive tour of (non-)duty in Knoxville. David Cutcliffe is the one Vol Nation turned to in a time of crisis.
Yes, this is the same David Cutcliffe who was prematurely ushered off the stage in Ole Miss, which replaced "Coach Cut" with Lane Kiffin's good buddy and right-hand man, Ed Orgeron.
Yes, this is the same David Cutcliffe who beat Oklahoma State in a Cotton Bowl game far better than the one Ole Miss (cough, cough) "won" against the very same Cowboys just a few weeks ago.
Yes, this is the same David Cutcliffe whose football wisdom, low-key manner, and impeccable X-and-O credentials simply didn't receive proper respect or praise throughout a productive career. It makes the head spin yet again in a coaching carousel season that's been off-the-charts insane.
What to make of the fact that Cutcliffe became a desirable commodity now, at this point in the life of Tennessee football? The longer backstory behind Cutcliffe's climb to the top spot at Neyland Stadium makes for fascinating reading.
Tennessee fans – now that they've received a strong dose of humiliation – should realize that in the great extended chain of human events, the karmic freight train that hit them in the face (in the person of Lane Kiffin) gained downward momentum thanks to Phil Fulmer himself. Fulmer's a good, decent man and a loyal Vol, but the offensive lineman from Winchester, Tenn., was the one who engineered a coup during the 1992 season while Johnny Majors rested on his sickbed.
When Fulmer got sacked after the 2008 campaign, the move – while perhaps justifiable – was ultimately unfair, because one wrong in 1992 doesn't make a 2008 decision right. Nevertheless, the fall of an accomplished coach evoked memories of Fulmer's own tainted rise to power… and Johnny Majors' drift into irrelevance for the rest of his own storied career.
The long march of time which connected Majors to Fulmer, Fulmer to Kiffin, Kiffin to Orgeron, Orgeron to Tennessee, and Tennessee to Ole Miss has now come full circle with the return of David Cutcliffe – once an Oxford man and then an exile at Duke – to the seat of power for the Children of the Checkerboard. Cutcliffe will receive a level of gratitude and appreciation he never fully gained in his prior UT incarnations.
Full credit to Mike Hamilton for manning up and tabbing a good man as Tennessee's newest head coach. After the past several years, Vol fans – like Ole Miss fans – know that in the larger scheme of things, this coach can Cut it… and that the Ed Orgeron-Lane Kiffin phone-calling brotherhood is better suited for the out-of-control culture of image-obsessed, youth-worshipping Hollywood.
2) Ty Willingham, this is how – and where – you should get back into the college coaching business. You won at Stanford, now go to Durham and resurrect your career at Duke University. And oh, one more thing: Bring a big-time offensive coordinator with you… like Mike Leach. Just coach the bejeezus out of the defense and allow a guru to cultivate an attack that can take lower-shelf talent and mold it into something formidable. You're welcome.