Cutcliffe Is Ready For Duke To Run

When head coach David Cutcliffe was introduced to the media on Saturday afternoon the message that a new day had arrived for Duke football was palpable. Soon after the new year, Cutcliffe promises those changes will begin to take hold inside the Yoh Center.

"I'm glad to be at Duke. This is a good feeling. You look for those good feelings in your lives and this has been a good feeling all along," said Cutcliffe of the interview process with the Blue Devils. "It just hit me in every direction that I was in the right place at the right time. I was around great people and I was at a great institution."

Indeed Cutcliffe's initial encounter with the media gave the impression that the 53 year old is a coach who is energetic and extremely excited when it comes to the task of reviving a program that has won just one game in the last two seasons, and over the last three seasons has a winning percentage of .060.

Many of those losses were due to a sever discrepency in the overall talent level between the Blue Devils and their opponents - something the previous staff worked to remedy by bringing in back-to-back top 35 classes in 2005 and 2006.

Cutcliffe acknowledged the staff under Ted Roof's accomplishments both on the recruiting trail and beyond, and certainly stands to benefit from those two highly recruited and highly regarded groups now entering their fourh and third seasons in the Duke program.

"I want to thank the previous staff here for their hard work and commitment to what they were doing day after day. I know those gentlemen and their families sacrificed a lot to get the program going and get the young men here and I appreciate what they've done without a doubt, and we were certainly respect what they've done over the last few years"

Building upon the base that has been left by Roof will be key for the new Blue Devil coach if he wants to achieve his goal of leading the Blue Devils out of the perpetual ACC cellar.

"[Recruiting] is the lifeblood of any college football program. I'm going to go after guys who can run. I don't want a guy that looks good in his uniform that can't run. We're going to start with people that can run. There are three parameters you can't miss in as an assistant coach when you're on the road recruiting. You can't miss in character, you can't miss in academics because that's right in front of you, and I don't want a coach to bring me a guy who can't run."

Running won't just be limited to skill players either according to Cutcliffe. Those in the trenches are going to see a marked change in their job description once the Outback Bowl ends and Cutcliffe arrives at his new post.

"Everyone is going to be able to run for us. Our offensive linemen are going to be able to run because you have to be able to run the ball. We may use screens, which mean they will have to get off the line and get to the side of the field as a unit. I'm going to be on our linemen watching their weight and making sure they are consistently able to run the field."

Screen passes arent' the only new wrinkle expected to be seen next fall when Duke opens their season. Though he declined to get too specific in his limited time before the media, Cutcliffe did offer some insights regarding his game management style and what it likely means for the new-look Blue Devils.

"First of all you have to be able to run the ball, and we're going to be able to do that. We're going to look to be in short yardage situations with that, but it starts with running the ball. If you can do that, you're going to be successful - because we're going to throw the heck out of it as well. We threw it [at Tennessee] nearly 500 times this year, but we also only gave up two sacks. We don't take negative plays - we throw it away when we have to. I see one of the quaterbacks in here (Zack Asack was in attendance) and he needs to hear that."

"Defensively we're going to do things that I've found give me trouble on offense. We're going to be aggressive. If I do make a mistake, it's because I err on the side of being aggressive. I like to do things that can help you make plays. We're going to zone blitz a lot on that side of the ball."

One of the most reassuring pronouncements for Duke fans was the attention to the special teams game that looks to be paid after the Blue Devils dropped several games over the last few seasons due to an inability to score points with the kicking game.

"We're going to really focus on the kicking game. Because if you can be successful there you will win close football games."

Though it certainly seems as though Cutcliffe, who compiled a 44-29 overall record at Mississippi, has the know how and the experience to help the Blue Devils become successful on the field, he also knows that for Duke football to really change things it means there will need to be changes in perception all over the board. The lack of commitment showed towards the program over for more than a decade has left a mountain of work to be done. Roof and his staff began climbing that mountain by improving the recruiting and putting together a strategic plan for the program to improve internally. It was something the new coach asked before accepting the job to coach in Durham.

"[I wanted to know] what their plan was. My job is to have a plan; what is the administrative plan to make Duke football better? They quickly went into what they were going to do from a commitment standpoint. There is a strategic plan that has been worked on and I've already briefly gone through that. You look at what Mike Krzyzewski has done here and the other sports here; it all comes together when you put those strategic plans and I believe we have 100 percent commitment from the administration to make that happen."

The initial steps have been taken with the plan by approving $5 million for improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium - however several more steps remain including such things as: addiitonal practice facilities (currently the Blue Devils do not have a full length practice field); improved strength and conditioning programs; and additional academic support staff - which will negate the need for reducing academic standards - something that athletics director Joe Alleva emphatically emphasized would not happen.

"And I wouldn't want to recruit someone who wasn't interested in competing both academically and athletically at Duke," said Cutcliffe. "However, there are a lot of people who don't have perfect standardized test scores that can compete, and we will look at those kinds of players and we will try to sell them a goldmine. When I walk into someone's livingroom I have something that nobody else can match. I'm bringing the promise of a Duke education with me, and that's before I even start telling them about how we're going to be competing for bowl berths and ACC Championships."

Cutcliffe will remain on the Tennessee coaching staff throughout their New Year's Day Outback Bowl game against Wisconsin. He is expected to incrimentally announce the members of his new coaching staff between now and that time.


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