"I haven't been able to accept anything," Cutcliffe said during UT's pre-bowl media day. "It hasn't been offered to me at this point."
As for the rumblings that offer will come within the next 48 hours, Cutcliffe said, "I don't know a real time-table right now, so I think that's probably enough said about that."
Cutcliffe left the Vols once before to become head man. That was in December of 1998, when he accepted the reins at Ole Miss even though Tennessee was preparing to face Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl for the BCS national title. He expects to remain with UT through bowl play this season, whether Duke comes through with an offer or not.
"I've been working all morning on Wisconsin and the last week and a half on recruiting," the Vol aide said. "I'm going to continue to do so."
Following a brief opening statement, Cutcliffe requested that he be asked no questions about the Duke vacancy, noting that the topic is "all speculation." The request was ignored, of course. The first question concerned whether he expects to be offered the Blue Devil job.
"That would be arrogant," Cutcliffe said. "I can't say that I anticipate an offer. I know they've talked to other people. Other people have been in there. I don't know who or how or when."
Predictably, the next question concerned whether he considers Duke an attractive situation.
"Again, you're asking me a speculative question," the Vol aide said, subsequently adding: "I'm interested in becoming a head coach again. Whether that happens now … whether that happens in the future, I don't know.
"The only jobs I've ever been excited about are the ones I'm passionate about. At this time the only one I'm passionate about – the only one I have – is at the University of Tennessee. I'm really passionate about this job and this place."
Cutcliffe conceded that his talks with Duke are a distraction for Tennessee's players during their bowl preparations. Still, he vows to take steps aimed at keeping that distraction to a minimum.
"I'll tell them what I just told you guys," he said to a circle of reporters. "There's no secrets at this time."
Actually, coaching hires are all about secrets and deceptions. Coaches rarely admit they've interviewed for a job. They announce they have "withdrawn from consideration" when they are eliminated. Then, should they get the job, they deny it until the school has time to arrange a press conference.
When Ole Miss hired Cutcliffe away from Tennessee in 1998 the Rebels insisted he take the reins immediately and prepare the team for its bowl game. Duke has no bowl game to prepare for, so Cutcliffe – should he get the job – may be able to stay with the Vols through their Jan. 1 Outback Bowl date with Wisconsin.
Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said that, should Cutcliffe get the Duke job, "he certainly would like to stay for the bowl game."
When asked who would call Tennessee's plays in the event that Cutcliffe is not with the Vols on Jan. 1, Fulmer replied, "I just said, he's going to stay through the bowl game … if he were offered the job. He hasn't been offered the job at this point."
Regardless of the timing, Fulmer said Cutcliffe's departure would make hiring a new coordinator "go to the top of the list, as far as a priority."
Asked if he would consider members of the current staff potential successors to Cutcliffe, Fulmer nodded and replied: "I would research the whole scenario to find whoever I felt like would be the best thing for us."
Senior quarterback Erik Ainge admitted that Tennessee's players are following the Cutcliffe/Duke soap opera with interest.
"There's nothing you can do to keep it from being a distraction," he said. "It'll be a distraction but it's a good distraction. Coach Cut's a great coach. He has an opportunity to do bigger and better things. As much as he's a Tennessee guy – and he'll always be a Tennessee guy – it's still a business, and he needs to do what's best for him and his family.
"Whatever he ends up doing, I believe is because he's doing what he needs to do for him and his family."
Ainge said he fully expects a detailed accounting from Cutcluffe if the Vol aide gets the Duke job.
"I'm sure when he knows he's not going to hold out on us," the Vol senior said. "He's not going to make the choice, then not tell us … make us wait. When he knows, he'll let us know."