Cutcliffe move a bit surprising

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe's decision to accept the head coaching job at Duke comes as a bit of a surprise on two fronts.

First of all, Cutcliffe has said he would not take a job unless he thought he could finish in the first half of a conference or a division within a conference.

Duke doesn't seem to fit that criteria. Duke has won 23 football games in the past 12 years with three losing streaks of at least 15 games. The most recent coach, Ted Roof, was 6-45 in four-plus seasons.

Does that sound like a program ready to challenge Virginia Tech or Florida State or even Clemson?

But Cutcliffe apparently changed his goals. Last year, he would have been interested in jobs at North Carolina and North Carolina State but couldn't get an interview. He would have been interested in Georgia Tech or Arkansas but couldn't get an interview.

With a still-burning desire to be a head coach again, Cutcliffe figured if he passed on Duke, he might not get another shot any time soon – at least at the level he wanted.

Secondly, Cutcliffe had said Monday he had no contact with any school about openings. While that might ``technically'' be true, rumors about Cutcliffe and Duke surfaced several weeks ago.

When Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson withdrew his name from consideration, Duke came after Cutcliffe. But you've got to believe that Cutcliffe – directly or indirectly – had let Duke know he was interested. Otherwise, his Wednesday interview wouldn't have come about so quickly.

Cutcliffe agreed in principle to accept the Duke job on Friday night but he and Duke officials couldn't go public until athletic director Joe Alleva got approval from the chancellor and board Friday afternoon.

That's why Cutcliffe kept denying Friday that he had been offered the job or had accepted the job. I'm sure Alleva told Cutcliffe the job is yours but I can't make an official offer until later Friday.

Duke has demonstrated to Cutcliffe it is committed to winning in football.

Cutcliffe's deal is for six years at $1.5 million a year. He was making about $325,000 as Tennessee's offensive coordinator. Anyone who blames Cutcliffe for seeking financial security for his family is a fool.

Duke isn't just making a financial commitment to Cutcliffe; it's making one to the program. It not only promises to upgrade facilities, it pledges to give Cutcliffe a budget of more than $2 million to hire assistant coaches.

That's about $300,000 more than Tennessee pays its assistants.

You can bet Cutcliffe will bring to Duke some of UT's assistants – most likely Matt Luke and Kurt Roper. Maybe more.

For Phillip Fulmer to find able replacements, UT might have to open the purse strings. If Duke, one of college football's worst Division 1-A programs over the past dozen years, can pay $2 million for assistants, Tennessee can, too. And might have to.

Coordinators as capable as Cutcliffe are hard to find.

So where does Fulmer turn? It could be receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who is scheduled to interview for the offensive coordinator's job at Baylor next week.

If Fulmer doesn't promote Taylor, Taylor might leave. He turned down a chance to coach at Texas for more money a couple of years ago. He was passed over for UT offensive coordinator when Cutcliffe was hired. If he's passed over again, he likely would take the Baylor job – if offered.

Taylor wants to be a head coach. You almost have to be a coordinator to get hired as a head coach in Division 1-A.

Taylor is an outstanding recruiter. He also proved to be a solid position coach. But is he ready to be a play caller? Only Fulmer knows for sure. Fulmer is on the practice field and in meeting rooms with Taylor. He knows Taylor's strengths and weaknesses. He knows what Taylor can and can't do.

So, do you trust your offense – and perhaps your future as UT's head coach – to an unproven play caller?

Someone said that just because you're a chest bumper and high five players and show enthusiasm doesn't mean you can call plays. True. But it doesn't mean you can't, either.

If Fulmer doesn't promote Taylor, would he elevate offensive line coach Greg Adkins? Adkins has proven his mettle as a position coach. Is he ready to coordinate an offense and call plays? Again, Fulmer has better insight as to whether Adkins is ready than any fans.

If Fulmer goes outside the UT family, would he dare hire a coach to run a spread or spread option offense? That's what Tommy Tuberville did to invigorate his Auburn offense. But Tuberville is known as the Riverboat Gambler.

I can't see Fulmer doing that. Fulmer has won a lot of games. He is conservative by nature. I think hiring a coach to run the spread would be out of Fulmer's comfort zone.

While you might complain UT's offense is dated, it really isn't. The offense has spread-option plays – you saw that with Gerald Jones late in the season. It has the option. It has drop-back passes, roll-out passes, reverses, misdirection.

It has all the plays necessary to win at a high level. It's a matter of picking the right plays at the right time and getting talented athletes to execute it.

Now, it's a matter of picking the right offensive coordinator.

Cutcliffe's departure could be devastating. He brought discipline and direction to the offense. He molded Erik Ainge into a quality SEC quarterback.

If Fulmer hadn't hired Cutcliffe two years ago, I don't think Tennessee wins 18 games and captures the East Division title over the past two years.

Hiring Cutcliffe after the 2005 season was an easy call.

Now, Fulmer faces the biggest hire of his career.

If he makes the right choice, Tennessee could contend again for an SEC championship in 2008. Make the wrong choice and the consequences could be disastrous.


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