Heart of the matter

All's fair in love and war ... and in college football recruiting.

As The Knoxville Journal's primary beat writer on Tennessee football from 1986-1991, I vividly remember one telephone interview with a quarterback prospect the Vols were recruiting in 1990. The young man said he liked Tennessee but was concerned that quarterback coach David Cutcliffe wouldn't be on the staff much longer.

When I asked why, the prospect replied that coaches at another SEC school told him Cutcliffe was going to retire soon because of a life-threatening heart condition. Stunned, I got the young man to repeat the comment to make sure I heard correctly. Sure enough, I heard correctly: David Cutcliffe had a life-threatening heart condition that soon would be cutting short his coaching career.

As soon as that conversation ended, I telephoned Cutcliffe's office and left a message on his voice mail. I shared what the prospect had told me, and asked if there was any truth to the story. Knowing the Vol aide might not check his answering machine for several days, I put the same information in a note that I dropped off at the UT football office.

The next day I got a telephone call:

"Randy, this is David Cutcliffe. Did you leave a note at my desk?"

I replied in the affirmative, then gave Cutcliffe the complete details of my conversation with the prospect. After a long pause, the Vol assistant gave me the whole story:

Yes, he had some heart problems but, no, they were not life-threatening or career-ending. Doctors had discovered some sort of irregularity in his heart but it was a condition that could be managed with medication. He said the whole thing was being blown out of proportion by rival coaches in an effort to gain a recruiting advantage.

Cutcliffe wound up coaching eight more seasons at UT, helping the Vols win a national title in 1998. He spent the next six years as head man at Ole Miss. Although his heart eventually required bypass surgery that caused him to sit out the 2005 season, he returned to coordinate Tennessee's offense in 2006 and 2007 before taking the top job at Duke for 2008.

So, 18 years after rival recruiters told prospects that his retirement was imminent, Coach Cut is still going strong. This, of course, is just one example of the type of negative recruiting that occurs each year as National Signing Day approaches.

As noted earlier, all's fair in love and war ... and in college football recruiting.

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