Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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36 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI DUKE'S MESSIAH COACH Coaching effectiveness always needs context. A 9-3 record at Alabama would be a calamitous event, whereas at Vanderbilt it would merit legendary status for the coach who produced it. A prime example always has been Northwestern's and Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian. From 1956-63 with the Wildcats, he was "only" 36-35-1. Considering what he inherited and the constraints he was working un- der, his results there were perhaps even more impressive than his 95-17-4 ledger at Notre Dame (1964-74), with consensus national titles in 1966 and 1974 and a shared one in 1964. Duke's David Cutcliffe and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo — whom the Irish face on back-to-back weeks this year — are more recent examples. On paper and to someone with no knowledge of college football, Cut- cliffe's 71-76 record at Duke from 2008-19 would be grounds for dis- missal at a lot of schools. Upon closer inspection, it has earned the 65-year- old plaudits as one of the nation's finest leaders. Among 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), Cutcliffe annually ranks among the top 25 best coaches, including No. 21 by CBS Sports and No 24 by Athlon entering 2019. When Cutcliffe was hired by the Blue Devils in 2008, Duke football had experienced one of the worst stretches in college football history by a major conference team. In the 13 seasons from 1995-2007, Duke was 22-125 — a .1496 winning percentage, including 0-11 seasons in 2000 and 2001, and 0-12 in 2006. The Blue Devils never came close to finishing above .500. Cutcliffe inherited the rubble and was only 15-33 his first four years, which would have led to getting the axe at 99 percent of the other major FBS schools. Duke was a special case, though, and enough progress was seen to justify continuing his build- ing process. • By Cutcliffe's fifth season in 2012, Duke finished the regular season 6-6 to earn a bowl bid, where it lost. • In 2013, Duke incredibly won the Coastal Division of the ACC and played eventual national champion Florida State in the league playoff. Its 10-4 re- cord led to a No. 23 placement in the Associated Press poll, the first time the Blue Devils finished ranked since 1961. • After a 9-4 encore in 2014, Duke dropped to 8-5 the next year — but for the first time since the 1960 season, the Duke Blue Devils won a bowl game, a 44-41 overtime triumph versus Indiana in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. • The past two seasons, they won bowl outings in back-to-back years for the first time, romping to a 56-27 win versus Temple in last season's Independence Bowl. In the 51 seasons from 1961-2011, Duke received only two bowl invita- tions (1989 with Steve Spurrier as head coach, and 1994), but it has now gone to six of the last seven under Cutcliffe. It is the epitome of making a silk purse from a sow's ear, which is why Cutcliffe has become such an esteemed figure. He also was 44-29 at the University of Mississippi from 1999-2004, highlighted by a Cotton Bowl win in 2003 with quarterback Eli Manning during a 10-3 campaign in which the Rebels won a share of the SEC West title. Cutcliffe had coached Eli's older brother, Peyton, as a Tennessee assistant in 1994-97. The firing of Cutcliffe at Ole Miss in 2004 resulted in him accepting a job as first-year head coach Charlie Weis' assistant head coach/quarter- backs coach at Notre Dame in 2005. However, heart bypass surgery for Cutcliffe that March resulted in a medical leave and prompted him to step down from the post on June 1, 2005 before resurfacing at Tennessee in 2006-07 as an assistant and then taking the Duke job. Under Cutcliffe, Duke has devel- oped a reputation for overachieving the way Wake Forest did from 2001-08 under head coach Jim Grobe, with an almost identical record. Grobe led the previously moribund Demon Deacons to a 77-82 record and five bowl games, including the Orange Bowl in 2006 with an 11-2 regular season record af- ter stunningly winning the ACC. Duke is the non-triple-option ver- sion of Navy: well coached, competi- tive and resourceful. GAME PREVIEW: DUKE Top STorylineS Following a 51-year stretch from 1961-2011 that saw Duke earn just two bowl bids, head coach David Cutcliffe has guided the Blue Devils to six bowl games in the past seven seasons. PHOTO COURTESY DUKE ATHLETICS

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