An interview with Duke blogger Mike Kline about Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, a reported candidate to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is a four-time MVP, 11-time Pro Bowler, the fastest ever to 50,000 NFL passing yards and a Super Bowl champion. Before he was any of those things, though, David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke, was his offensive coordinator at Tennessee.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, a two-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl MVP. Before he was any of those things, though, Cutcliffe was his head coach at Mississippi.
If there's one person who can claim credit for molding the NFL's first family of quarterbacks into what it is today, it's Cutcliffe. With that in mind, it's not surprising that David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported on Friday that Cutcliffe could be a backup candidate in the event that Penn State was unsuccessful in attracting Boise State's Chris Petersen or the Tennessee Titans' Mike Munchak to replace Joe Paterno.
Well, since Friday, both Petersen and Munchak have denied interest in moving to Happy Valley, so it's probably time to take a closer look at Cutcliffe.
After leaving his long time home at Tennessee in 1998 to take the job at MIssissippi, Cutcliffe compiled a 44-29 record in Oxford, leading the Rebels to an SEC West championship and Cotton Bowl victory in 2003. The 2004 season brought a 4-7 record, however, and after refusing to make changes on his staff, Cutcliffe was fired.
He then spent stints as an assistant at Notre Dame and again at Tennessee before taking the Duke job for the 2008 season. Now 57, the Birmingham, Ala. native has been with the Blue Devils ever since and has posted a 15-33 record at the traditional football also-ran, which finished 3-9 in 2011.
Lest you think Cutcliffe might be looking for an opportunity to move up, though, it's worth noting he had the following comments after turning down the Tennessee job in 2010.
"After much thought and consideration, Karen and I reached the decision that Duke is the place for our family," Cutcliffe said. "We have both family members and lifetime friends in the Knoxville community and share a deep respect for the University of Tennessee. Our ties to the school and the Eastern Tennessee area are obvious. But before Tennessee’s hiring process comes to a conclusion, I know that Duke University is where we want to coach."
Something to consider.
Now, for some deeper perspective on Cutcliffe's time in Durham, Mike Kline of DukeSportsBlog.com was kind enough to answer some questions for SB Nation Pittsburgh.Check out his responses below, and be sure to visit his site, too, where he writes that Cutcliffe would be a good fit for Penn State, but won't ultimately leave if he's courted to do so.
AB: Generally, how do Duke fans feel about the job David Cutcliffe has done? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?
MK: Most fans do have a positive feel for the job Cutcliffe has done at Duke. There are competing opinions, though, and some were ready to cut ties with Cutcliffe after the opening season loss to Richmond. Some fans were just angry and disappointed, others have maintained the idea that Cutcliffe isn't the guy for the job. My take, though, is that he the perfect guy, really the only guy for the job, and a majority of Duke fans agree with me, I think.
AB: What has his team's offensive identity been at Duke?
MK: Pass first, pass second, and if you have to, run the ball. Cutcliffe came in as a offensive/quarterback guru and so far he has had done a nice job with quarterbacks. Duke's offense has been a lot of passes, mostly short passes. Bubble screens were the most common play this past season especially early. The run game was used minimally, but mostly to set up the pass. Duke has talented running backs, but injuries on the line and to the backs themselves hindered the development of the running game. And Duke was simply a better, more effective team through the air.
AB: What has his team's defensive philosophy been with the Blue Devils?
MK: Duke really hasn't had much of a defensive philosophy, mainly because they've have a different defensive coordinator almost every year. In Cutcliffe's four seasons, he has only had the same defensive coordinator in consecutive seasons once. Currently defensive coordinator Jim Knowles likes a 4-2-5 scheme. This was to emphasis the strength in the defensive backfield and lack of depth at linebacker. Duke does have a solid linebacking core led by Kelby Brown. The Blue Devils will have to replace some depth in the backfield and upfront and hopefully return some guys who were lost to injury. Injuries really killed the team as a whole on defense this past season. The Blue Devils couldn't get pressure, and they were just horrible on third down. I expect greater consistency next season with Knowles returning, but a lot of young players will once again be thrust into some key positions. The one positive from this year's injury-plagued season is the amount the younger guys on the two-deep got to play, which can only help this coming season.
AB: How would you rate Cutcliffe's quarterback development in Durham and why?
He did a masterful job turning Thad Lewis into an All-ACC quarterback, but the jury is out on Sean Renfree. Renfree was fairly highly-touted coming out of high school and was to have attended Georgia Tech before Paul Johnson's triple-option offense came to town. He settled on Duke. Cutcliffe redhsirted him a year and he played some in a backup capacity behind Lewis. Renfree is a good quarterback, a smart quarterback, but Cutclffe has to get him to simply play and not think all the time. He is very cerebral, but that often clouds his decisions as he plays at times not to make mistakes, and that more times than not leads to them. Cutcliffe has one more spring practice and season to make Renfree into the quarterback many fans think he can be. That being said, I'd rate Cutcliffe's job with quarterback (the only two he has had at Duke) at fair to good.
AB: What is Cutcliffe's approach to recruiting and how would you rate his efforts?
MK: Cutcliffe has improved Duke's recruiting dramatically. He is using a two-pronged approach. He is looking for the kids who are a little bit lower on the priority list, but who he feels can develop into quality players down the line. He is using the redshirt approach with those kids. He is also not afraid to target the top-notch players and see if he can get a few to bite on what he is doing at Duke. The players he is getting are faster, stronger and have greater potential than any coach since Steve Spurrier. His target audience is still hindered though due to academic requirements. He's doing a good job, but it will take some time to make it sustainable, and the first step toward helping that is to win and they are getting really close there. So basically, I feel his efforts are perfect given the state of the program.
AB: What kind of fit would you see Cutcliffe being with the Big Ten? How do you think he would fare at that level?
MK: Cutcliffe has coached at a high level in the SEC and has made Duke somewhat relevant. So I think it goes without saying that he could succeed in the Big Ten. I'm not sure how good a fit he would be. He is a good man and strong coach, so I'm sure he'd fit in just about anywhere he were to go.
AB: How does Cutcliffe handle off-field team issues (i.e. academics, legal issues, NCAA rules)?
MK: If Cutcliffe had a reputation of being anything other than a straight arrow, he wouldn't be at Duke now. He has no history of NCAA troubles so he runs a clean program. He graduates his players. He has had players get into academic and legal troubles while at Duke and he has been more than fair giving those kids who deserve a chance to come back that opportunity. But he isn't going to be soft on those guys. You don't play by the rules you don't play, period.
AB: Is Cutcliffe prepared to become the face of a program in this kind of turmoil?
MK: Not sure if I could say he was prepared. He could handle it, though. He is a great guy, and can certainly rally the troops and the fan base behind him. He has done that at Duke, something many had given up hope of happening.
AB: Any general thoughts about Cutcliffe and Penn State?
MK: I just don't see it happening, to be honest. He turned down the Tennessee job two years ago, and that was a better situation. That isn't to say Tennessee is a better job, but it was a place he was familiar with, had spent years establishing roots with, and wasn't involved in the same level of turmoil that is surrounding the Penn State program. He has a lot of respect for the program, but he is loyal guy. He has made commitments to Duke, and I just don't see him leaving Durham. I think he is ready to settle down, build the program up and retire here. Again, not a knock on Penn State, but if he didn't leave for the SEC and Tennessee I'm not thinking he will leave for Penn State.