So the question has been answered: David Cutcliffe will be Duke's new coach. In many ways, he represents a departure for Duke.
Since perhaps Carl James attempted to hire Adolph Rupp, Duke has, generally speaking, hired young coaches in most sports. Coach K was only 33 when he was hired. Gail Goestenkors was quite young also, as was Carl Franks, Ted Roof, Liz Tchou, O.D. Vincent, Kerstin Kimmel, and Joanne McCallie, among others. The recent exception to this was John Dankowski, who was hired to take over lacrosse after that whole ugly bit of business. Dankowski not only had a son on the team, but also had a degree in counseling, and offered almost the perfect package at the right time.
If Duke's lucky, Cutcliffe will too.
At 53, he's quite a bit more grizzled than Franks or Roof, who both were first-time head coaches. And that might be a good thing. He may bring a different sort of authority to the field that a younger coach could not.
Certainly in his press conference he made a good impression. He spoke of how impressed he was with Duke, how there seemed to be a sense of pride around the school which obviously appealed to him. He made a point of introducing himself to Coach K, also a good move, and then spoke about football, saying his first focus would be on the kicking game, and that he wants speed. Even more than size, he wants speed.
At Tennessee, he made it a goal for his teams to score 30 per game, and obviously he's an offensively-minded coach. All three Manning quarterbacks - Archie, Payton and Eli - speak very highly of him.
Cutcliffe also spoke of appealing to the students, saying he'd go door to door in the dorms if he had to to generate some enthusiasm.
One other reason why Duke may have hired young coaches in the past is that with a limited budget they couldn't afford established coaches. For Cutcliffe, they opened the checkbook: he'll be getting $1.5 million per year, which is competitive. Just as importantly, though, is how well they'll pay the assistants. Duke has had some very fine assistants over the years - for a time. They've generally moved on and the program has suffered when they have.
At Ole Miss, he refused to fire his assistants when the A.D. demanded it and lost his own job instead. We're guessing he's the sort of guy who will go to bat for his coaches and realizes they'll have to be compensated in order for him to succeed.
The challenges at Duke remain. The facilities are still out of date in many respects, recruiting isn't easy, and apathy has long since taken root. But here are a couple of things to remember.
Appalachian State has proven that you can build a great program under challenging circumstances. There's no particular reason why a great program should take root in Boone; it was vision and hard work.
And secondly, ASU has made an art of recruiting guys who are under the radar of major schools, and as Cutcliffe promises to do, they've recruited speed. Appalachian doesn't have the academic restrictions Duke has, but still, it's not easy to build a dynasty there and they've done a brilliant job within their own constraints.
Cutcliffe has made a great impression on a lot of people. Now we'll see how he capitalizes on their good will.
One final note: the fact that Duke posted the football job on the employment section of the school's Web site has caused great merriment around the country. Unfortunately, the tittering class is likely uninformed (imagine that).
We think it's a requirement of fair hiring laws that Duke post the ad, and we're pretty sure all schools are required to do it.