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A Team Effort, But Cutcliffe Built The Team

Coastal champs, 10-2 and a date with Florida State in Charlotte next Saturday.

Coach David Cutcliffe and punter Will Monday celebrate Duke's 27-25 win over UNC
Coach David Cutcliffe and punter Will Monday celebrate Duke's 27-25 win over UNC
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After Duke's win over UNC, several of the players picked up David Cutcliffe and gave him a ride. One of them said he deserved it (hard to argue). When Cutcliffe was asked what it was like to be carried off the field like that, though, he said this, according to the N&O's Luke DeCock: "You know what I was able to see, and honestly, you’re asking? It allowed me to see our parents and our players intermingling, Duke fans intermingling over in that corner. I really got a great view of that and otherwise I wouldn’t have."

It was a modest and humble thing to say, but characteristic of Cutcliffe.

As we all know by now, it's impossible to gain the full measure of a man through the prism of the media. Michael Jordan was lionized, but the accounts rarely mentioned his gambling and allegations of heavy womanizing (former VJ Kennedy partially confirmed this this past summer). Sports figures who of course work hard and have many related virtues and rewards are believed to have many more. But we saw them fall, one by one. Pete Rose. Mike Tyson. Evander Holyfield. O.J. Simpson. Barry Bonds. Lance Amstrong.

The list could go on for days.

So at this late date we're not falling for the sports figure as hero trope. They're all imperfect.

When Duke hired Cutcliffe, we weren't sure what we thought. He seemed rumpled maybe, a bit professorial. We weren't sure he was the right guy for Duke. And from Tennessee? Didn't seem like a good fit.

Boy, were we wrong, and it didn't take long to see that Cutcliffe was cut from a different cloth. We liked the fact that one of his first changes was to take the team out to pick up trash on campus. He wanted them to feel part of it, not separate, and responsible for taking care of the university too.

The next sign we saw was how he whipped his first team into shape. You might remember he said that it was the worst conditioned football team he'd ever seen. Well that got fixed in a hurry. We also liked the fact that he didn't yield on discipline: it's consistent and for everybody.

But most of all, we liked that he focused on character and loyalty. Those are tremendous qualities in a leader and not necessarily common these days either (Duke is lucky to have two such men).

He's sort of the anti-Saban.

After the game, when asked, Cutcliffe said that Duke's success was all about character, that everything flowed from that. Given where Duke was and what he's done with the program, how could anyone argue the point?

Nonetheless, people will argue it, and they'll try to do it with money. As soon as A.D.'s start firing coaches, they'll look at the job Cutcliffe has done and they'll offer him the moon. Places like Florida and Texas, maybe Alabama if Nick Saban does end up looking hard at Texas.

Who knows? Hiring season happens really fast.

But despite our misgivings about putting too much faith in sports figures, here's what we think we know about David Cutcliffe. When Tennessee came calling, his reason for turning down a job he had deep ties to was loyalty to his staff and players.

Given what he's built since then, given that we do believe him when he talks of loyalty, commitment and character, our guess is that he will choose to stay at Duke, that his sense of loyalty and commitment and yes, character, would win out over a big offer.

We've been wrong before, we'll be wrong again, probably by lunchtime, but if David Cutcliffe is the man we think he is, we don't think we'll be wrong on that.

Loyalty of course is a two-way street and Duke would be wise to demonstrate some loyalty to Cutcliffe too.