College is where you go to find out what you want to do when you grow up.
There’s a reason freshmen major in undecided. We all know stories of students who went in with thoughts of being a lawyer or an engineer and took a class with a great professor and everything changed. You may even be one of those people.
Duke football’s offensive co-coordinator Jeff Faris was never that person. He’s long known where he was going.
Faris grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played on both sides of the ball at Knoxville Catholic and even scored the winning touchdown in a state playoff game. But he wasn’t the kind of player who was ever going to be an impact player at a Power-Five school.
Which mattered not one bit to Faris. He was on a different path, one that led to coaching.
“That was the plan,” Faris says. “I remember after my junior football season visiting Duke and telling my dad ‘are you okay with me going to Duke. I think I want to coach football.’ He was like ‘yea, keep your mind open for two years and whatever you want to do, chase your dreams.’ I chased mine. I lied to him. I never really kept my options open. I took economics classes but the entire time I wanted to be a football coach.”
Faris says David Cutcliffe was very much on board.
“On my official visit, I asked him. He said whatever you get, you will earn. He’s never lied to me. To Coach Cutcliffe’s credit, every single step of the way he helped me develop and grow.”
Faris technically was a defensive back, an end-of-the-bench defensive back. But in reality his position was sponge.
“As a defensive player and as a special-teams player, I got to meet with the quarterbacks as a junior and senior. I got to learn recruiting as a player. I got to make cutups, so I would be better prepared to be a graduate assistant.”
Faris graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He began working on a graduate degree and became a graduate-student assistant in July 2011.
Faris earned a master’s in economics in 2012 and a master’s in Christian studies in 2013.
Faris says the plan was always to move around and learn as much as he could in as many areas as he could. He worked two years as a grad-assistant with the offensive line and coach John Latina, a noted teacher. He worked with the wide receivers from 2013 through 2017 and with the tight ends in 2018 through 2020. He’s now the quarterback coach, in addition to his co-coordinator role.
“That was kind of the plan, to move closer to the ball, to understand. As a defensive back, the receiver stuff came a little bit natural because you’re trying to defend against all those things. Then you move to tight end and you learn the run game. It was great for my understanding.”
Faris could have washed out at any one of these steps. But Duke defensive line coach Ben Albert says that never came close to happening.
“He’s worked hard and put himself in position to be able to be where he is and he deserves every part of it. It’s not a matter of a guy being young or old, it’s a matter of a guy being knowledgeable. He’s been around one of the best in the business in terms of developing quarterbacks.”
Faris and receivers coach Re’quan Boyette are offensive co-coordinators. But Faris will be the coach upstairs, the one calling the plays. Cutcliffe did that last year but admits that it was one task too many.
Faris adds that he expects the co-coaching thing to work seamlessly. Duke has done the same thing on defense for several years, with Albert and Matt Guerrieri sharing the role and all concerned parties have been sharing tips.
“It works beautifully on defense,” Faris says “and it will be the same way on offense. The biggest thing with that is the relationship that Coach Boyette and I have. We played together. He knows how I think and I know how he thinks.”
Does Faris have a coaching philosophy?
“I like to have a lot of fun, I like to be aggressive. I have a lot of energy. I’m young . . . we love the kids. Having fun, looking forward to going to work.”
How will that translate into play calls?
“We are going to be aggressive. We are going to put those guys in position to make plays. At the quarterback position, we have to know when to take the appropriate shots and when to take care of the football. There are going to be opportunities to make plays. We’ve got a big pool of players to make plays. We’ve got to make the defense defend every blade of grass.”
Your ears may have perked up a bit at the talk about being aggressive. That’s the kind of thing that often gets said in preseason but doesn’t always make it through the end of the season.
But when Gunnar Holmberg talked to the media last week he talked about how often Duke was taking shots down field in the early practices and he looked like a kid at his birthday party. Star running back Mataeo Durant told me “ I’m expecting the play-calling to be really unique and able to make a lot of explosives.”
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy and all that. But some offensive aggressiveness might be just what the doctor ordered after last season.
Faris says “it’s been a dream come true” and in a few weeks we’ll start finding out if that high-school dream will lead to on-field success. But no 32-year-old can possibly be better prepared than Jeff Faris.