TOMORROW DUKE WILL COME to Chapel Hill to play a football game that both teams need. The Tar Heels need to win. The Blue Devils need to lose. (Trust me on this, Duke fans, the Blue Devils need to lose.)
I am a locally noted quasi-expert on Duke football. (Several of my nieces and nephews, you see, have Bill Murray, the great Duke football coach, as their great-grandfather. So, this means I need to know things about Coach Murray even their dad may not know, such as their great granddad played in the first game ever in Wallace Wade Stadium. [This I learned after being forced to read "80 years in Wallace Wade" in "GoDuke! The Magazine" – a painful ordeal that no Tar Heel should have to experience, but will if they are no better prepared than I was when I took my car recently for repair at a Durham dealership.]).
Anyway, when David Cutcliffe was hired by Duke, I went out of my way to tell every Duke fan I know that he was the best coach Duke could possibly hire. This is a man who tutored Peyton and Eli Manning, mentored Tee Martin when he led Tennessee to a national championship, and coached twenty-two football bowl teams.
Cutcliffe looked to be a clone of Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe (presuming that love, beauty and moral perfection can be cloned), so it would also take him about six years to turn Duke into a winner – a feat that would make walking on water, or even winning at Wake, look like sluicing down a Slip 'N' Slide®.
I may have been wrong. I thought Cutcliffe, who is younger than he looks, might coach at Duke until he retired. Cutcliffe is already, by consensus, the best Duke coach since Steve Spurrier. But I say Cutcliffe is a far better coach than Spurrier. For one thing Steve Spurrier was an [anatomical reference here]. David Cutcliffe is a class act.
But Cutcliffe, stupidly, is winning too fast – and his biggest danger at this point is success. Yes, success. Last year Cutcliffe got off to a near-disastrous 3-and-1start. Then, apparently, having been apprised of my earlier instructional column for coaches (perhaps by Googling "Learning the Goldsmith Variations"), Cutcliffe realized the error of his ways and quickly started losing, finishing a quite respectable, for Duke, 4 and 8.
But, it seems, Coach Cut, as he is affectionately known to the growing legion of seven Duke football fans, has forgotten again already. So, let me warn you, Coach Cut: "If you start winning, you can't stop."
Cutcliffe should have learned this at Mississippi. In 2003 the Cutcliffe-headed Ole Miss squad went 10 and 3, finished tied for first in the SEC West, 13th in the nation and won the Cotton Bowl. The next year Ole Miss went 4 and 7 – in Cutcliffe's only losing season of his six there – and, of course, he was fired. ("What have you done for me lately?" is the official motto of NCAA football.)
But none of this is why Duke fans should want Duke to lose. Look at the current Bowl Championship Series standings. If Nick Saban's Alabama team finishes third in the BCS poll, where they are now, Tide Nation will be calling for Saban's head. And they may be looking for revenge for the events of 1930 – when Duke lured Wallace Wade from Alabama, after he had won three national championships there.
David Cutcliffe, you should know, graduated from Alabama. You don’t want Alabama to want him back. Not even James Buchanan Duke himself could sell enough cigarettes to beat the Crimson Tide in a bidding war for a football coach. The Tide hired Saban away from the NFL – which clearly could not afford to keep him.
So, for the Duke fans whom I have invited to the game, please wear light blue and be ready to cheer, "Go Heels!" Trust me, Devils, it’s in your own best interest to leave the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill.
Gary D. Gaddy requests that his Tar Heel team be very alert if any Duke player stops to "tie his shoestrings" on Saturday.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday November 7, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy