Thursday mornings at Duke won’t be the same without David Cutcliffe


Duke coach David Cutcliffe talks to guard Jacob Monk (63) during the second half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Miami on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Durham, N.C. (Nell Redmond/Pool Photo via AP)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: CBS 17 digital reporter Joedy McCreary covered David Cutcliffe-coached teams at two separate schools as a sports writer with the Associated Press, first at Mississippi in 2004 and then again at Duke from 2008-19.)

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — What I’ll miss most is the Breakfast Club at Duke.

That was the informal name he gave to the small club of reporters who spent every Thursday morning during the football season chatting with him after the Blue Devils practiced.

Those sessions usually followed the same template: He’d start on the record, running down the players listed on that week’s injury report.

And then we’d go off the record.

WAY off the record.

Telling stories from his previous half-century of coaching. About Johnny Majors, his old boss at Tennessee. About Bear Bryant, his mentor as a college student at Alabama.

They were fascinating. Entertaining. Enlightening. 

And part of what makes Cutcliffe completely unique among the dozens of coaches I’ve known.

Cutcliffe and Duke on Sunday announced what was termed a mutual separation, bringing to an end a 14-year tenure with the Blue Devils that came full circle — from the depths of the Atlantic Coast Conference to the league championship game and then back down.

When it comes to covering college football, I’ve been around. 

I spent two decades writing about the game, from West Virginia to Mississippi — where his last season at Ole Miss was my first season on the beat — to North Carolina.

The day before Duke hired him in December 2007, one of the school’s assistant athletic directors pulled me aside because he wasn’t terribly pleased with a tongue-in-cheek story I wrote about Duke’s online job posting for the vacancy at head coach.

And then, knowing of my history with Cutcliffe, he asked me what I thought of the leading candidate at the time.

I told him he’d have Duke in a bowl game within three years.

I was off by two.

But the remarkable turnaround that followed seemed worth the extra wait. While going 4-7 got him fired at Ole Miss, that same record might be worth a statue in Durham.

A program that regularly went winless in the preceding decade-plus reeled off four consecutive bowls, claimed a most improbable ACC Coastal Division title and had another one within reach the following year.

Along the way, he made Duke football interesting.

Former star pupil Peyton Manning worked out at Duke in Spring 2012 while he was a free agent recovering from neck surgery. Creating a circus-like atmosphere, NFL coaches and executives rolled through to check out his progress — including Denver Broncos legend John Elway, who later signed him.

And in the years that followed, kid brother Eli Manning stopped by at Camp Cutcliffe and brought some of his New York Giants teammates.

Those visits lifted the program’s profile far beyond what it had been for years, when even Duke’s own lawyers once argued their program was the worst in Division I.

But over the past three years, after a pair of lower-tier bowl victories in 2017 and ’18, the bottom fell out after Jones left.

The Blue Devils went 2-9 during the pandemic season in 2020. And the glimpses of hope that appeared after starting this season 3-1 came crashing down with eight consecutive losses, the last six by at least three touchdowns apiece. Only one ACC game — a last-minute 31-27 loss to Georgia Tech — was even remotely competitive.

And as the final seconds ticked away in a season-ending 47-10 loss to Miami on Saturday, it became clear that change was coming — one way or another. 

On Sunday, that change came.

So, at some point in the coming weeks, Duke will find a new coach.

They’ll never find another David Cutcliffe.

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