DURHAM, N.C. – The latest Duke football and Wallace Wade Stadium facelifts were unveiled Saturday against North Carolina Central. It was a night for David Cutcliffe’s ninth season opener and the stadium’s second phase of renovations.
Yes, Duke’s 49-6 victory was a mismatch, but the Blue Devils’ efficiency behind redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones and a veteran secondary led by redshirt senior DeVon Edwards was nevertheless impressive.
Duke led 49-0 at halftime, allowing Cutcliffe to empty his bench in the second half. He played both backup quarterbacks, Parker Boehme and Quentin Harris.
Cutcliffe, of course, watches game days from the sideline, but much of his vantage over the years of building the program and upgrading Wallace Wade has been observed from his Yoh Football Center office overlooking the historic stadium.
“I’ve watched these guys work,” said Cutcliffe earlier in the week. “I’ve seen lakes of water from the rain and I’ve seen them baked in the sun.”
His specific reference was to construction crews working on $100 million upgrades to the stadium and the athletic complex, but Cutcliffe equally could have been referring to Duke’s players and coaches, who have toiled to revive a downtrodden program.
The 1-0 Blue Devils are seeking their fourth straight winning season for the first time since 1960-’63 and their fifth consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history (they finished the 2012 season 6-7 with a bowl loss). They are coming off their first bowl victory since 1961, having defeated Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Droughts have been quenched with Cutcliffe as the rainmaker. No one accused Cutcliffe of being a charlatan, but he was cautioned by friends and colleagues to stay away. Duke was considered a graveyard for coaches.
The program was coming off seasons of 1-11, 0-12, 1-10 and 2-9 (4-42) under Ted Roof when Cutcliffe took over in 2008. Before Roof, Carl Frank’s teams were 4-8, 2-10, 0-11, 3-8 (9-37). And on it goes.
One interruption to Duke’s losing ways was Steve Spurrier’s three-year stay from 1987 to 1989. His teams went 5-6, 7-3-1 and 8-4 with an ACC title and a 6-1 league mark in the pre-expansion days of the eight-team ACC.
Spurrier said he also was told not to take the Duke job, but he says his time in Durham provided him with his coaching foundation. His experience also told him Cutcliffe could duplicate his success.
“When I took this job, he was thrilled for me,” Cutcliffe said. “I had gotten some of the same (discouraging) feedback, but he was the most positive person about it.”
Spurrier made the rounds earlier this week on ESPN’s platforms hawking his new book, “Head Ball Coach.” He spoke fondly of his time at Duke, adding that he also was told not to take the Duke job for its graveyard reputation.
He said he probably would have sold insurance when his NFL playing days finished, but Florida, his alma mater, hired him as its quarterback coach in 1978. However, the staff was fired at the end of the year. He spent one year at Georgia Tech with the same ending.
Spurrier found his roots in the transient coaching business as the offensive coordinator at Duke from 1980-’82. Those teams went 2-9, 6-5 and 6-5 before he left to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL.
When the USFL folded, Spurrier returned to Duke as a head coach. His success propelled him back home to Florida, this time as the head coach. He won six SEC titles and a national title in 1996.
Duke may be a tough job, but Spurrier believes the right coach can win similar to Stanford, another academically challenging program in the Pac-12. Cutcliffe and Spurrier have known each other since Cutcliffe’s older brother Paige Cutcliffe was Spurrier’s teammate at Florida in the mid-1960s.
“If there is any similarity, we both have things we believe in strongly,” said Cutcliffe. “We both adhere to that plan. We’re a little different. I think it’s not just a formula for Duke but for anywhere to create some longevity. We knew we came here for [the] long run. We knew this was not a short or easy fix. It’s been a process of getting better.”
For Duke’s redshirt seniors, the progress encompasses their entire time on campus. Redshirt senior starting right tackle Casey Blaser was part of a 2012 recruiting class that committed despite Duke’s 3-9 record in 2011.
“Coming out of high school, Coach Cut was selling a dream of the vision he had,” Blaser said. “They were coming off a 3-9 season, but I saw how the older guys acted; they wanted to win. It seemed like they were buying into how they wanted to win. They were building toward Coach Cut’s vision. Now five years later it’s been what Coach Cut said it would be.”
Cutcliffe was selling hope when Blaser’s class committed, but now that he’s selling results. The Blue Devils’ recruiting class rankings evaluated by various services have steadily improved.
“It’s been a great experience,” Blaser said. “My class has been to four bowl games. We want to keep improving and win the Coastal to get back to Charlotte.”
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