Google+ Followers

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The following is an excerpt that ran in the USA Today prior to Duke's participation in the ACC Championship football game.  There are times I hear coaches complain as to why they can't win at their school.  The list at Duke, which Coach David Cutcliffe lists is staggering -- yet he didn't let it interfere with what he could control -- recruiting the best student-athletes possible, creating a culture of excellence and teaching them at a high level. 
The article, written by Nicole Auerbach, is a lengthy one and well worth the read.  You can read it in its entirety here.  But below are some of the things that struck a chord with me:
The academic standards were too strict. The stadium was old. Practice facilities were awful. Attendance was down. The football team had won just 10 games in eight years.

David Cutcliffe knew all the reasons why he wasn't supposed to succeed at Duke; he came up with them himself. They filled up a long list he and his staff made right after they were hired in December 2007.

"We wrote every little reason a prospect wouldn't come," Cutcliffe said this week in office. "Once you identified (them), you actually found out what you had to do. It's really that simple. … We worked on little things at a time.

"It's kind of like cutting the grass — or something that's very visual. When you finish, it looks better. I'm making something look better, and you can see it."

The lawn — er, the Duke football program — looks pretty good these days. The Blue Devils have won 10 games for the first time in school history, and they just won their first ACC Coastal Division title. On Saturday, they will face No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game.

But back to that grass. It represents more than a complete transformation from irrelevancy to the ACC title game; it represents, as Cutcliffe describes it, a necessary culture change.

And it's also quite literal.

"When I say cut the grass, literally cut the grass," said Cutcliffe, who was named Walter Camp 2013 Coach of the Year on Thursday. "We pick up litter. We pull weeds. I picked up maybe 144 Gatorade bottles by myself one day early after I'd taken the job — tossed over, into the high grass that surrounded part of the practice field, in and amongst rusted sleds that hadn't been moved.

"Everything, to me, matters."

Cutcliffe found a pickup truck, loaded up the sleds and discarded them at the dump. Presentation matters to Cutcliffe; it's especially important when you're trying to build and maintain a brand.

He began having his players all wear the same gear in the weight room and dress well while traveling to and from games. He banned players from wearing earbuds while walking through campus to the stadium during their pre-game ritual.

"Everybody asks, 'How do you change a culture?' You change a culture," Cutcliffe said. "Practice makes permanent. Whatever it is you practice, on the field, off the field, academically — it becomes who you are.”

"I wouldn't feel good about who we are if we compromised our values. We're not going to do that in recruiting. There are so many people now who are willing to compromise whatever it is they believe for ability. I personally think that's a mistake."