Press Conference: Duke football coach David Cutcliffe
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Why didn’t we? We received a lot of first place votes. We weren’t picked first. I think if you look at the coastal division — I told some guys this — you could really do a real serious 1 through 7, and then for fun, right on the other piece of paper, flip it, make 7 to 1 and go right back down. It would be interesting to see which one was the most accurate. So, I think, as I look at preseason votes, you know who I’m happy for are former players because I think it’s meaningless to this team. The 2014 team has got to go prove itself. But I think the significance is all of these young men that have come through there since we’ve been there that have played such a big role in every year getting better and working as hard. So I know in my heart how proud those guys are of the fact that they helped move this to the point where we could be picked second. You’re kidding? The only difference last year, I told people being in a 12-team league as in a 14-team league is we were picked seventh instead of sixth. Now, we’ve got to handle a different role. Again, I think I’m happy because of our former players.
Q. As a matter of fact, 13 out of the last 14 years Duke has been picked last in the preseason. Preseason polls, is that not an indication of how your program is perceived and respected?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I think, and that’s why I said I’m happy for our former players. I think, certainly, if I were a young prospect, I’m going to be affected by that, so I’m not going to ignore it. I’m not going to say I’m upset about it. I like the fact that our guys have earned that opportunity. But the ones, again, that it’s most meaningless to is not prospects, it’s the actual players of the 2014 team because it’s no different than a year ago when we were picked seventh. People say, well, you had something to prove. Well, anger lasts in that regard about five minutes, and then you’ve got to go play football. So it’s a matter of being the best you can be every day, and I think that’s what this 2014 team has to do to be successful.
Q. I just want to know what are your thoughts about facing Syracuse this season?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I’ve been to the Carrier Dome before. There’s nothing easy about playing in the Dome. It’s a challenge. I think they’ve done a terrific job of trying to establish their program. They’re a great new member of the ACC. It’s going to be different for our players. We’re going to be up there when it’s a little colder outside, and so the thing is to try — when you take a team on a longer trip and a new trip, even when you have veterans, how do you circle them in and get them to focus and play? So it’ll certainly be a very challenging game, and everybody is a little different as a team in November. Hard to say who’s going to match up where now because injuries and other things occur, but it’s certainly going to be a great trip for our players, and I know from firsthand experience it’s going to be a difficult challenge.
Q. There’s been an explosion of kick return touchdowns. Your team has been a part of it, 16 last year, 10 punts, six kickoffs. You guys had four, I believe. More and more in this league, do you have to be careful who you kick to?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I know we are. Location, location, location, and I’m not talking about a restaurant. Your kickoffs and punts better be put in good spots. One of the things that I tell people, and I tell our return men this, in the kickoff game particularly, the ball goes into the end zone, we get a 25 yard line spot. For an old boy that started at the 20 when that happened, that’s a feast. When the timing of a kickoff is lengthened, which is what a kick in the end zone will do, and when you’re coming out with it, blocks don’t time, people are in different levels, it’s more difficult, and you watch how many people are tackled inside the 25 yard line. So I think if a good return man picks and chooses his opportunities, and if you take those kicks that aren’t exactly what the opponent wanted to have happen and you do a great job of practicing those and the timing of those kicks, you’ve got a chance to be successful because it’s an open field play, and that’s how we view it. We try to pick our opportunities well and put them to use. So if that makes sense at all, and I think that changed the kickoff game a little bit because of the 25 yard line spot.
Q. You talked about the players that are gone. Now, seeing those rankings are a positive thing for them, but your leaders moving forward that can withhold that second or even get to first, what can you say about the leaders on the team right now?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I like our seniors. We’ve got a lot of people who have played a lot of football. We have two fine young men here that represented a bunch of other fine young men, Kelby Brown and Laken Tomlinson. From what I hear, everybody did a great job. It doesn’t surprise me. They represent Anthony Boone and Takoby Colfield and Jordan Dewalt. We’ve got a lot of good football players in this class, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Deaver. I’m certain that they are doing, in their minds, everything in their power. We’re not with them preparing in the summers, but they’re doing everything in their power to get themselves ready to have the best season they’ve ever had. The big challenge each year is for seniors to help young people handle adversity because you’re going to get it in football, and I thought our 2013 team handled adversity maybe better than any team I’ve ever been around because of pure leadership. So that’s a challenge to the 2014 seniors. Let’s see what you’ve got.
Q. A barn burner with Pitt last year, and heading up to Heinz Field this year, your thoughts on the Pitt program and what are you expecting this fall?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, the first thing I would tell you on the Pitt program is physical, character, tough. They certainly proved to be all of that. I have great respect for Coach Chryst and his staff. I have not coached in Heinz Field. Scotty Montgomery has coached there a lot with the Steelers, so he’ll kind of be our front man on what to expect. An incredible game a year ago. They kept thinking they had it won, and we fought back. I would rather try the other way if I could. But it’s one of those, again, coastal division match-ups that they’ve got this thing about bringing your “A” game, you’d better bring your “A” game, and we’re going to have to bring our “A” game up there on the road, and again, it’s a November match-up, so it could be interesting. I look forward to the trip, look forward to the challenge, and again, we’ll both be different teams then than we are now to start with.
Q. You lose a ton of touchdowns, obviously, with Brandon transferring west in red zone efficiency. Do you have guys that can fill those voids and run the same packages?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: You know, when you look at Brandon’s beginnings in that role, it was as a true freshman coming in for Sean Renfree in those settings. He did it extremely well. I think we have people — I think we’ve got a competitive situation in that circumstance with Thomas Sirk, Parker Boehme and even Nico Pierre, all young players, none of them have experience. They’re going to get that opportunity in August. I think it’ll be an important part of our team. I’m anxious to see who’s going to be successful. There’s a lot of skill and talent in that threesome, so it should be a fun thing to see evolve. We’re going to do it, and obviously Anthony is a very experienced quarterback, but we’re going to go into game 1 with somebody or more than one in some of those packages because I’m a big believer in that.
Q. You say that your team has a different role this year being picked second instead of last. What do you tell your players about that new mentality?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Be true to what we do. You don’t have to change anything. The biggest danger is in changing who we’ve been. We are a good program because we have great habits. What we want to become is a great program with great habits. We’re still a work in progress. And I hope and believe our leaders understand that. I’m kind of watching our young people that have known nothing but success. We’ve got guys going into their third and second years that think this is just what you do here every year, and I’m anxious to see if that’s a good thing or if that’s something we’re going to have to challenge them with. But I think being true to our habits, being true to what we believe in helps you become a champion, and we’ve got to maintain those same habits.
Q. The win total last year obviously was outstanding, but even in some of those wins, particularly in conference games, some key stats didn’t favor you. Turnovers did favor you. Do you analyze that and look at your guys and say, the win total says we’re really good, but some of these other things say we still have more work to do?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: No question. Just as we did when we were 3-9 and we didn’t punch a panic button, we looked at all the things we were doing well, which was many, believe it or not, and then we looked at the things we weren’t doing as well. I think you have to disregard record every year when you study yourself in that regard or you’re kidding yourself. There are a lot of things that we think win football games that we measure all of the time, but we teach winning in everything we do. We teach it as a value and how you carry yourself, and you’ve got to win off the field, et cetera, et cetera. I think that that’s where our program is getting stronger. I really do. I think that they’re challenging themselves to win at all of those marks, and I hope and believe this team has the experience, the mentality and the ability to do some of that.