Duke head coach David Cutcliffe discussed several topics earlier this week at the ACC Media Days in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Check out some of what he had to say about his team’s running backs, as well as the Coastal Division, below. All quotes courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Q. Duke quietly has become one of the top rushing programs in the ACC. Tell us how that came about and the importance of that ability to run the ball with a new quarterback.
COACH CUTCLIFFE: That’s a great first question because it’s at the forefront of our minds. It’s not an accident. We’ve recruited well on the offensive front with our backs. But I think it’s a tribute to our coaching staff planning. I’ve always been considered a quarterback guy. I can tell any young coach that wants to coach quarterbacks at a high level, you better maintain the ability to run the football. It’s something that we couldn’t do very well when we first arrived at Duke. Knew if we were going to be relevant in our league, we had to close that gap. Hopefully we’ve closed it some, but not near what we hope to do. With Thomas Sirk, he certainly will play a part in the running game. He’s a quarter back. He’s not doing what he did a year ago. He’s a very talented young man. He’s been in our system now going into the fourth year. I’m excited about what it’s going to look like. It will be a little different but not a lot different from what you’ve seen in the past.
Q. For years a lot of North Carolina-based coaches, including Bill Murray, Steve Spurrier, have said the one difference between the ACC and the SEC was the high school spring practice situation. I know you’re exposed to that a lot. Now North Carolina is changing that. They’re tweaking it a little bit. Will that make a difference maybe soon or maybe later or maybe not?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think that it can make some difference. I started recruiting the state of North Carolina in 1981. Spent a lot of time over here. I think the biggest difference for us has been the growth, the population growth. If you look at our cities, how many new high schools, how many more prospects we’ve got, it’s, first of all, been associated with the population growth. I think our coaching in our state is outstanding. Has been for a long time. Giving those coaches an opportunity for a spring practice, that’s helped. Another part that’s helped is actually their guys a little bit more in the summer. I think football has become a little bit more important in the state of North Carolina. All my years in the Southeastern Conference, being in Alabama, football was a 12-month sport, has been for a long time in a lot of those southeastern states. I’m excited about where we’re headed. Our in-state recruiting is much better because of it.
Q. Back when you were first recruiting North Carolina in 1981, there was no Twitter. That’s changed now. How do you use it as a coach? What does the phrase, ‘Bang Bang Duke Gang’ mean?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Twitter kind of uses me more than I use it. It’s a means of, first and foremost for me, a way to communicate with prospects. Starting September 1 of their junior year, direct messaging is legal. That’s been the advantage of Twitter. There’s a lot on the table right now of texting becoming legal. The reason that I’m not really a fan of that is I think the social media sites protect the student-athlete in high school a little bit more. Unless they’re following you, you can’t direct message them.
Once their cell phones get out, and it’s kind of amazing what recruiting services do in circulating that, then this texting mechanism is going to get a little crazy. So I do like that part of Twitter. I don’t do a lot of tweeting, as you well know. But the, Bang Bang Duke Gang. It’s kind of who we are. I tell our players, it’s kind of like the iCloud. It’s out there. We contribute to it with our commitment to Duke football. That’s where that was born. It’s just a celebration. When you see, Bang Bang Duke Gang, there’s just things to celebrate within our family. Sometimes you just can’t be quiet about it, you just got to let it go (smiling).
Q. For years we’ve talked about the turnaround of the Duke football program, how it’s getting there. Does that get old to you? Do you think you’re where you want to be yet?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: It doesn’t get old because I think we’re still in a big process of trying to become what we want to become. We’re certainly far from arriving. When I came I did a unique thing. I set down and purposely did this. You have time when you first start a job. I put together what I thought was our five-year plan, some of our five-year goals, some of the things we really had to focus on. When I completed that, before we even got to the next step, I did right at that time the next five years.
It’s really been interesting to look at that over the last couple of years as to what we believe we can become. I think the biggest thing that I know is a part of this, there’s no way we are near. You don’t think you ever arrive in college football. As soon as you think you do, you’re backing way up. I think the thing we’ve been able to do that is most pleasing, if there’s something pleasing, is remain true to our values. That’s the greatest lesson we’ve been able to teach the players that have come and gone in our program, is that you can get better while still maintaining a real commitment to the values you want to place from the beginning in a program.
Q. David, locally in North Carolina, regionally in the ACC, nationally overall, how do you feel about where Duke is at when you look at that five-year plan, the next five years you were talking about after that?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think the first thing you have to look at is Duke University, and the benefit we have from Duke University is nationally we’re extremely well-known for a lot of reasons. I knew that. That was part of this five-year plan. Why wouldn’t we embrace Duke basketball? Why wouldn’t we embrace the academic standards rather than use those as excuses. Don’t take that job, you can’t win because of academics, it’s a basketball school. What I thought from a national standpoint was why would we not use that? Any school we talk in, all you need to do is say, I’m from Duke, every one of our assistant coaches. As we travel, people now occasionally will use the term ‘Duke football’. When you heard me talk in those first five years, I purposely never said Duke, I would just tag Duke football, Duke football, Duke football.
We’ve been really happy to tag along with two very great established parts of Duke University as well as other Olympic sports. I think now, it’s interesting when I’m traveling in California, because we’ve played on some national championship games, we played on New Year’s Eve, everybody’s watching that game. It was a great game, even though it was a loss. What it did was establish a little relevancy, if not credibility, to Duke football. So now the job is to not just Duke football, but continue to strive to be unique in every aspect, including winning, but unique in the aspect when somebody says ‘Duke football’ they know what that means.
Q. We talked a lot about autonomy in the fall, before the new rules happened. Now that they have happened, you said they wanted to be careful. Do you feel they’ve been careful enough?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: I think we’ve been somewhat careful. I think when you look at full cost of attendance, you look at everything we’re doing. We have an oversight committee that’s involved, a lot of things are going to happen in college football. I think to the best of our ability with a large group of people, they’ve tried to be cautious. The reason I mentioned it is I deal with young people day after day after day. I think it’s incredibly important that we carefully handle them. You start putting money in young people’s pockets and you’re not holding them accountable, et cetera, et cetera. We just have to be smart. Student-athlete welfare should be important, but it’s not just in making life easy. One of the great benefits of being a college athlete is learning to sacrifice, learning to struggle a little bit. Isn’t that kind of what made this country? So that’s what I mean by being very careful.
Q. We’re all working with the assumption that Thomas Sirk is stepping into the starting position. Is there any competition? What is the chore of sculpting an offense with his particular talents?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: Thomas Sirk is our starting quarterback. Parker Boehme is our backup quarterback. Parker certainly solidified what you would call competition. He’s going to play well. Parker is going to play some. You already know we’re going to play a backup quarterback in various roles. I expect Parker to play in game one. There is no question coming out of spring practice, Thomas is our starter. He’s in his fourth year in our system. We think we can run the football, which I think is important. But Thomas Sirk is a very capable quarterback. When he ruptured his Achilles, it set him back a little bit. At that time it was the end of spring practice and he solidified himself as number two behind a somewhat green Anthony Boone. He was competing with him at that time. So I’ve reminded Thomas of that. First person you’ve got to compete against is yourself. Thomas has set his sights high and I like that about him.
Q. We have construction going on at the stadium. Tell us an update on that and how excited are you?
COACH CUTCLIFFE: The best thing for me last week was to see actually grass go down there and we had a field. We’ve gone from last winter, those of you that were around there, we looked like a playground for little boys with mud and dirt and tractors, and now we have a football field. It’s been remarkable what Beck Construction has done. Our administration has been incredible in this entire process. As I look out my window from the office, I think what I see is history. It’s really incredible what’s occurring, how many people that have been involved in something that’s going to be very special and meaningful to Duke fans everywhere.