Which Duke-related topic will inspire more stories in the next month: How Mike Krzyzewski can win the Olympics by turning the Americans into an actual team, or how David Cutcliffe is turning his own program from a hopeless cause into a competitive force? We’re not going to link to all of the stories about the former–really, what more can you say?–and the latter will be abundant, with the same basic theme and different sound bytes, especially if the Blue Devils win their opener against James Madison Aug. 30. But in an interview with a University publication, of all outlets, Cutcliffe offered a morsel that proved too delectable for us to pass up.
Cutcliffe is billed as a quarterback guru, but it doesn’t take a genius of any sort (let alone coaching) to understand the basic principles of inheriting a bad program.
1. Knock the team down. To do this, you not only tell the team how disappointed you are and how losing will not be tolerated, but you tell anyone who will listen, including, of course, the media. In Cutcliffe’s case, he told numerous outlets that Duke was the worst conditioned team he had seen in 32 years. People will listen to that.
2. Slowly increase players’ confidence. Cutcliffe never insulted the virtues or heart of his players, knowing he would be extolling them later. Then slowly, starting in the spring, players began to buy into his schemes and the press listened again. (Earning testimonials from the Mannings doesn’t hurt, either.)
3. And now comes the last part of the plan: Tell everyone how good the team can be, which is exactly what he said to This Month at Duke:
Q: There’s not an ounce of doubt that you’re going to turn this into a winning program?
A: I have no doubt. Whatsoever. None. This is a staff with unbelievable ability. … (And) you’ve got to remember that we’ve got a lot of guys on our team that have played a lot of football. They haven’t won much football … but there is absolutely a different mindset on this football team right now than there was when we came in, in January.
Pretty powerful stuff. Now, the players start thinking they can win–a sense of confidence that will grow exponentially if they actually do, you know, win. And everyone knows the media (and, at that, students) will drink the Kool-Aid: no one enjoys a good Cinderella story more.
–by Ben Cohen