Driving six hours from Knoxville to Durham in the middle of the night, David Cutcliffe was looking for a sign.
The former Volunteer s offensive coordinator checked into a local motel but didn't get much sleep. He arrived on campus well before his 8 a.m. meeting with Director of Athletics Joe Alleva, checked out Wallace Wade Stadium and then got out of his car to walk the quad.
"I was in a place that just felt right. The buildings, the ground-you felt like you were on hallowed ground," Cutcliffe said.
Cutcliffe was not the only one who recognized how right the match felt.
The coach said his Dec. 11 meeting with Alleva felt "more like a talk than an interview," and the man who has appeared in 21 bowl games, including five as a head coach, was apparently a very good talker.
Five days after Cutcliffe's on-campus interview, Duke University held a press conference to name him as its 21st head football coach.
"When I check out the criteria that we established [in selecting a new coach], we've hit them all right on the head," Alleva said. "Coach Cutliffe is an experienced leader and a proven winner."
When Alleva announced the firing of former head coach Ted Roof Nov. 26, the athletic director said he wanted to find a replacement with previous head coaching experience who was offensive-minded and possessed the character required of a Duke coach.
And the seasoned offensive mind of Cutcliffe, whom Alleva referred to as a "quarterback guru," met the big billing.
Cutcliffe was head coach at Mississippi for six seasons between 1999 and 2004, compiling a 44-29 record and leading the Rebels to a 10-3 record and a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State in 2003, when he was named SEC Coach of the Year.
In that season, Cutcliffe mentored No. 1 draft choice quarterback Eli Manning. The coach also helped develop the talents of Eli's older brother Peyton in his first stint as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, when the elder Manning was leading the Volunteers. Prior to taking the position at Ole Miss, Cutcliffe had directed the offense at Tennessee from 1982 to 1998.
At the Dec. 15 press conference in the Yoh Football Center, Duke president Richard Brodhead praised the credentials and comportment of Cutcliffe while also recognizing the efforts of Alleva in conducting a thorough and expedient search, delivering on his initial promise to hire a new coach by Christmas.
"Duke is serious about restoring excitement and a winning tradition to Duke football," Brodhead said. "David Cutcliffe's selection as our head coach shows Duke is committed to helping our players achieve the excellence we seek, both on and off the field."
And while Cutcliffe found his sign, Alleva and Duke hope they found their man.
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