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'A new energy': Duke football's David Cutcliffe discusses staff changes, spring practice

Head coach David Cutcliffe is looking to rebound after a tough 2020 campaign.
Head coach David Cutcliffe is looking to rebound after a tough 2020 campaign.

Duke is coming off a disappointing 2020 campaign to say the least, one that saw the Blue Devils finish 2-9 and included an array of embarrassing blowout losses.

So naturally, some changes within the coaching staff were due.

Calvin Magee, a former NFL tight end who's been involved in coaching for 23 years, has been added on as an assistant coach, specializing with the team's running backs. Re'quan Boyette—who served as the team's running backs coach this past season—and Jeff Faris—who coached the team's tight ends—have both been promoted to be the team's co-offensive coordinators. Boyette will specialize with the team's wide receivers while Faris will coach the quarterbacks.

Zac Roper, who has managed the team's quarterbacks and served as Duke's offensive coordinator since 2016, will now coach the Blue Devils' tight ends. Trooper Taylor, the Blue Devils' wide receivers coach the past two seasons, was promoted to associate head coach and will move over to coach the team's cornerbacks. And lastly, Kirk Benedict has been promoted to the role of special teams coordinator, while assistant coaches Greg Frey and Lanier Goethie will assume the roles of offensive and defensive recruiting coordinator, respectively.

'The perfect fit'

While only one staff change was made—the addition of Magee—that's undoubtedly a lot of shifting around, with head coach David Cutcliffe emphasizing the need for "a new energy" surrounding the team.

"All of this started with [former Duke cornerbacks coach] Chris Hampton getting the defensive coordinator position at Tulane," Cutcliffe said in a Zoom with the media Thursday. "I went a lot of different directions in studying this, and what I wanted to do was energize, recharge. There's no demotion—don't ask me about lack of confidence or demotion. It's realigning the staff to give us a new energy, a new approach, a new opportunity, and I could not be more excited."

Perhaps the biggest change Cutcliffe noted is that he will no longer be serving as the team's offensive play-caller, a role he took over this past season. Cutcliffe explained Thursday that he realized he needed to be "across the board, the head football coach" and that the time he needed to dedicate to preparing the offense took his focus away from "building our team and supporting our players, which is the most important job I have."

"A head football coach's role touches everyone," Cutcliffe said. "When you're not complete in that role, then you're dependent purely on talent to make things happen, if that makes sense. And I think our organization functions better when I am overseeing the entire operation of it. I can spend more time with our strength staff. I can spend more time with our recruiting staff. I can overall meet with players, meet with the leadership more."

Cutcliffe added that what he wanted to do after Hampton left for Tulane was far from a simple decision, and that he "tossed and turned and talked to myself as much as anyone to start with."

"After a tough year like that, you're going from your left side to your right side," Cutcliffe said. "And sometimes my right side sleeping will have a different opinion than my left side."

But after speaking with friends, head coaches who had been in similar situations, his staff, athletic director Kevin White and more people both inside and outside of the program—he said the due diligence he put into the hire was "probably second to none in any hire I've ever made"—he came to a decision that he fully believes is the best move for the program.

"In the end, there was no question in my mind where it landed," Cutcliffe said. "You get one shot to get a hire right, and that's something I don't wanna take lightly. And I just knew it when it all arrived that it was the perfect fit."

Looking ahead

Cutcliffe also spent part of Thursday's press conference looking ahead toward spring practice. He said the team is back on campus—some of the team's older players in isolated off-campus residences and everyone else living in single rooms in the Washington Duke Inn—and that team workouts would begin the next day.

Furthermore, Cutcliffe went into detail regarding some of the team's COVID-19 protocols, which he says will be similar to how the team did things in the fall when the team went through the regular season with zero positive COVID-19 cases.

"We're in two different locker rooms, we're grab-and-go meals right now," Cutcliffe said. "If we can get to where we can have meals in the training table, we have designated places that are safely apart from each other to sit and eat. For people that want to know how we had team meals and pregame meals [in the fall], well we had tables—everybody's facing the same direction, so you're looking at the person in front of you's head, and that person in front of you is minimally 10 feet away.

"We got a conditioning test—I went down and talked with our strength coach this afternoon in the indoor and how we're going to space it. We're not going to do a test with them masked, so they're not ever going to be any closer than probably 15 feet in that setting without a mask on."

Cutcliffe said he's already mapped out the 15 days of spring practice, with the first two dates of Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 being headgear only, and that his players are ready to "re-buy in" following the team's tough 2020 season.

"We got a chance to have a really good football team," Cutcliffe said. "The thing you have to do here, and everywhere else to be honest with you, is you got to earn that. You got to work your way toward being an outstanding football team. And I went through that process today down there and I believe this team is really going to buy in, and really maybe re-buy in. 2020 was hard. 

"We have principles and values and standards that we believe in. And then if you're human, it got bent a little too much in the circumstances we were in, particularly when the head coach is not there to build it every day. Well, I'm building that part of it every day. And I'm excited about it."

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