Winning football at Duke no less
By Harry King
For Tuesday, November 19, 2013
LITTLE ROCK — For only the third time in 50-plus years, Duke football has my attention.
The first time, the Cotton Bowl was the stage for Lance Alworth and Arkansas vs. the Blue Devils and their "Lonesome End," a receiver named Tee Moorman who always hung out 15 yards from the huddle. On that Jan. 1, a year before the first national color TV broadcast of a college football game, the contest was good reason to purchase a large cheese dip on the outskirts of North Little Rock and tote the treat to a home with a "giant" 24-inch TV.
More than three decades later, Duke’s first bowl since 1961 was mostly about following the career of Fred Goldsmith, a cooperative coordinator on Ken Hatfield’s staff, and the head coach at Rice before getting the job at Duke.
In the Cotton Bowl, Alworth returned a punt for a touchdown, but Don Altman threw five passes to Moorman in a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that resulted in a 7-6 victory. I have no idea how Goldsmith’s team fared in its bowl game, but I know that almost 20 years later, Duke’s David Cutcliffe should be the Coach of the Year.
Yes, Gus Malzahn has been in charge of the biggest turnaround in college football at Auburn and Ed Orgeron has somehow communicated to disconnected USC players, but those gentlemen inherited athletes at football schools. Cutcliffe is 8-2 at a basketball school, winning with players recruited by his staff.
When Cutcliffe was hired at Duke late in 2007, I figured he had found a place where all he had to do was field a team that was competitive until basketball practice began in mid-October. Even though the Blue Devils were never better than 5-7 in his first four years — the maxium time allowed for success in the SEC — not many cared because Mike Krzyzewski’s teams were winning 28, 30, 35, and 32 with one national championship.
Cutcliffe’s resume includes tutoring Peyton Manning at Tennessee and little brother Eli at Ole Miss and four bowl games in six years in Oxford. Fired after he refused to dismiss some assistants following the 2004 season, Cutcliffe underwent a triple bypass in 2005. Out of work but looking, he impressed a Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting with his football knowledge and folksy demeanor.
As long as Alabama, LSU, Auburn and others in the Western Division of the SEC continue to stockpile athletes, getting to the conference championship game every six to eight years will be an accomplishment for Arkansas. An appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game every 10 years would be equally impressive for Duke in a division that includes schools with a reputation for winning football like Miami, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. Yet, the Blue Devils are two Ws from meeting Florida State in Charlotte, N.C., in December.
Even if Auburn loses to Alabama on Nov. 30, because of the Tigers’ dismal record in 2012, Malzahn is Coach of the Year among the 31 men in their first year at a particular school. He is one of 11 with a winning record 10 games deep in the season, but new faces at Oregon (9-1), Wisconsin (8-2), Northern Illinois (10-0), and Cincinnati (8-2) are among those who took over programs with positive carryover and good athletes.
USC 20, No. 4 Stanford 17 stamped the Trojans’ 5-1 form reversal under Orgeron, who held the Trojan sword high while leading the USC band in the postgame. If USC wins its last two games, athletics director Pat Haden will be second-guessed no matter what he decides about Orgeron.
At 3-7, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has won more games than a dozen of the first-year coaches. Other first-year coaches in the SEC are Butch Jones at 4-6 Tennessee and Mark Stoops at 2-8 Kentucky.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.