Cutcliffe stays at new home -- Duke

In the frenzy that followed Lane Kiffin leaving Tennessee for Southern California last January, David Cutcliffe seemed a natural fit for the sudden vacancy in Knoxville.

With nearly 20 years as a UT assistant on his resume, with his moderate success as a head coach at Ole Miss and Duke, along with the endorsement of long-time Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, few would have been surprised if the Vols had turned to a familiar face at such a turbulent time. Some media reports even classified his hiring as imminent in the days following Kiffin's surprising departure.

But how many people counted on Cutcliffe deciding to stick with Duke after two sub-.500 seasons with the Blue Devils? That's exactly where the veteran coach remains, in search of the program's first winning season in 16 years.

"I don't think that anybody really understands that it's really just about believing in where we are, believing in our players, in our administration," Cutcliffe said in an e-mail. "Also, there is a matter of doing things right. You bring players in, you recruit players, we just had mid-players come in -- there always is a matter of just doing things right."

There's also the matter of continuity with a program that has only had one head coach stay longer than five years since 1965. Plus the program had just lost defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre a few weeks prior to Kiffin's flight from Tennessee.

Cutcliffe's willingness to stay the course at Duke wasn't lost on his players, who knew it was possible they would lose him too when the UT job came open.

"It was huge for the program," said junior safety Matt Daniels, a 2009 Academic All-ACC selection from Fayette County High School. "It just shows his commitment he has to us. He kept his word. If he was to leave, that would be a huge coaching change. It makes it seem like we'd have to start all over again. It was huge to know that he stayed committed to us."

Now that Cutcliffe has signaled his intentions, the goal will be to move the program in a direction it hasn't been in quite awhile:into the upper echelon of the ACC and a bowl game.

The Blue Devils were 5-7 last season and haven't played in the postseason since the 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl. Their last bowl victory came over Arkansas in the 1960 Cotton Bowl. All the Blue Devils who played in that game qualify for Social Security now, which gives an idea of the mountain Cutcliffe still has to climb.

Daniels said the key to breaking the string is going to be developing more ACC-ready players at all positions, which will keep legs fresher for the important stretch run to the late season. Over the past five years, Duke is 0-18 in November.

"The biggest thing I can think of is winning in November," Daniels said. "Last year, we went into November 5-3. We were two games away from going to the ACC championship. Then we went 0-4. It's definitely depth, for the most part. As the season goes on, people get tired and injured."