How's this for a status report on where David Cutcliffe has taken the Duke football program: the Blue Devils are bitterly disappointed with their 6-7 season in 2012. Duke lost five in a row to close the year, including a bitter defeat in the Belk Bowl in which the Blue Devils doubled Cincinnati's first downs output (36-18) but allowed two touchdowns in the game's final 44 seconds for a 48-34 defeat.
As Cutcliffe's team opens spring drills, those inside the program are asking themselves how they can repeat the opening to the 2012 season, in which Duke started 6-2 and were in the mix for a trip to the ACC Championship, while avoiding another dubious ending.
"What it’s done, the mentality is we know we can, but they’re hungrier," Cutcliffe told Heather Dinich of ESPN.com. "I like the edge we’ve got now. Had we won, it could have gone either way. Had we won, would we really be any better than we are right now? Would we be as hungry? I don’t know."
Part of the rebuilding process is replacing two staff members. When Duke makes a bowl game, people take notice. This year, those people included two head coaches looking to build their own staffs, and chose to do so by nabbing a pair of Duke assistants. Wide receivers coach and 2012 FootballScoop Wide Receivers Coach of the Year Matt Lubick was called to join Mark Helfrich's staff at Oregon after Scott Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator, and tight ends coach Ron Middleton was pulled to Gus Bradley's new staff with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
To replace them, Cutcliffe promoted graduate assistant Re'quan Boyette to running backs coach and hired Scottie Montgomery away from the Pittsburgh Steelers to coach the Blue Devils' wide receivers.
"You can trade different, but you can never trade down when you make staff hires. That’s one of my rules," said Cutcliffe. "I don’t have to have an identical match. In this case, we certainly traded a little different, as you look at it, but we did not trade down."
Cutcliffe thinks in Boyette and Montgomery, Duke's gain will negate the loss of two talented coaches.
"I think the impact, we have two North Carolinians, two former Duke football players there," he said. "They’ve invested their athletic careers here at Duke, both of them great players in this state, groomed in this state. They will have a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the practice field. Scottie is 34, Re’quan 26. When you’re getting as old as I am, you need to surround yourself with young people. I love it. I truly do. I think their energy is going to be infectious to our squad."