Duke head coach David Cutcliffe celebrates in Lane Stadium after winning 13-10 over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 26 2013. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)

Matt Gentry

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe celebrates in Lane Stadium after winning 13-10 over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 26 2013. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)

PIOTROWICZ: Cutcliffe rewards Duke's patience with appearance in ACC title game

Nick Piotrowicz

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It’s quite easy to overreact in football. With only 12 games a year, each Saturday carries weight, and the violent nature of the game stokes deeply felt emotions from those who care about it.

Fans see the games and that’s it. They only can judge teams based upon what they see on gamedays.

Boosters have spent money to help their school, and they don’t want to believe it was wasted; they want to see wins on Saturdays.

As media members, we are as guilty of overreacting than anybody. We have to make judgements immediately, and sometimes, those judgments give too much value to a single game.

The one entity in college football that shouldn’t overreact – and absolutely cannot, in certain cases – are the connectors. The men and women who connect universities to football programs, the athletics directors and board members, must always make measured decisions.

Their decisions must always be viewed from a fish eye lens, taking in all things before coming to a conclusion.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe is a case study in football program patience.

Mississippi fired him in 2004, and it should rue the day it did.

On Tuesday, for the second year in a row, Cutcliffe won the ACC’s Coach of the Year. He has turned Duke – which probably was the worst major program in the country at the time of his hiring – into a legitimate contender.

Duke is ranked for the first time in 19 years. Duke has won 10 games for the first time ever, made the ACC Championship Game for the first time ever and won national respect for the first time in ages.

Throughout Cutcliffe’s tenure at Duke, he has used the term “the process” ad nauseam, but for a reason. He truly meant it, truly believed in his methods and truly changed a program in the process. Duke’s players say they believe in him not because it’s the right thing to say, but because they actually do.

He is the exact type of coach a major program should want. A major program like, say, Mississippi.

Former Runnin’ Rebels athletics director Pete Boone fired Cutcliffe after one losing season – Cutcliffe’s only losing record in six full seasons at the school – just a year after Cutcliffe won the Southeastern Conference’s Coach of the Year Award. It was an unmistakably foolish decision that Cutcliffe has made the school regret making.

Cutcliffe’s teams broke nearly every relevant offensive record at the school, and Ole Miss won 10 games and tied for first place in the ruthless SEC West in 2003.

It has done neither since firing Cutcliffe. (Though Hugh Freeze’s first two years have created some hope that might change.)

The Mississippi job requires a patient man to lead it. Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU are on the schedule every year – and that’s just in the division. It takes a person who is not afraid of losing, nor playing against better competition.

That type of job needs a person who is supremely self-assured, who, even when the beatings come and the fans boo and the press openly challenges the job being done, can stand up and say that the right things are being done. More, that person has to believe it.

It takes some patience, but if that type of person is allowed the time, it can lead to the most plentiful times a program can know.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Sports writer Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@rmtelegram.com

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