By Steve Williams
John Currie is in the process of making his first major hire as University of Tennessee athletics director.
The task of filling UT’s vacant head coaching position could turn out to be just as easy as it once was for the Vols to beat Kentucky and Vanderbilt in football.
Those good old days have been gone for a while, but David Cutcliffe could quickly bring them back, if Currie offers the opportunity and Cutcliffe accepts.
Yes, quicker than singing one stanza of good ole Rocky Top or less time than it takes a Tennessee walking horse to make one lap around historic Shields-Watkins Field, the two of them could make it happen.
I can’t think of one reason why it shouldn’t happen.
The Tennessee football program right now needs a coach with Cutcliffe’s experience and know-how.
David, who turned 63 in September, may love his current job at Duke, but I can’t help but think he may yearn for one more challenge in his coaching career. He still has time to take that on at Tennessee.
And longtime coaching partner Phillip Fulmer along with former pupil Peyton Manning would be the first in line to welcome “Cut” back home. For most UT fans, there couldn’t be a better endorsement than that.
Cutcliffe may have been born in Birmingham and an Alabama player and graduate, but he became a Tennessee guy many, many Saturdays ago. He served 17 consecutive seasons (1982-1998) on the Vols’ staff, rising to assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
That of course included the 1998 national championship season, although Cutcliffe handed over the OC reins to Randy Sanders in the title game as he left to begin his first season as a collegiate head coach at Ole Miss.
After six years in Oxford, where Cutcliffe guided the 10-3 Rebels to a share of the SEC Western Division crown in 2003 and was named SEC Coach of the Year, he was fired when Ole Miss slumped to 4-7 in 2004 and he refused to replace his assistants.
Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis hired Cutcliffe as his assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and QB coach, but health issues forced him to sit out the 2005 season.
Healthy again, Cutcliffe answered Fulmer’s call to return to Tennessee in 2006 and took back over his previous duties at UT. He was instrumental in the Vols bouncing back from their 5-6 record in 2005 to 9-4 and 10-4 the next two seasons, including the SEC East title in 2007.
Then Duke called in 2008 and Cutcliffe left Knoxville to become the Blue Devils’ head coach. Known more for its academics and basketball, Duke has enjoyed some rare success in football under Cutcliffe, having won the ACC Coastal Division title in 2013.
Cutcliffe was selected ACC Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2013 – the two seasons that saw Derek Dooley fired and Butch Jones hired at UT. He also received National Coach of the Year honors in 2013.
The ceiling is low for Duke football and the Blue Devils probably peaked under Cutcliffe with that 10-4 record in 2013. How this season has gone has probably made him realize that, too. Going into this past weekend, Duke had lost six straight after starting 4-0.
Could be the timing is right to approach “Cut” about coming home, about returning to where he has coached longer than anywhere in his career, about a real opportunity to have one last hurrah.
How about it guys?