Disgrace of Durham
Now is the time for a Duke football resurgence
Posted: Tuesday December 4, 2007 3:09PM; Updated: Tuesday December 4, 2007 3:09PM
Minutes after he had announced the firing of former Duke head coach Ted Roof at a press conference Nov. 26, Duke's Director of Athletics Joe Alleva was, naturally, discussing the future -- and for good reason. Because the two coaches that he has hired have combined for a 13-90 record since 1998, Alleva has to make a splashy hire, not only to redeem the two failures that he appointed, but to resuscitate Duke Football.
But when a reporter asked Alleva why a top-notch candidate would come to Duke, a school whose most famous bowl game is the Rose Bowl it hosted in 1942, the athletics director offered a coy answer. "It's Duke University," Alleva said.
For that comment, Alleva was lambasted in print by local media outlets, including the independent student newspaper. The immediate backlash was fitting; after all, the only thing this program has won the last three seasons, besides two measly games, is the country's highest graduation rate. Apparently, the nerds haven't yet gotten their revenge. Alleva's response may be valid for a basketball coaching search when -- gasp! -- Mike Krzyzewski retires, but it rings hollow in regard to football.
Alleva's reply, though, was more prescient than preposterous, not because of Duke's paltry football history, but because of its recent trend of bucking the same tradition to which Alleva referred.
As the coaching carousel makes its annual turn around the country, football programs with rich legacies and richer boosters grab the nation's unyielding attention. But even compared to prominent vacancies such as Michigan and Nebraska, the open coaching position at Duke may be the most intriguing in the country, precisely because it has such a forgettable history.
The next coach won't be responsible for not fumbling the tradition, because he doesn't even have the ball yet. More than anything, he will be charged with building a program from scratch.
And even though it sounds like a hopelessly miserable task, Duke's head coaching position should, and will, attract interest from top-notch candidates. Next season's leader of the Blue Devils -- the most-rumored name right now is Navy head coach Paul Johnson -- has the chance to define Alleva's "Duke," which currently has no true characterization. Another candidate Alleva should consider is Boston College offensive coordinator Steve Logan, who has an impressive offensive resume, highlighted most recently by Heisman Trophy hopeful Matt Ryan. He could also look to East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz, son of former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, who has turned around the Pirates' program and might be looking for a shift in scenery without even moving states. Any of the candidates will have plenty of resources to accomplish this chore that seems more prodigious than 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase.
If the rumors are true, Duke plans to lessen its stringent academic standards, a restriction that has hampered recruiting in Roof and former head coach Carl Franks' turns at the helm. That's key to hiring any coach who plans on building on Duke's already-established, national brand. In football, as opposed to basketball, tough admissions requirements make it almost impossible to piece together winning teams because recruiting classes consist of more than three or four players. In fact, only one five-star recruit, Oghobaase, has spurned the list of usual powerhouses for Duke, and you still have probably never heard of the big guy.
After Duke's 0-11 season last year, the school's athletics department, in conjunction with the football program, commissioned a football-specific strategic plan that it believes to be the most comprehensive single-sport analysis ever crafted. When it is formally presented to the school's Board of Trustees early in the calendar year, the business plan -- drafted by B.J. Naedele, a former Holy Cross linebacker and graduate of Duke's Fuqua School of Business, in addition to an eight-person committee consisting of consultants, alumni, former players and athletics officials -- will include recommendations that cover the full gamut of off-the-field arrangements, ranging from academic procedures to attendance raisers. Representatives traveled to more than two dozen schools last summer to gather data, all for the purpose of making Duke into a contender rather than a glorified bye week for ACC foes.
It is also likely that the school will approve a plan to renovate Wallace Wade Stadium, the conference's most depressing stadium. The measures include adding luxury suites and an external scoreboard to the pit that is Wally Wade. And speaking of hemorrhaging money, that's exactly what Alleva pledged he will do to bring the best available coach to Duke. The Annapolis Capital reported over the weekend that Alleva would be willing to offer $2 million or more to Johnson, a hefty step-up from Roof's reported $500,000 salary, lowest in the ACC. That raise will likely come from the more-than-200 boosters and former players that attended the first annual Duke Football Summit last year, the ones willing to deed their Christmas bonuses to a worthy cause.
Of course, there is also that romantically enchanting idea of building a program that has not been able to win since Steve Spurrier spent two seasons in Durham before leaving for literally-greener pastures in Gainesville. Perhaps that doesn't hold as much weight as two million big ones, but any coach courageous enough to take on such an enormous undertaking will undoubtedly be masochistic enough to devote his life to turning around this fledgling program.
And it can be done. Duke can, and looks poised to, entice one of the big names, and perhaps that man will convert this perennial loser into a respected winner.
Revenge of the nerds, indeed.