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Turning Heads
S.L. Price
October 10, 1994
Don't look now but Duke is unbeaten, and we're not talking basketball
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October 10, 1994

Turning Heads

Don't look now but Duke is unbeaten, and we're not talking basketball

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But he was not without misgivings, so on the way to the airport Goldsmith kept dialing Butters's house. There was no answer. "I whispered, 'Hey, Lord, if you want me at Duke, have him answer this phone.' That was the test," Goldsmith says, "because I am not going to get on a plane and make a fool out of myself because he's not there. I tried five or six times. I got to the airport, checked in, called, still no answer. I said to myself, Heck with this. I'm not going." But he tried one last time. Butters's wife, Lynn, picked up the phone. On Dec. 16, Duke introduced its new coach.

It wasn't the first time Goldsmith had gone with his gut. When he was 17 he converted from Judaism to Christianity after hearing Billy Graham speak in Miami Beach. "It wasn't a happy family," he says of his parents' reaction. Not that it stopped him from doing the unexpected. Goldsmith was the first white coach—as defensive coordinator—at Florida A&M. He became the coach at Slippery Rock in 1981, went 2-7, decided he had made a mistake and quit to become defensive coordinator at Air Force. He was born in Brooklyn but raised in Coral Gables, Fla., and speaks with a thick Southern drawl.

Unusual, yes, but you wouldn't expect the norm from someone so touched by pain. In 1950, when Goldsmith was six, his mother came down with polio; she is in a wheelchair still. Three years later Goldsmith contracted polio. During his first night in a West Miami hospital, the other patient in his room died. "They told me I couldn't walk; they hadn't let me try, they told me I couldn't," he says. "I was scared." Shortly afterward, his maternal grandfather visited. "He said, 'I want you to walk,' " Goldsmith recalls. "And I walked. That was the first time I got out of bed."

Goldsmith got off easy. Only his left leg and stomach muscles remain permanently weakened from the disease, and that not enough to prevent him from playing football. The entire experience left him with a strong tendency to take chances. On Monday he gave a tryout to a woman placekicker, Heather Sue Mercer, who was third-team all-state in football in New York. But, he concluded, "The leg strength wasn't there."

Sometimes the risk-taking pays off, sometimes it doesn't. Against Georgia Tech on Sept. 24, the Blue Devils sat on their own 25 facing third-and-12, leading 7-0; Goldsmith called for a quick kick. The ball tumbled to the Tech one-foot line, Duke held, then kicked a field goal and went on to win 27-12. Against East Carolina on Sept. 10, he called for a fake punt on his own 12, and it was a bust; the pass was batted down. Still, the Blue Devils prevailed 13-10. "We're not going into games afraid to lose," Fischer says. "We trust him. If he believes it works, we believe it works."

Told that might be called a honeymoon, Fischer laughs and says, "It's called having a five-year contract and nothing to lose."

It's also called having a soft schedule to start the season. And an athletic director who agreed to raise salaries so Goldsmith could bring five assistants from Rice. And a defensive staff, led by coordinator Craig Bohl, that's sharp enough to see the need for speed and is persuasive enough to get five players to change positions. Last year's Blue Devils gave up almost 32 points a game; this year's are giving up 12. "Losing makes you humble, but this is the first time I've been this humble winning," Goldsmith says. "There's just so many good things that have happened, and I really didn't have any control over this."

That's disingenuous, of course: Goldsmith has controlled every step. But the wonder at Duke is real. Fischer says he always imagined how perfect Duke would be if the team won, "and it's happening. It's alive now." And Farmer danced and laughed on the sideline last Saturday, saying, "Am I too high? Am I too high?"

Of all things. Duke in October.

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