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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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For those who figured they had a few months of grace before the onset of cruel winter, before the appearance of Mike Krzyzewski's scowl would signal yet another season of Duke hoops, Duke success, Duke fans bleating their superiority in sanctimonious glee, consider this a warning. The Dookies are breaking out early. It's only October, but the Blue Devils' athletic director is speaking of how books and wins can coexist. Their coach is working his upright motivational magic. Their players, clean-cut and articulate, are beginning to mouth their vowels with that unmistakable accent, the one that says: In 20 years I will be your boss. I will be married to the girl you couldn't get. I will whip you in any sport you care to name. "We can play with anybody," says one of the Duke stars, Zaid Abdul-Aleem, "and we can beat anybody."

Sound familiar? It shouldn't. For this is the sound now of Duke football—two words that, for the last few years, had about the same impact on the national scene as Jimmy and Carter. Duke? The Blue Devils had won 13 games over the past four years. Last November their coach, Barry Wilson, resigned. Last year's football players, Duke's student newspaper recently joked, fell between computer geeks and the Friday-night keg attendant in popularity on campus. "And it was true," says free safety Ray Farmer. "They paid more respect to the guys having parties than the football team. There was no respect for our program."

Yet those were definitely the Blue Devils last Saturday mauling a claw less Navy team 47-14 and insisting that their 5-0 start under Fred Goldsmith—the best debut by a coach at Duke, including the besainted Steve Spurrier—might portend something special. Perhaps. The next three weeks will bring an open date and visits by mediocrities from Clemson and Wake Forest; only with an Oct. 29 showdown at Florida State will Duke be truly tested.

"No one thinks we've played anybody," Farmer says. "Real respect will come when we play that Florida State team. With the talent we have and the way we're playing, we can go down there and we can be 8-0."

Hear that? Big-time talk, from essentially the same team that last year lost to the Seminoles 45-7, blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter against Rutgers and gave up an average of 441.9 yards a game. But as linebacker David Hawkins puts it, "I've forgotten last year already." He's not alone. While walking off the field at Annapolis on Saturday, tackle Matt Williams sang out loud, "To dream...the impossible dream..." and no one considered decking him. Instead, a crowd of alumni gathered around their new coach, who is responsible for Duke's best start since Spurrier's 1988 team went 5-0 before losing to Clemson, and chanted, "Gold-smith!" over and over.

Since coming to Duke from Rice in December, the 50-year-old Goldsmith has powered the program like a dynamo. In his first meeting with his players, he told them that he wasn't looking to rebuild; he wanted to win now, this season. He told his fifth-year seniors that they would carry his team and then backed that up by turning three-year blocking back Robert Baldwin into his main ballcarrier; Baldwin has responded by averaging an ACC-leading 140 yards a game. Goldsmith personally signed letters to all 1,600 Duke freshmen asking for their support. And he made clear to his players that losing was no longer acceptable, no matter how marginalized the program had become.

"When you're losing at a place where it doesn't really matter, you feel like you're going against all odds," says quarterback Spence Fischer, who completed 23 of 27 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns against Navy. " Duke's selling point isn't football—it's never been—and that gets instilled in your mind; you think, Football's great, but I'm getting a great education, I'm well-rounded. That's the way it is. Duke can't help that."

But Goldsmith can—and did. Fischer remembers that one of the first things Goldsmith told the Blue Devils was. "If you think you're getting a free ride, you're misled. You're on scholarship, but it's a contract and it's not one-sided. You'll get an education, but you're going to give all to the football team."

This isn't Goldsmith's first success. After earning his stripes as a defensive coordinator under Ken Hatfield at Air Force and Arkansas, Goldsmith went to Rice in 1989 and in his fourth and fifth years produced the Owls' first back-to-back winning seasons in three decades. Despite a wavering commitment by Rice to football, he wasn't interested when Duke contacted him last November. Blue Devil athletic director Tom Butters then offered the job to Virginia assistant Tom O'Brien, who turned it down. Butters again tried persuading Goldsmith by phone, even asked him to fly to Durham, but Goldsmith again said no—until he woke up the next morning and realized he had changed his mind.

"I woke up at 4:30, and I just felt real strong about it," Goldsmith says. "I shut my eyes and said. Hey, if I look at that clock and there's time to catch that flight at 6:13, I'm going."

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