|David Cutcliffe signed an extension to keep him at Duke until 2019. (US Presswire)|
Next month, Duke will be competing in its first bowl game since 1994. That season, first-year coach Fred Goldsmith was named the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year for leading the Blue Devils back into the postseason for the first time since Steve Spurrier's ACC title season in 1989. Hope was high for a new era in Duke football under Goldsmith, but those dreams were shattered quickly in a four-year nosedive -- bottoming out with the 0-11 performance in 1996 that led to his dismissal.
On Wednesday, Duke announced a contract extension for coach David Cutcliffe that will run through 2019. Duke appears to be turning a corner into a new era once again, but this time with much more momentum on and off the field.
"Without question, we have already made great discernible progress since David's arrival," athletic director Kevin White said in the university news release. "However, as we assess our future -- based on prospect evaluations, ongoing recruitment activity and player development -- we are extremely excited, if not euphoric!
"David and the staff have done an exemplary job of leading the program, while subscribing to the highest intuitional ideals, both academically and athletically."
Unlike the immediate returns that Goldsmith delivered in 1994, Cutcliffe has been building toward the postseason success of 2012 since he arrived in Durham five years ago. In his first four seasons (2008-11), Duke topped the program's cumulative win total from 1997-2007. His first ACC game -- a 31-3 win over Virginia on Sept. 27, 2008 -- ended a 25-game losing streak in conference play that dated to 2004. There have been plenty of growing pains along the way, like three 1-7 finishes in ACC play, but you could tell the on-field product was improving under Cutcliffe.
Duke approved a $250 million athletics initiative in October that calls for $100 million worth of renovation for facilities. Wallace Wade Stadium, the home of Duke football since 1929, will be a primary piece of the project. According to the plans, the school will add nearly 10,000 seats, a new press box and luxury suites and remove the track that separates the field from the fans. The final result will be a much more intimate fan experience at the historic on-campus stadium.
There will also be a new grand entranceway between Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium, the famous home of Duke basketball. Standing in the shadow of Duke basketball is difficult, but the school is making a point to make sure they are standing side-by-side.
Goldsmith hit an excitement peak in that first season of 1994; Cutcliffe is turning the corner with the Blue Devils in 2012. Maintaining the success will be a challenge. Duke faces the same uphill battles in recruiting that Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and other academically prestigious programs around the Southeast face every season. But if you look down Interstate 40 at Jim Grobe's tenure at Wake Forest -- five bowl games and an ACC championship in eleven years -- you can find realistic expectations for the Blue Devils under Cutcliffe.
According to most around the program, Cutcliffe wants to finish his impressive coaching career with the Blue Devils, and Wednesday's extension announcement makes that plan possible. The coach has said multiple times -- most recently at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. -- his primary goal at Duke is to leave the program better than he found it. With new facilities in the making and a ton of momentum from the 2012 season, Cutcliffe has already accomplished his goal.
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