This will not be a parade. Not for the entire length of the column. There will be shades of gray, potholes. Questions.
|Erik Ainge has made rapid progress so far this season. (Getty Images)|
Cutcliffe is Tennessee's offensive coordinator, the man given most of the credit for Ainge's resurgence as the Vols' quarterback. Both are walking contradictions.
Cutcliffe is a guru. A fixer. With Norm Chow now in the NFL, maybe the nation's best offensive coordinator.
"If he told me to play without a helmet or a mouthpiece, with one cleat, I would do it," Ainge said.
Cutcliffe won 10 games in 2003 at Ole Miss but was fired after the next season because he wouldn't change his staff after a 4-7 flameout in '04. On Saturday, he will scheme against Oxford, Miss., native Jeffrey Dukes, an Alabama defensive back who some critics say Cutcliffe let get away from the Rebels.
Just when he was on the rebound, a heart bypass operation in 2005 caused Cutcliffe to step down as Notre Dame's offensive coordinator. The 51-year old attacked his rehab like he attacks a secondary, and he was available when Vols coach Phil Fulmer booted Randy Sanders last fall.
"I'd like to be a head coach again," Cutcliffe said a year ago, before being hired for a second stint on the Tennessee staff. "Not to sound arrogant, but that's what my druthers would be."
That's the next logical step, but where? And would his doctor recommend it?
As for the '06 Volunteers, they wouldn't be where they are had not both Ainge and Cutcliffe failed.
Ainge is getting Heisman mention. That will happen when you stunk as bad as he did in 2005. Confused, confounded, Ainge was blamed for a large part of a 5-6 season. For most of his first two seasons, Ainge was jerked in and out of the lineup.
Whatever criticism was left, was heaped on Sanders.