Duke's Cutcliffe talks life, quarterbacks, the ACC and the NCAA

Oct. 02, 2013 @ 10:39 PM

Duke football coach and raconteur-in-chief David Cutcliffe was in top form at a full-house gathering of the Raleigh Sports Club at Raleigh’s Highland United Methodist Church Wednesday.

Making his sixth annual appearance before the club, Cutcliffe touched on a variety of topics and, interestingly enough, not one of them had to do directly with the Duke football program.

The only time Cutcliffe even mentioned his own program was when he issued a congenial warning that the one question he couldn’t answer about this year’s team was what its final record might be.

For the record, the Blue Devils are 3-2, coming off a win over Troy and have this weekend off before allegedly facing Navy at home on Oct. 12. The Navy date might be compromised by the ongoing federal government shutdown.

Otherwise, the sixth-year Blue Devil coach talked about life, the NCAA,protègés Peyton and Eli Manning, just-retired Major League Baseball star Todd Helton.

The Manning brothers consumed a good deal of Cutcliffe’s 35-minute talk, prompted by the interest generated by the recent meeting of their Denver Broncos and New York Giants teams.

The brothers are regular house guests of Cutcliffe’s family and Cutcliffe recalled a monthlong stay here by Peyton Manning prior to the 2012 season in which he rehabbed from a neck injury and invited — among others — Broncos’ wide receiver Eric Decker to work out with him.

Near the end of the stay, Cutcliffe, the Manning brothers, Decker and Helton visited a well-known steakhouse to celebrate and practical joker Peyton Manning decided to “get” Decker. At the end of the meal, all the guests were handed slips of paper. All were blank except Decker’s, which contained a “bill” for $5,800 for training services rendered by Cutcliffe, use of Duke facilities and the like.

When the party overheard a “very angry” Decker talking to his now-wife, country music star Jessie James, on his cell phone complaining about the “bill,” Cutcliffe broke down and confessed it was bogus.

“Peyton didn’t speak to me for two days,” Cutcliffe recalled with a laugh.

Cutcliffe coached future baseball star Helton while Helton was a quarterback at Tennessee. An injury in 1994 to Vols starting QB Jimmy Colquitt moved junior Helton into the starting lineup with true freshmen Peyton Manning and Brandon Stewart as the only backups. Peyton Manning became the starter when Helton was hurt.

“Peyton called it his (Helton’s) mysterious hamstring,” Cutcliffe recalled. Cutcliffe added that Helton might have been looking ahead to the pro baseball draft for which he was eligible in the spring of 1995.

“Helton was in his ‘money’ year,” Cutcliffe said.

He recalled that Peyton Manning sabotaged Stewart in an attempt to win the starting job.

Cutcliffe said he called a meeting to discuss a game plan with his quarterbacks. Manning showed up 15 minutes early, to the delight of Cutcliffe, a stickler for promptness. When Stewart was two minutes late, Cutcliffe went looking for him and found locked every door he had left open in the football facility and Stewart was knocking on an outside door trying to get in.

“His knuckles were bloody,” Cutcliffe said. “Peyton had closed every door behind him to make his competition late. It was at that moment that I chose my starter.”

Helton, who retired from the Colorado Rockies at age 40 with a .316 lifetime batting average and 369 career home runs at the end of September probably made a solid decision in giving way to Manning behind center.

Cutcliffe said Helton is a man of few, but often exquisite words. Words to live by.

Asked to address some college players eager for Helton’s advice on making it to the big leagues, Cutcliffe recalled Helton’s words.

“Your obligation is to be the very best teammate you can be,” Helton said.

Cutcliffe said that’s advice that can and should be used by everyone, every day of their lives, in business, sports, politics, you name it.

On the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference — looking 20 years down the line — Cutcliffe said, “The ACC’s in a great circumstance, it has the best geographic footprint in the country.” He added that ACC strengths include strong academics and excellence throughout all sports.

“Could we be stronger in football? Yes,” Cutcliffe said. “But we’re not that far away.”

On other fronts, Cutcliffe said he’s pleased that the NCAA has been proactive on fronts including concussion awareness, making changes to limit offseason contact among other things and called for “more regulation” not “deregulation” by college football’s governing body.

“Do I think college football is sick? No,” Cutcliffe said.

Cutcliffe said he doesn’t believe college players should receive compensation in addition to what they already are eligible to receive. He said the needs of even needy athletes can be met under current rules.

He cited the availability of $4,000 annual federal Pell Grants and three funds available through each school — a needy student fund, a discretionary fund and an emergency fund — that are already in place and OK’d by the NCAA to handle most emergencies.

He added that while college football does indeed generate about 80 percent of collegiate football revenues, it is used to benefit athletes directly in terms of scholarships, facilities, coaching and a variety of other things.

“The money that is generated goes right back to the athletes,” Cutcliffe said.