What Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof asked for at Duke, David Cutcliffe is receiving.
That includes new facilities, more advantageous scheduling and more resources. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cutcliffe has been able to take the Blue Devils places that Roof could not during his tenure as head coach.
“They’re finally supporting the program and it’s improved, and I certainly have a lot of respect for that,” Roof said.
Roof will make his first trip to Duke since he was dismissed following the 2007 season at the end of a largely fruitless 4 1/2-year term.
“I’ve been a few places now since then,” he said with his familiar hearty laugh. Indeed, he has been defensive coordinator at Minnesota (2008), Auburn (2009-11), Penn State (2012) and now Tech.
“And at the same time, it feels like it was yesterday. When you invest yourself into something, you remember, you don’t forget.”
Roof was hired at Duke in 2002 as a defensive coordinator after serving on George O’Leary’s staff at Tech. It was Roof’s second stint in Durham, N.C. In 2002, the Blue Devils led the ACC in rushing defense after finishing 113th in the country the previous season. He became the interim head coach in 2003 after the firing of Carl Franks and led Duke to two wins in the final five games, including a 41-17 win over the Yellow Jackets — Duke’s last win over Tech. The finish led to Roof getting the full-time job.
Roof was 6-45, the lowest winning percentage (.118) in school history. The Blue Devils were 0-12 in 2006 and lost their last 25 ACC games under Roof. Despite the rough ride, Roof speaks with fondness for Duke and maintains friendships made there.
“It’s a great place and because (the firing) happened, it doesn’t make anybody a bad person or whatever,” he said.
Failing to turn around Duke hardly makes Roof unique. Since Steve Spurrier left for Florida in 1989 after leading the Blue Devils to a share of the ACC title, Duke has had one winning season. Last year’s bowl trip was the first since 1994.
Roof’s performance elsewhere would indicate that his experience at Duke isn’t defining. Aside from his four years as a Duke linebackers coach in the early ’90s, his teams have had winning records in each of his nine seasons as an assistant at the FBS level. They have a combined 81-34 record, a statistic he can cite off the top of his head.
He left Duke with a number of lessons, particularly the importance of delegation.
“I probably spread myself too thin, into too much,” Roof said. “What I should have done is just spent my time coaching the team and worrying about what was inside the building, not trying to get new buildings built.”
While he was head coach, he assigned a staff member, a graduate of Duke’s Fuqua Business School, to research FBS teams that had turned around their programs. The 250-page report included recommendations about recruiting, admissions, scheduling, facilities and more. Roof still has a copy.
Since Cutcliffe’s hire, many of the proposals have been put into place. Duke, which didn’t have a full 100-yard practice field while Roof was there, now has a full-field outdoor practice field as well as an indoor facility. Training facilities have been updated. Wallace Wade Stadium will be renovated after the season.
The improvements alone didn’t enable Duke to end its ACC losing streak at 25 in 2008, beat North Carolina in 2012 for the first time since Roof’s interim year or win more ACC games in Cutcliffe’s first five seasons (a modest nine) than had been won in the previous 12. But it didn’t hurt.
“We are thrilled,” Cutcliffe told ESPN in 2011. “It shows a complete commitment to the football program. This has been a real change for us.”
The change came a few years too late for Roof, who said the program was supported well by individual boosters, but that their commitment wasn’t matched by the school.
“I think it came to a point where the university had to start supporting it, or the guys that were supporting it were going to dry up,” he said.
Roof acknowledged that from a personal standpoint, it was frustrating to see the improvements arrive immediately after his watch, but said, “I’m just happy for those players and those coaches, that there’s support in ways that are going to allow them to be successful.”
Roof dismissed the notion that his return to Duke will make Saturday’s game different than any other. He wouldn’t mind improving to 82-34, though.