As the members of the media waited in a rain storm all crowded under a small overhang outside the Duke locker room waiting on Duke coach David Cutcliffe to address them, I couldn’t help but smile.
Being part of that group I’ll admit it was wet, it was a bit chilly, if not appropriately dressed, and with the buses already started up, it was loud. Many had deadlines to attend to and most were anxious to get some quotes and get out. I wasn’t much different, but for me I knew the deal.
Cutcliffe, whose team had just improved to 4-1 (1-0 ACC) the best start in his tenure, needed time with his team. He needed to tell them he was proud of them, that they had achieved something special, all of those coach speak things that all coaches say. But in the case of Cutcliffe I genuinely believe he means it when he says it.
And the players, well they love their coach, drinching their already rain-soaked leader in Gatoraid as the clock ticked down to zeros.
Addressing the media was probably the furthest thing from his mind. It generally, I’m sure, is the thing that many coaches don’t like all that much even if it is after a win, but especially after a loss. And Cutcliffe has had to address the media after his fair share of loses while at Duke, 34 to be exact.
Still, Cutcliffe does it, he is always cordial, he is always willing to answer questions, even those he doesn’t much care for, and as was the case yesterday, he’ll do it in the rain in a small corridor surrounded by cameras, digital recorders and the roar of buses.
But it is the players that come first. To be a fly on the wall in that locker room must have been exhilarating. The players were elated as they walked off the filed and had I not been a member of the “impartial” media I would have applauded the performance myself. Instead I opted to sit quietly and wait.
The players emerged one by one to address the media, all with a serious and professional manner, no doubt a reflection of their coach who most likely told them that as good as the win felt, they still had more work to do. They were happy but not giddy.
Moments later a relieved and happy looking Cutcliffe came out, but he did not immediately address the media, instead he appeared to autograph a ticket stub for a fan and then came a special moment when he found the parents of his star wide receiver, Conner Vernon, who were waiting outside the locker room.
He walked over and hugged Vernon’s mom and talked at length to both parents, the whole time not even acknowledging the media. And while some, those who were more concerned about deadlines waited impatiently, I simply acknowledged the fact that it is those kind of relationships that make a program a family.
And that is not a knock on the general members of the media, they have a job to do, but as a Duke specific guy, I enjoyed it probably more than some.
It has become clear to me over the course of this season as I’ve gotten the opportuntiy to see inside the program a little bit and interview players and participate in post game press conferences, that this team is a family. We hear it often when Mike Krzyzewski talks about his team, and we all know how successful they have been.
Many coaches will say it but not all show it all that much; Cutcliffe does.
Duke Football has suffered over the years and Cutcliffe’s embrace with the parents, showed relief, pride and the priority he has made to his team above all else.
And while I know that as a member of the media that I’m supposed to be impartial, I make no apologies for still being a Duke fan, and knowing that the team I pull for has a coach who cares that much for his players and their families, makes me even prouder to be a fan.
There is still a lot of season to go and surely, given the schedule I expect some rough games ahead, but for one afternoon in September, Duke Football was finally a winner. Where they had previously faltered time and time again, they succeeded. They did it because they hired a coach that believed he could build a winner at Duke and it looks like everyone else might have to start believing it too.
Cutcliffe’s actions, at least to me, showed that Duke has started winning because they are a team, not just a compilation of players. They are truly a family and Cutcliffe’s the head of the house. He has all his priorities straight and he knows who is important; his team and their families and because of that, win or lose, Duke will be successful.