David Cutcliffe Taking Tennessee Vols Back To the Future

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 15, 2010

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils looks on during the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 13, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I hate to go with anything before it's completely confirmed. And as of right now, no one wants to confirm it, but it appears that David Cutcliffe will take over as the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Now if you've read any of my numerous articles during the last three days, you know I hold Cutcliffe in high regard for his past work as "the man behind the curtain" to former coach Phillip Fulmer's "Wizard of Oz."

During Cutcliffe's first tenure as offensive coordinator, the Vols had Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning, and Tee Martin as quarterbacks. During those years, the Vols went 62-11-1 with two SEC titles and one national title. (Cutcliffe left for Ole Miss prior to the national championship game after the '98 season.)

In 1999, Cutcliffe helped another Manning become a household name (Eli), and the Rebels tied for first in the SEC West in '03, Manning's senior season.

In 2004, Cutcliffe experienced his only losing season as head coach, which led to him being fired.

Cutcliffe then was hired as assistant head coach at Notre Dame, but he had to leave because of heart problems—and he had triple-bypass surgery.

In 2006, after the Vols' first losing season in 16 years, Fulmer called his old friend to come back and serve in his old role as offensive coordinator.

The Vols promptly got better again. Going 9-4 in '06 and 10-4 in '07 while winning the SEC East, the Vols were back on track to being Tennessee again.

Cutcliffe left for Duke after that '07 season, and for the first time since '05, Tennessee finished under .500. And of course, you know the rest—Fulmer was fired and what's-his-name took over.

Now it appears that "the man behind the curtain" will now be the Wizard of Oz for Knoxville.

If you have been paying attention to my articles recently, you realize that I was not in favor of such a hire.

My reasoning was that Cutcliffe is 55. He's too close to Fulmer, and his hiring would be far from what is needed to bolster a disappointed fanbase and/or save recruits.

Then I remembered the fact that the Vols hired a young, flashy fan favorite, and he promptly deserted the Tennessee program after one season.

I realize that Cutcliffe's expected hiring is not going to be an extremely popular decision. I realize that it's hard to imagine Cutcliffe taking over the SEC and competing with the likes of Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, and Nick Saban.

I, too, realize many SEC opponents are probably licking their chops as we speak at the thought of the former UT offensive coordinator being named the head man.

But I will issue a word of caution to those who think Cutcliffe will be a pushover.

Cutcliffe has developed two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, one national champion quarterback, four quarterbacks who hold many SEC records, and three quarterbacks who finished in the top three Heisman voting in one decade. 

He's known for consistently running an offense that scored 30-plus points per game for many years.

He took Ole Miss from a mid-level SEC West team to a tie for the title.

Sure, he had Eli Manning when he did that. But Cutcliffe only had one losing season following five remarkable ones before being canned by an overanxious athletic director.

After leaving Tennessee the last time, Cutcliffe went on to Duke and promptly took the Blue Devils from cellar-dweller status to the mid-level of the ACC.

Coach "Cut" has been successful. He is still a great offensive mind. He has a bright quarterback prospect to shape and mold in freshman Tyler Bray.

There are playmakers galore on this offense. At least what's-his-name left us with something other than bad memories.

Cutcliffe has to be salivating at the opportunity to make these boys into men.

He has to be ready to sanitize the program from a "we'll-get-you-ready-for-the-NFL" mind-set to a "give-your-all-for-the-Tennessee-Vols" mentality again.

Cutcliffe loved working for Tennessee for years. He will continue all the traditions that are near and dear to fans and alumni. He will recruit the right kind of player, and he will discipline anyone who brings reproach on the Tennessee name.

He is not an outsider, like what's-his-name.

Far from it.

I have come to the realization that Cutcliffe is exactly what the Vols need to rid the program of the dirty taste left by the rogue regime that just skipped town.

Someone also reminded me that Peyton Manning has personally lobbied for this move to happen. All the Mannings are extremely close with Cutcliffe. Having Peyton around campus more often will help in recruiting and development.

Also, with Cutcliffe at 55, six or seven seasons in Knoxville could very well pave the way for Peyton Manning to take over at Tennessee upon his retirement from the NFL. I know that takes a lot of assumption and faith, but it's easy to see how that sets up.

But for the time being, the Vols have someone who can and will undo the mess and hopefully restore glory to Tennessee football.

What's-his-name was right about one thing—it's time.

Time for what?

It's time to go back to the future.

(As I finished this article, I received a tweet from Vols Beat Writer, Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Times Free Press that Tennessee has contacted at least three more coaching possibilities—Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, and UConn's Randy Edsall. At this point, nothing is certain, but we'll tackle those reports when/if something develops.)


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