This is the tenth and final post in a series of Duke’s All-Decade teams, as named by various Chronicle writers, past and present. At the end of the series, you will be able to vote for your own All-Decade team, and your votes will determine The Sports Blog’s final choice. Stay tuned over the next week for more All-Decade choices.
Tim Britton stole my thunder with his list of clutch performances by deviating from the “all-decade team” format. In this category, best and worst hires, it’s impossible to make up a team of a bunch of coaches andor athletic directors who participate in different sports and have been at Duke for different periods of time. More importantly, though, this list is going to be really short, simply because there haven’t been that many coaches hired in the last ten years.
The leve of stability among Duke coaches, for the most part, is staggering. Coach K is in his 30th season; former women’s basketball head coach Gail Goestenkors was in Durham for 14 years; former men’s soccer head coach John Rennie was on the sidelines for 29 years before handing the reins of the program to one of his best-ever players; and Dan Brooks, the head coach of the women’s golf team for the last 25 years, has brought home a slew of national titles. The list of tenured sports professors in Durham goes on and on.
Fortunately for the purposes of this list, there has been some turnover at the top. So without further ado, Duke’s best and worst hires in the last 10 years. Director of Athletics Kevin White, in only his second year in charge of Blue Devil sports, is not included on this list because of a lack of material on which to judge his performance.
1. John Danowski, Men’s Lacrosse (Hired in 2006)
Andy Moore covered the mess that was the lacrosse scandal Monday and noted that Mike Pressler, the coach responsible for turning Blue Devil lacrosse into a national powerhouse, was forced to resign in the aftermath. In 16 seasons, Pressler turned the Duke program around, culminating in a national title game appearance in 2005. In 2006, of course, the highly ranked team’s chances at a championship were submarined when University President Richard Brodhead canceled the season, and eventually, pushed Pressler out the door.
Director of Athletics Joe Alleva’s choice to replace Pressler has turned out to be an inspired one in John Danowski, the former Hofstra coach and the father of Matt Danowski, one of the best players in the history of college lacrosse. All John Danowski has done in three years in charge is restore his team’s reputation on campus and reach three Final Fours. Had Duke won the national championship in 2007, its first season back after the scandal–and the Blue Devils came damned close, losing to Johns Hopkins by a single goal in the final–the story would have had Hollywood blockbuster written all over it.
Danowski also deserves a lot of praise for being an honest, thoughtful guy who takes the time to speak to reporters and others around campus about his role at Duke. He knew what he was getting himself into in the summer of 2006, and I haven’t heard any complaints.
For the definitive account on the development of the Duke Lacrosse program after Danowski’s hire, check out Alex Fanaroff’s story that appeared in Towerview in March of 2007.
2. David Cutcliffe, Football (Hired in 2007)
No surprise that David Cutcliffe makes this list. His predecessors will be covered in the not-so-pleasant section of this post below, but Cutcliffe has done an excellent job of not only making the team significantly better on the field, but of making the Duke community care about Duke Football. I am a senior now, and my first two years at Duke, the football team won exactly one game. In the two years since Cutcliffe took over, the program has gone 9-15–not BCS levels by any stretch, but considering where the program was when Cutcliffe got here, he has a lot to be proud of. Cutcliffe is revered by his players and friendly with the media, makes an effort to connect with students on campus and wins football games at a school that hadn’t done the latter in a decade. Joe Alleva, in one of his last acts as Duke’s AD, got this one right.
3. Sean McNally, Baseball (Hired in 2005)
Here is what Sean McNally inherited when he returned to his alma mater as head baseball coach: a team with low morale and a losing mentality, accusations of steroid use, a history of players transferring and a bad rap on campus. Duke Baseball was in a bad place, and I don’t just mean at the bottom of the ACC standings.
But McNally has turned the program around–the Blue Devils qualified for the ACC tournament this year, where they defeated eventual College World Series participant Clemson, and just barely missed out on an NCAA tournament bid–by gradually building his players’ confidence and recruiting better and better players. It didn’t hurt to have Nate Freiman, a first baseman who could mash with the best of them, and a group of Blue Devils who have bought into his system.
This semester, I spoke to Tim Layden, a former baseball player who left Duke several years ago to pursue a professional baseball career in the Chicago Cubs minor league system. Layden returned to Duke this semester to get his degree, and he told me he wished McNally had been the coach back when he wore the Blue Devil uniform.
The baseball team doesn’t attract the attention or get the fan support that other programs on campus do, but McNally is working on that, and he’s done it the right way, much like Danowski.
1. Ted Roof, Football (Hired midseason in 2003)
Where do you start listing all the things that went wrong during this embarrassing stretch that included an 0-12 season in 2006 and a 1-11 record the following year? Roof took over with five games left in the 2003 campaign from Carl Franks and led Duke to a 2-3 finish en route to a 4-8 record, but once on his own, Roof did nothing to enliven a program that Cutcliffe has revitalized seemingly in an instant.
At the end of the 2007 season, Roof’s players pleaded with the athletic department to let him stay on, but Alleva stuck to his guns and let Roof go. Fans of Duke Football should be thankful, as should students who suffered through any of the football years of the early Aughts, that David Cutcliffe replaced him.
2. O.D. Vincent, Men’s Golf (Hired in 2007)
Vincent was a splashy hire from UCLA, where he led the Bruins to nine NCAA Championship appearances and was named the 1999 Pac-10 Coach of the Year. At Duke, though, Vincent never reached the heights he had out west. The Blue Devils played just a single spring season under Vincent and won one tournament that spring, but their head coach bolted for a job with the athletic department at Washington, his alma mater, at this time last year.
The most disappointing part of Vincent’s tenure was how sharply it contrasted with that of his predecessor, Rod Myers. Myers built the men’s golf program, literally and figuratively–he was the driving force behind the golf team’s beautiful practice facility on the grounds of the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club–and served as head coach for 34 years before losing a battle with cancer in April of 2007. Vincent, meanwhile, was in Durham for under two years before being replaced by Jamie Green, an extremely successful coach at Charlotte.
And really, that’s the list of worst hires, because no other new hire has been in Durham long enough to pass judgement on. Here’s a brief list of recent additions to the Duke coaching ranks:
–Joanne P. McCallie, women’s basketball: McCallie has fallen short of the accomplishments of Gail Goestenkors and hasn’t proven herself against the best teams in the nation. To top it off, last year’s second-round defeat to a No. 9 seed–even at its home stadium–was disappointing. But McCallie is still only in her third season, and next year’s recruiting class is not only her best (which doesn’t necessarily say much), but it might also be the best in the country. We’ll give her at least another year before deciding if she can cut it at Duke.
–Ramsey Smith, men’s tennis: Smith was groomed as the successor to Jay Lapidus, Duke’s long-time coach and current Director of Tennis. Smith has already made a name for himself with big-time recruiting scores, and his familiarity with his players because of his time as an assistant under Lapidus has made the transition a smooth one. Watch out for the Blue Devils this spring.
–John Kerr, men’s soccer: It’s tough to take over for a legend, but that’s what Kerr had to do after 29-year man John Rennie retired. Kerr also took command of a team that lost nearly a dozen seniors and took it to the NCAA tournament in his first season. Duke was great at times under Rennie, and it might be again under Kerr. Duke reached the round of 16 in its second season under Kerr, who led the Blue Devils to their only national championship in 1986.