Photo: (L-R): Dave Doeren, Scottie Montgomery, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora and Granville Eastman
CARY, N.C. -- David Cutcliffe called for a show of hands.
The Duke football coach was the veteran attending the 16th annual Pigskin Preview presented by the Bill Dooley Chapter of the National Football Foundation on Monday at the Embassy Suites Hotel. While seated at the dais along with North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery and North Carolina Central’s Granville Eastman, Cutcliffe took a moment to praise the value of the NFF and its local chapters.
The Bill Dooley Chapter, which uniquely includes five colleges in its area, is the largest in the nation. The five helmets representing each school were auctioned off and raised upward of $5,000 that will be used for scholarships.
“I’m thrilled this is year 11 for me at this event,” Cutcliffe told the audience. “How many of you have been here all 11 years?”
Impressed with the count of raised hands, he added, “The National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame are critically important to college football right now. It is really the best organization in the country for supporting what we do. Understand what we do here is important and as the largest chapter in the country we need to lead the way.”
Cutcliffe didn’t say it directly, but the implication was clear: the sport that does so much good faces many more challenges than it faced 11 years ago.
Concussions and the risk of athletes suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a dark cloud over the sport. It is important to pro-actively address safety rules and tackling fundamentals to help the game’s future participation numbers. There are other complicated and emotional issues that the NCAA is wrestling with involve paying athletes, academic fraud and the incurable infection from recruiting cheaters.
But on a mid-July afternoon when it felt good to look ahead to the upcoming season, one question that moderator Jeff Gravley of WRAL-TV put to the coaches brought the room back to the game's core values that attracted the coaches in the first place.
Gravley asked the coaches what got them into the profession. Despite the changing times, the answers were basically the same from Cutcliffe, the oldest among the coaches at 63, and Montgomery, the youngest at 40.
--- Cutcliffe began coaching at Banks High in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., after graduating from Alabama. He was a Banks assistant in 1976 and later the school’s head coach (1980-81). He joined the college ranks as a Tennessee assistant in 1982, was the head coach at Ole Miss (1998-2004) and arrived in Durham in 2008 to turn around Duke’s program. He mentored Peyton Manning as an offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli Manning as a head coach at Ole Miss.
“My nickname in high school was, ‘Coach,’ because I had a habit of telling everybody what to do,” Cutcliffe said to laughs before turning more solemn.
“My dad passed away as a sophomore. I had a lot of reasons to be angry at that time, so without high school coaches, in all sports, there is no way am I sitting here today. Coach Bryant (Alabama’s legendary Bear Bryant) my senior year told me, ‘Dave, don’t get into this business because you think you love it. The only reason you want to be football coach is you can’t live without out.’ I knew at that point I couldn’t live without it. I’m very proud to be at this profession.”
--- Montgomery says his church and high school coach at Burns High in Lawndale, N.C., were his two major influences. He played at Duke and then four years in the NFL before he returned to Duke as a wide receivers coach in 2006. He was one of the assistants Cutcliffe retained when he took over the Blue Devils in 2008. Montgomery spent three years coaching in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers before returning to Duke in 2013-15. After two years as offensive coordinator, East Carolina named him its head coach in 2016.
“The reason why I started coaching was my high school coach, Ronnie Green. I don’t think I can say it enough about how much he did for me. The relationship you have with some you have outside the home and relationships you have with (teammates) is special. I can’t say enough about the people that influenced me.”
--- Doeren, 46, began as a high school assistant at his alma mater, Shawnee Mission in Kansas, after he graduated from a playing career at Drake. He was a head coach at Northern Illinois (2011-12) for two years before taking over the Wolfpack in 2013.
“I thought of coaching when I was thinking about what direction I wanted to go after college,” Doeren said. “My high school hired me to coach a 7-on-7 team. I fell in love with not just the relationship aspect with the players but the brotherhood of coaches. I like to help young people in different areas of life on and off the field and help them to get areas in their life with my guidance. I wanted to give back to the game. I think all of us can say coaching is a calling. I definitely felt that from the first day I stepped on the field to coach.”
--- Fedora, 55, grew up in Texas and played at Austin College in Sherman, Tx., where he began as a graduate assistant in 1986. He spent three years as a high school assistant in Garland, Tx., before he joined the Baylor staff in 1991. He was the head coach at Southern Miss (2008-11) and then landed in Chapel Hill in 2012.
“I knew as a freshman in high school I wanted to coach,” Fedora said. “I was fortunate to have both parents at home, but the impact that coaches have had on my life and what they were able to accomplish for me and my teammates had a profound impact on me. Like Dave said, I knew I could not live without the game of football in my life. Football is what makes this the great country that it is. We’re the only football playing nation in the world and that’s what makes us special, unique and great.”
--- Eastman, 48, was promoted to North Carolina Central head coach from assistant head coach after Jerry Mack left the Historically Black College and University for the job as Rice’s offensive coordinator. Eastman is Canadian-born, where they also play football, although with slightly different rules. He competed at Leacock High in Toronto and St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Novia Scotia. He entered coaching at York University in Toronto before moving to the U.S. He coached at Tiffin University in Ohio and Austin Peay State before joining the NCCU staff in 2014.
“Early on I had a fascination with education and coaching; I thought they great role models for me,” Eastman said. “Coaching is a function of teaching. They were special people in my life, and I wanted to be able to do same thing and help young people in a positive way. Lately, the last several years, it’s become more of a ministry for me. I want to help develop and transform lives and help them reach their goals after football. That’s a driving force me and why I coach.”
The Pigskin Preview was a day to feel optimistic about each team’s coming season and the game overall. The hard work coaches face preparing their teams changes season to season, but the NFF faces an ongoing challenge.
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-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.