It’s that time of the year again when we are regularly reminded that Alabama head coach Nick Saban has never lost to an assistant coach during his coaching career. That perfect streak will once again be put on the line this weekend when the top-ranked Crimson Tide make their way to College Station, Texas to face the No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies. Texas A&M, of course, is coached by Jimbo Fisher. You guessed it. Fisher is a former assistant to Saban.
Fisher has gone 0-2 against his former boss, including last season’s loss in SEC play. Last season marked the first time Fisher faced Saban as a coach of an SEC West Division foe. His previous loss to Saban came while coaching at Florida State when the No. 3 Seminoles opened the 2017 season with a 24-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the season opener in Atlanta, Georgia. The most-hyped Week 1 game in quite some time ended up being far from able to match the preseason hype. Florida State hasn’t exactly been the same since and may still be trying to recover from that game.
The odds always seem to be in Saban’s favor, as he generally has the best team in every matchup against his former assistants, and that should once again be the case this weekend. Is Saban due for a loss against an assistant? Perhaps. It’s hard to win so many games before taking a mild hit somewhere along the way, even if by a fluke. Fisher may have Texas A&M working to be a viable threat to Alabama, and maybe playing at home helps, but the Aggies have already lost one game at home to Auburn so it doesn’t seem like this may be a difficult destination for Alabama.
Brett McMurphy of Stadium notes Saban has lost to just nine active coaches. Active coaches with victories against Saban are Les Miles (Kansas; 3), Hugh Freeze (Liberty; 2), Gus Malzahn (Auburn; 2), Dabo Swinney (Clemson; 2), Mack Brown (UNC; 2), David Cutcliffe (Duke; 1), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa; 1), Kevin Sumlin (Arizona; 1) and Kyle Whittingham (1; Utah). Only four of those coaches (Malzahn, Swinney, Ferentz, Whittingham) are at the same program today as they were when they topped Saban. Swinney and Brown, of course, have victories against Saban in the national championship game (Brown in the BCS and Swinney twice in the College Football Playoff).
Is Fisher going to be the first former Saban assistant to beat his old boss? We’ll find out this week. If not, we may be waiting for Kirby Smart to get another crack in the SEC Championship Game.
Former Tennessee quarterback, NFL Pro Bowler, and Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning was formally inducted to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Perhaps it was fitting that he was inducted alongside his position coach and offensive coordinator, and current Duke head coach, David Cutcliffe. The two were added to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend.
“Coach Cutcliffe – he’s such a mentor for me,” Manning said of his former quarterback coach in Knoxville. “He’s my coach; he’s my friend. He kind of remained my coach when I was in the NFL. To be in with Coach Cutcliffe, it’s very special and I’m very proud.”
Manning and Cutcliffe have remained close years after Manning left Tennessee for the NFL. Manning has relied on Cutcliffe in offseasons to prepare and rehab when needed with Cutcliffe nearby to offer his insight and expertise in helping Manning remain one of the top passers in the NFL. Manning has spent a few seasons in retirement form the NFL now and is heading to the ultimate hall of fame soon enough in Canton, Ohio. Manning has already been inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame, fittingly enough along with former antagonist, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier.
Joining Manning and Cutcliffe were former Tennessee student-athletes Charles Davis (currently a broadcaster for FOX’s NFL coverage) and Kara Lawson. Davis is a former defensive back for the Vols program and was a part of Tennessee’s 1985 SEC championship team. He spent years broadcasting college football games before being given a job covering the NFL instead. Lawson is a former women’s basketball player for the storied Tennessee basketball program. Like Davis, Lawson has been in the broadcasting game covering basketball.
Duke has officially announced a two-year contract extension for head coach David Cutcliffe. The long-time Duke head coach now has a contract that will run through June 30, 2023.
“Coach Cutcliffe has an unprecedented record of success both on and off the field, and I am delighted that he will remain at Duke for at least another four years,” Duke University President Vincent E. Price said in a released statement. “His commitment to academic excellence and the personal growth of his student-athletes reflects our core values and sets an example for Duke’s peers.”
Cutcliffe is 67-72 in his 11 years as the head coach of the Blue Devils, but Duke is coming off a fifth winning season in the last six years. Duke has ended the last two seasons with a bowl victory and has won each of their three most recent bowl appearances in the last four years. Cutcliffe owns half of Duke’s all-time bowl victories. Under Cutcliffe, Duke has made at least one appearance in the AP Top 25 in four of the last six seasons and played for an ACC championship in 2013.
The extension comes a week after Duke’s starting quarterback from the 2018 season, Daniel Jones, was drafted with a top 10 pick by the New York Giants. Jones was the first Duke player drafted by an NFL team since 2015 and he became the highest draft pick from Durham since linebacker Mike Junkin was selected with the No. 5 pick by the Cleveland Browns in 1987.
Cutcliffe will turn 65 during the 2019 season. By the end of his contract, Cutcliffe will be 68 years of age. Odds are Cutcliffe will be thinking about retirement around that time, which means we should be a few years away from seeing Duke begin searching for a new head coach. For now, stability on the sideline is ensured for the Blue Devils.
The NFL draft is rapidly approaching on the football offseason calendar. The time when college football fans and NFL fans can come together in one single football event is always a fun time of the year for a variety of reasons. For college football fans, the bragging rights about having more players drafted than your rivals is something that is given close attention, and don’t think the coaches aren’t eager to cash in on the NFL draft buzz either.
This year, as is typically the case, a handful of coaches from the college game will be heading to the draft to send off some of their most recent success stories. Among those attending the event this year in Nashville will be some familiar faces. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be the headliners at the draft among the college football coaching fraternity. Other head coaches attending the event will include David Cutcliffe of Duke, Matt Luke of Ole Miss, Ed Orgeron of LSU, Mark Stoops of Kentucky, Willie Taggart of Florida State, Joe Moorhead of Mississippi State, and Lincoln Riley of Nebraska.
Although not a head coach, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson will also reportedly be in attendance.
These are coaches of schools that are either well-represented at the NFL Draft on a regular basis and/or have some key players who may be going in the first round. Unfortunately, the NFL Draft being held in Nashville will not include either head coach from Tennessee or Vanderbilt unless there is a change in the plans.
For those keeping score at home, and there is unquestionably at least one of you doing so, that is five coaches from the SEC, three from the ACC, and one each from the Big Ten the Big 12.
The 2019 NFL Draft will run from April 25-27. The Arizona Cardinals currently own the top pick, which could end up being used for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, Kyler Murray.
It has been a while since Tennessee football played a role in the national championship picture, but the Vols hope things turn around soon under the leadership of new head coach Jeremy Pruitt. In the meantime, plans are coming together for Tennessee to pay tribute to the 1998 national championship team, the first school to claim victory in the BCS era. This season marks the 20th anniversary of Tennessee’s last national championship.
A ceremony to honor the 1998 Tennessee team is scheduled for September 22 when the Vols host Florida. A number of players are expected to make an appearance at Neyland Stadium for the ceremony, although it remains in question whether or not one key member of that team will be there.
Tee Martin, who was the quarterback for the Vols after Peyton Manning graduated, may have the schedule work in his favor to make it happen. Martin, who is the offensive coordinator at USC, will be coaching a game for the Pac-12’s Trojans on Friday night. USC hosts Washington State on Friday, September 21. That game will be played at night, which means Martin would have to take an overnight flight across the country to show up, and then he would have to fly back across the country to begin preparing for USC’s next game the following weekend. The game time for Tennessee’s home game against the Gators has not been announced yet.
One former coach from the 1998 staff that won’t be in attendance will be David Cutcliffe. Then the offensive coordinator of the Vols and now the head coach at Duke, Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils are scheduled to play a home game against North Carolina Central for Duke’s homecoming game. Although, if Duke plays in the early afternoon and Tennessee gets to play at night, you never know.
In 1998, Tennessee got their promising season off on the right track thanks in large part to snapping a losing streak to SEC rival Florida, upsetting the No. 2 Gators 20-17 in overtime in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee completed their 13-0 march to the national championship by dispatching of No. 7 Georgia (22-3) on the road and No. 10 Arkansas (28-24) before beating No. 23 Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game (and yes, Tennessee also beat Alabama, 35-18, but the Tide were not quite on the same level they are today). A clean 12-0 record and an SEC championship to their name sent Tennessee to the inaugural BCS National Championship Game to face No. 2 Florida State, and the Vols defeated the Seminoles 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl while also limiting Peter Warrick to just one catch for seven yards.