2014 AFCA Notes: David Cutcliffe on Winning

If I had to pick my favorite presentation from the most recent AFCA Convention, it would be a close race between the one Fred Farrier gave about career management and how to best use the convention, and the General Session talk given by Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe.

The Blue Devils had an incredible season, winning ten games for the first time in school history, making it to the ACC Championship game, and nearly upsetting Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies in the Chick-fil-a Bowl.

Anyone who really follows college football however has noticed that the quality of football being played in Durham has been steadily rising each year since Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008.

Given his long coaching career and old-school upbringing, you might expect that  Cutcliffe, nearly sixty years old, would get up in front of the group of coaches assembled at the Indianapolis Convention Center and start yelling about how today’s kids aren’t as respectful as they used to be, or complaining about this generation, or even how when he was growing up movies never cost more than a nickel.

However, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Cutcliffe’s gruff, country boy exterior hides the mind of a shrewd football coach, and an even better manager of people including the young men who play for him. His consistent success speaks for itself, but fortunately for all those in attendance, he decided to do a little more talking, and dive in to what it is that has kept him ahead of the pack for so many years.

General Session

David Cutcliffe – Duke

  • “In our business, getting better flows both ways.”
  • “Choose your mentors and choose the right players.”
  • Not talking about X’s and O’s today, talking about winning.
  • -“There’s a name for people who aren’t passionate about what they do, they’re called the unemployed!”


1. Winning

  • We as Americans are built to win.

2. Can you live without football?

  • Don’t coach football because you love it, do it because you can’t live without it.

3. Sacrifice personal gain

  • Be willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.
  • Don’t take winning and losing personally, it’s not about you
  • Make sure your relationships are real.
  • “There’s no bigger fool in the world than the fool who thinks they can fool a young person.”

“We as Americans are built to win.”

4. Work Ethic
5. Discipline

  • Must be self-disciplined

6. Be confident in your plan

  • Do you believe in yourself?
  • Talked with Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and asked him when he knew he had a winning idea:

Ten years before the world knew it, we knew we were a crazy success. We did all the little things right.”

7. Be mentally tough

  • Mentally tough enough to take criticism

8. Surround yourself with football people

  • Made sure that everyone he hired, from the equipment guy to the front desk clerk loved football.

9. Recognize a winner

  • Coaches fall in love with ability, but does he make plays?
  • If you find a winner, find a place for him to play.

10. Develop Winners

  • Teach them how to win at everything
  • You’re either an asset or a liability.
  • Find a way to get a 3.0 (It’s important to our kids)
"There’s no bigger fool in the world than the fool who thinks they can fool a young person.”

“There’s no bigger fool in the world than the fool who thinks they can fool a young person.”


11. Everything should be based on winning

  • Even the locker room
  • Why do you think the army has barracks inspections? Get it right down to the smallest detail.

12. Head coaches are responsible

  • 100% responsible for kids not playing well
  • If things are going well, it becomes “we”

13. Be Yourself
14. Don’t over-coach

  • Practice is 90 minutes long. Don’t talk a lot, it’s about repetition. Let them be aggressive, coach the little things along the way.
  • Treat the ground like a hot stove, no one is walking on the field.

15. Ability of a player will rise above veteran knowledge
16. Use practice time wisely

  • Run in practice what you’ve run in a game. Study yourself in that respect.

17. Be consistent with your demands

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t ruin your chance to be a great head coach by letting them get away with stuff.

18. Know everything about your players

  • Teach values. What are yours?

19. Coach every play

  • Don’t just stand there, something just happened out on the field.

20. Game techniques and situations

  • Don’t put your players in a situation you haven’t covered in practice
  • Lost a game because he didn’t practice two-point plays

21. Coach your scout team harder than your starters

  • Reward great effort in this area.
  • He provides a separate period for coaching of scout players.

22. Practices should gain rhythm as they progress

  • Should be better at the end of practice if you want to be a great 4th quarter team

23. Make it a point of emphasis to encourage

  • There is no place for sarcasm in coaching!
  • If someone was to take your hope away in a bad situation, how good would you be at that moment?
  • Middle school coaches and youth coaches have a bad reputation for not being as positive as they need to be.

24. Treat the ground like a hot stove

  • Can’t win a football game lying on the ground
  • Everybody gets back up after falling down. The question is how quickly do you get back up?

25. On game day we represent a lot of fine people

  • Gameday is not the time to let everyone on TV how much a player pissed you off.
"Nothing happens without enthusiasm and passion!"

“Nothing happens without enthusiasm and passion!”


1. Climate

  • Make it a great place to work and play football

2. Recruiting

  • The lifeblood of the program

3. Discipline

  • What allows us to develop excellent practice habits. Have convinced the leaders of the team.

4. Practice Habits

  • Power equals work over time (P=W/T)
  • Practice makes permanent

5. Player Development

  • If every player reaches his potential, it will allow us to do more schematically

6. Scheme

  • Have to sell the scheme to the players
  • These kids think they have a better scheme than you do when they’re playing Madden on Playstation
  • We don’t recruit stars, we recruit people.

“No one on their own is as smart as all of us together.”

7. Accountability

  • Always heard it from his dad: “When a Cutcliffe goes somewhere, you leave it better than how you found it.”

8. Right Choices

  • Indoctrinations by the players
  • We don’t set the rules, the players do
  • Be smart with dorm life

9. The man’s rule: Be where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to do be doing, as well as you can possibly do it.

  • Sometimes a degree isn’t enough, you need an education too.

10. Winning is an all the time thing

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