David Cutcliffe on working for Bear Bryant, coaching the Mannings and his new job with the SEC

David Cutcliffe’s life as a coach started earlier than most.

Although he played football as a youngster, including at Banks High School in Birmingham, Cutcliffe knew from an early age that his future lay in a whistle and helmet rather than a helmet. And like many of his generation growing up in Alabama in the 1960s and 1970s, he idolized legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

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“My nickname in high school was ‘Coach,'” Cutcliffe said in an interview last week with Mobile’s Sports Talk 99.5 FM. “I knew I was going to be a coach then. I’m a kid who was influenced by Coach Bryant. No matter how many of us were playing outside (on Sundays) my mom knew to yell at me at 3:55 p.m. because at 4:00 p.m. the Coach Bryant TV show started I ran and watched it every week, religiously, in the fall Even if I ran for a touchdown in the pasture, if I heard my mom would call, I’d turn around like Forrest Gump, I’d keep running home.

“Coach Cut” will be on Mobile Thursday as part of the 28th annual DEX Imaging L’Arche Football Preview, which returns this year as an in-person event after two years as a virtual event due to COVID. Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, South Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator of Louisville, Lance Taylor, are also scheduled.

Cutcliffe recently retired after nearly five decades on the sidelines, first rising to prominence during his 19 seasons as an assistant at Tennessee, and also as a head coach at Banks and at Ole Miss and Duke. He was hired by the SEC earlier this year as a special assistant for football relations under commissioner Greg Sankey.

“It’s been kind of a learning curve,” Cutcliffe said. “After 46 years of training, moving to the administrative side is a bit of a shock. It was fun and I’m always up for learning something new. It was really exciting to work with a great team in the Southeastern Conference.

Although he had the opportunity to play football at the small college level in places such as Livingston (now West Alabama) and Florence State (now North Alabama), Cutcliffe’s dream was to walk in Alabama so that he can learn from Bryant. His father had died in a car accident when Cutcliffe was 15, so his family did not have the financial resources to allow him to pay his own tuition in Tuscaloosa.

So he spent his freshman year after high school coaching Banks’ freshman team, intending to enroll at Alabama the following fall. Family friend Jack Rutledge—a longtime Crimson Tide assistant who ran the school’s athletic dorm, Bryant Hall—helped Cutcliffe get a job as a student assistant.

Cutcliffe said he did “anything and everything” during his Alabama days, including as Rutledge’s No. 2 man at Bryant Hall. This led to some interesting skirmishes with players, including a memorable run-in with a top (but unnamed) offensive lineman.

“My job was to make sure everything was going well,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m younger than a lot of them, and he was an older guy. He had gone hunting at night and had killed a raccoon and a possum. And he carried them around the dormitory, bleeding them through the hallways with the gun still hanging under his arm. And I walk up to him and I’m like, ‘Hey, man, that’s not cool.’ I don’t know if he had been under the influence or not. But somehow I made him decide he was going to have to either shoot me or help me clean up this mess. He helped me clean up the mess. So I knew I could train that day.

When he wasn’t putting out the fires in the dorm, Cutcliffe spent his free time immersing himself as much as he could with Bryant and his team. He said he would participate in the film screenings — initially uninvited — with Crimson Tide assistants Ken Donahue and Mal Moore.

After graduating from Alabama in 1976, Cutcliffe returned to Banks as an assistant (ironically after his high school coach, Shorty White, left for a job in Alabama), before taking over as as head coach in 1980. He said he was “as happy as I could be” coaching in high school and had no intention of making the jump to college, at least until a chance encounter with Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors.

“(Majors) was supposed to watch one of our players for 15 minutes and he stayed all practice,” Cutcliffe recalled. “He said ‘how did you learn to run a practice like that?’ I said, ‘Alabama, mostly, but also here at Banks High School. Shorty White knew how to prepare his teams to play. He said, ‘I’m going to hire you after the season.’ I’m like ‘yeah, okay.’

“Of course after the season he called me and offered me a job. I forgot to ask him how much he was going to pay me. And I probably wouldn’t have left if I had known it was less than what I was making at Banks.

For a salary of $8,000, Cutcliffe accepted an assistant position at Tennessee in 1982. He was promoted to tight ends coach in 1983 (getting a raise to $14,000), then served as running back before take over as quarterbacks in 1990.

After offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer replaced Majors in 1993, Cutcliffe was elevated to OC. It was the following year that Cutcliffe’s three-decade association began with the Manning family, when Peyton Manning signed with the Volunteers to play quarterback.

Cutcliffe helped make Manning one of the greatest quarterbacks in SEC history and helped lead the Volunteers to a national championship in 1998 (with Tee Martin at quarterback). Cutcliffe’s friendship with the Manning family played a huge role in his first head coaching job at Ole Miss – the alma mater of patriarch Archie Manning and a desperate scheme to sign Peyton’s younger brother Eli.

Cutcliffe coached the Rebels for six seasons, going 44-29 and sharing the SEC West championship in 2003. Eli Manning finished third in the Heisman Trophy ballot that season, after Peyton was runner-up in 1997.

“Their willingness to work, their humility to learn was second to none,” Cutcliffe said. “Nowadays we get hot shots, and they were as far away from that as you could get. They absolutely wanted to absorb everything. And then they also have these spirits that — I’m telling you, a game of football can last 3.5 seconds, maybe five seconds. But when you talk to them about what went through their minds and why that decision, or why not that decision, it would take them 30 seconds to tell you what went through their minds. “They handled a game and the football game better than anyone I’ve ever heard of. And when you add that talent, that dedicated work ethic with that kind of spirit…I coached them in the offseason ( NFL). I mean, we’d work hard. They loved coming back, because they knew I’d coach them, not coddle them. We did that for 22 years with Peyton, and with Eli all the time he has. play.

Cutcliffe was fired after the Rebels slipped to 4-7 in 2004 and returned to Tennessee to serve as Fulmer’s offensive coordinator for two seasons. He then became Duke’s head coach, posting a 77-97 record in 14 seasons, including 10 wins and an ACC Coastal Division championship in 2013.

Cutcliffe and Duke parted ways in November, meaning he was suddenly available just as Arch Manning – Archie’s grandson, Cooper’s son and Peyton and Eli’s nephew – became the next big quarterback. -back of his family. Now 67, Cutcliffe said he had received several calls from schools looking to hire him so they could have an “in” with Arch (there were rumors he was close to take a job in Texas), but decided to stay above the fray this time around.

“I wouldn’t touch that with the 10-foot pole,” Cutcliffe said. “I had a lot of offers to be part of a staff here, a staff there. It was everyone who recruited Arch. … When Arch was born, I was the coach -head of Ole Miss. I had him send scholarship papers the day he was born, to Cooper. I’m the only one who did that. But I worked with Arch, and he’s a sponge. I think his path has become more difficult because it’s so public, with social media and the amount of media we have relative to Peyton and Eli coming in. Cooper and I talked about it, staying grounded in understanding what wins games as a quarterback, which puts everyone in the best possible position to succeed. You don’t go out and try to win games yourself. … The market is that if he needs me, call me, but I’m not going to interfere. My relationship with the family is far more important than trying to recruit Arch Manning anywhere.

This year’s L’Arche event will not feature a dinner party as in the past and will take place at the Barter Student Center at Spring Hill College, rather than the Mitchell Center. For more information on tickets, click HERE.

L’Arche is an international organization in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live together in communities. For more information about L’Arche Mobile, visit larchemobile.org.

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