August 23, 2004
I had been in the weight room with him that morning, defensive back Kenny Stanford said. When we heard the news, nobody could believe it.
A squad that already had few options at wide receiver was jolted in July, when leading receiver Lance Johnson was kicked off the team. Johnson was arrested during the offseason on a misdemeanor count of resisting a public officer, and he faced an August court date on that charge, but team sources said he already was in the staff's doghouse for other violations of team rules. Johnson, who had 23 catches in 2003, transferred to Division I-AA Gardner-Webb for his final season of eligibility.
In the spring, another experienced receiver, Khary Sharpe, left the team but graduated from the university. With one year of eligibility remaining, he enrolled at Division I-AA James Madison, where under NCAA rules he can play right away. Sharpe, who was suspended from the UNC game last fall, said that action merely pushed him over the edge on a transfer decision he had been considering for some time. He said he was tired of losing, a phrase Duke coaches undoubtedly are tired of hearing. That's exactly what tight end Ben Watson said a few years ago, before transferring to Georgia and developing into an All-America candidate and NFL prospect.
New head coach Ted Roof brought in five new assistants, most on the offensive side. Everyone except assistant head coach Glenn Spencer (an old teammate from Georgia Tech) is older than the 40-year-old Roof. Offensive coordinator Marty Galbraith (Arizona Cardinals) coached Philip Rivers for two years at N.C. State and Chad Pennington at Marshall.
Duke rarely has made in-roads in recruiting in North Carolina, but the program should benefit from the hiring of alumnus Tom Knotts from the high school ranks. Under Knotts' direction, Charlotte Independence won four straight state championships and its last 62 games, the second-longest streak in the nation. Knotts, who will coach quarterbacks for the Devils, had an overall record of 228-55 in 21 years of coaching in the Charlotte area.
For many years, Duke has had the lowest payroll by far, at times in the ACC. That's changing under Roof and with the support of the university. David Kelly, the associate head coach hired from Stanford, reportedly will make a base salary of $250,000 this year. That's more than the Blue Devils paid deposed head coach Carl Franks. The new coaches come from the NFL, established college programs (three) and the most successful high school team in the state. Duke also hired former star lineman Chris Combs as an assistant in the strength/conditioning department. Combs played three years in the NFL before serious knee injuries ended his career. He's especially popular with the players.
They love (Combs), Roof said. He's like one of them.
The Blue Devils open with three straight road games, for just the sixth time in school history. The Navy and Connecticut games already were scheduled. Duke asked the ACC for a road game on Sept. 18 (at Virginia Tech) so it would not conflict with the ceremonies being held for new university president Richard Brodhead.