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Alleva Exit Brings Varied Reactions

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

April 8, 2008

DURHAM – The unexpected departure of Duke athletic director Joe Alleva, who accepted the AD job at LSU on April 4, was greeted by a mixed reaction from the Duke community.

Many were sorry to lose Alleva, who worked at Duke for 32 years, the last 10 as the athletic director. In his decade of management, the Blue Devils enjoyed an unprecedented building boom, adding the Yoh Football Center, the Schwartz-Butters expansion of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Koskinen Soccer/Lacrosse Stadium and the new basketball practice facility.

During Alleva's tenure, Duke earned six NCAA and 44 ACC championships (second in the conference for that period). The Blue Devils finished in the top 10 of the national Directors Cup (which measures overall athletic success) three times in the same 10-year period. All the while, the school's athletic graduation rate topped 91 percent.

In fact, the National Collegiate Scouting Association Power Rankings, which combine a school's Directors Cup finish, its athletic graduation rates and its academic ranking in U.S. News and World Report, ranked Duke as the top overall athletic program in the nation in each of the last three years.

Obviously, Alleva deserves some credit for that level of success.

But there are many at Duke who would rather point to his failures. And, indeed, Alleva did have some major problems:

  • Football: Alleva inherited a bad situation from former AD Tom Butters and made it worse. He replaced two-time national coach of the year Fred Goldsmith with an abject failure in Carl Franks, then promoted untested Ted Roof to succeed Franks. The result has been a program with nine wins in this century, including just one in the last two years. However, Alleva did oversee the hiring of new coach David Cutcliffe. Will "Coach Cut" eventually erase Alleva's biggest failure at Duke?

  • Baseball: Alleva again inherited a bad situation and made it worse, hiring Bill Hiller, who not only led the Blue Devils to rock-bottom in the ACC but also oversaw a steroid scandal involving the baseball team. To his credit, Alleva replaced Hiller with former Duke slugger Sean McNally. Now in his third season, McNally appears to have the program headed back toward respectability.

  • Lacrosse: Alleva was one of many Duke administrators who covered themselves in shame for their craven behavior during the Duke lacrosse hoax. It's not clear how much freedom of action Alleva was given by the administration, but he'll forever be remembered for his words when he fired coach Mike Pressler: "It's not about the truth." Again, Alleva appears to have repaired some of the damage with the superb hire of the respected John Danowski to replace Pressler.

  • Women's Basketball: Many of the program's most rabid fans blame Alleva either for running off or not working hard enough to keep successful coach Gail Goestenkors, who left for Texas last year. He is blamed for his inability to hire Joanne Boyle, a Duke grad and a former Goestenkors assistant, from California. His ultimate hire, Michigan State coach Joanne McCallie, did not heal the divisions in the program during her first year.

Despite the dissatisfaction of many Duke fans, Alleva received a vote of confidence from the administration and a contract extension last fall. At the same time, however, there were whispers that Alleva had been told that he would be wise to listen to other opportunities, should they become available.

Sure enough, other college administrators soon expressed surprise when they were given Alleva's name from an executive search firm as a viable candidate for their AD openings. A few months ago, during Miami's search for a new AD, Alleva was listed as a finalist in multiple media reports.

Ultimately, Alleva didn't pass up the chance to take over the $75 million LSU program, one that's coming off a national championship in football.

Moving forward, Duke is expected to establish a search committee to seek a replacement for Alleva.

The school has hired in-house throughout its history. Eddie Cameron, Carl James, Tom Butters and Alleva all were promoted from within. Mike Cragg, the director of the basketball program's Legacy Fund, is probably the strongest in-house candidate. Cragg has interviewed for several AD jobs in the past, including the one at his alma mater, Washington.

Still, it's likely that the school will conduct a national search for a replacement.

When Butters stepped down 10 years ago, a search committee headed by vice president Tallman Trask looked over the field and seemed ready to offer the job to Iowa State AD Gene Smith. Instead, Duke backed off Smith (now the athletic director at Ohio State) and offered the job to Alleva, who had served more than a decade as Butters' right-hand man.

It was believed at the time that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (then the possessor of two NCAA titles and immeasurable influence) intervened on Alleva's behalf. Whatever his exact role, Coach K almost certainly had veto power over the selection, a veto he's likely to retain in the upcoming search.


It didn't take long after the conclusion of the 2008 basketball season for Duke to suffer a premature personnel loss. Freshman forward Taylor King announced that he will transfer to another program.

King, a McDonald's All-American from Huntington Beach, Calif., was looking for more playing time and (according to his father) a more significant offensive role. He averaged just 10 minutes per game at Duke, and even that total was misleading because much of his court time came early in the season.

Indeed, King appeared to be a valuable long-range shooter in the first months of the season. In pre-conference play, he averaged more than 13 minutes per game, scoring 8.6 points and hitting 31 of 70 three-pointers (44.3 percent).

But he was perceived as a defensive liability, and that kept the 6-6 sharpshooter on the bench in ACC play. King averaged 7.6 minutes and 2.8 points in the conference. He hit just 12 of 41 three-pointers (29.3 percent) against league opponents.

While it was reported that King is considering a transfer to Villanova or Gonzaga, possibly among others that recruited him in high school, Duke sources believe that he's much more likely to wind up on the West Coast. That could make Gonzaga the frontrunner, or Southern California a serious contender.

There were rumors that Duke might suffer a couple of other premature losses, but despite some dissatisfaction with his late-season playing time, freshman guard Nolan Smith told the staff that he will return next season. And fourth-year junior David McClure will be back for his fifth season, contrary to rumors that the 6-6 forward would depart with his incoming class.


Duke's new football coach got his first on-the-field look at his team in late March, as Duke opened spring practice at a time when the weather in Durham fluctuated between summer-like and winter-like conditions.

Cutcliffe was more concerned about the impact of his offseason conditioning program than he was about the weather.

"I believe our winter conditioning paid off," he said after watching his team work out for the first time. "The tempo that we were able to hold, from the start of the kicking phases to the competitive team periods to the conditioning, never let up."

Cutcliffe didn't like the condition of the team he inherited back in December, so he instituted a rigorous offseason program. Going into spring practice, the 77 Duke players had lost a total of 302.6 pounds.

"I think we worked harder and definitely smarter – as far as eating habits, not missing any reps in the weight room or running on the practice fields," linebacker Vincent Rey said. "We want to play faster, and we want to win the game in the fourth quarter. It will help if we're the best-conditioned team in the ACC."

Rey is a prime example of the new staff's emphasis on conditioning and speed.

"This offseason, my (position) coach – Coach (Jim) Collins – felt that I would be much better playing at a lighter weight," Rey said. "So I lost about 18 pounds. Maybe five more to go, and I'll be at the point I want to be at. I feel a lot better. I'm lighter on my feet, a little quicker and have more endurance."

Rey's transformation has been matched by dozens of players. It's especially obvious on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But Cutcliffe wants to see even more weight reduction, especially at one key position.

"Our receivers. They don't know it, but they're getting ready to cut some weight," Cutcliffe said. "We're going to get faster at receiver. I ain't ever seen a fat receiver."

On the field, Cutcliffe outlined his priorities for the spring.

"Without a doubt, our specialists – our kicking game – are our top priority," he said. "Our priority is to get those guys competitive in Division I-A football."

Kicking woes cost Duke a number of games over the last two years, including the 2007 finale at North Carolina. Against the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils missed a short potential game-winning field goal at the gun, then lost in overtime when another simple field goal attempt went wide.

"The other important thing for us to do is to install a new package on offense and a new package on defense, establish a two-deep, so we know where we are from a depth standpoint," Cutcliffe said. "That allows us to at least mentally insert freshmen and see where we need help. We've got to find 22 on offense and 22 on defense."