There’s an internet meme that pokes fun at those inspirational posters that are found on workplace and classroom walls. It shows an athlete suffering through the agony of defeat and the caption reads: “FAILURE: When your best isn’t good enough.”That appears to be the message of the coaching staff to Duke’s football team early in the 2016 season.After the Blue Devils were upset at home by Wake Forest in the second week of the season, head coach David Cutcliffe said, “They played hard. They gave it their all. But we didn’t play well.”After watching the film, Cutcliffe doubled down. “I mentioned after the game that our team played really hard, and they did,” he said. “I mentioned that it was really important to them, and it is. You cannot play harder. They gave their best.””But what I told them,” Cutcliffe continued. “The way I view that is: Sometimes your best isn’t your best.”In other words, the players were at their best, given the way they’ve been practicing.”You have to go find your best on the practice field,” Cutcliffe said. “Your best means consistently doing your best. The best means pushing yourself to the next step and the next level. And that’s only going to happen with work. Right now, we are a work in progress.”Coming off of the team’s first bowl win in a generation, the Blue Devils appear to be in danger of taking a big step back this season. It’s a result that Cutcliffe spent the offseason trying to avoid. He emphasized fitness and weight training over the summer, getting his players to bulk up for what he termed, “The Year of the Beast.”The beasts have been unusually tame on the practice field, however, and the frustration is beginning to show.In the first practice after the Wake loss, Cutcliffe wasn’t pleased with the effort on the field. “I would have liked to see us hungrier, to be honest with you,” he said. “It was hot, which is good. It was a grind, which is good.”Duke is a young team, but Cutcliffe isn’t willing to write off the practice problem to youth. Instead, the change in culture, from a group of players building up from a decade of losing seasons to this year’s roster, which has no player that’s ever played a college season that didn’t end with a bowl.”I think there’s some of that (youth), but I also think there’s been a lot of success here,” he said. “I think things that are really hard can be great for you. When we go back to what we first started with and how we started, it was all hard. I’m not sure that we have anyone around here that’s felt ‘hard’ yet. There has been a whole lot of success, which is great. We know it’s more difficult to handle success than it is adversity.”The first month of the season isn’t complete yet, but already, Cutcliffe is undergoing some soul searching as he looks to turn around what he’s seeing.”We’ve never practiced poorly,” he said. “We’ve been inconsistent. When they’re giving what they think is their best, sometimes that’s confusing to an athlete. To be honest with you, I’ve had to look in the mirror, because I don’t think my best is my best, and I mean that sincerely. All of this is on me, and I’m not being gracious to the players. I know what my best is and what a good football team should look like and prepare like. My best is going to get better, and that’s the mentality I have. I hope everyone in the program will take on the same viewpoint.”If they don’t, they won’t be seeing the field anytime soon, and they may not be long for the team.”I believe that we can be minimally two deep on defense, with good players who have earned the time to play,” Cutcliffe said. “The way I view our backupsand we have some of this on offense too if I am a two, I’m basically willing to do anything to become a one. That’s what we need right now is competition on this team, from within. I can’t create that that. I can’t declare that. That’s just individuals being really hungry go win the job. Unfortunately, people want to talk that, sometimes, and you don’t see it on tape. I met with a couple of them this week and showed them some stuff on tape. If you’re going to be a part of this, you’re going to do this. This is how it’s going to be.””Everybody wants to talk,” Cutcliffe concluded. “I want to see. I watch them every single day.”He’s seeing a team that’s at its best.It’s not enough.
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