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Johnson, Cutcliffe use different schemes, similar philosophies to build success

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Despite the program’s bookworm image, grade transcripts aren’t the first thing Duke coach David Cutcliffe looks at when scouting a recruit.

“I absolutely look at the 40-time first,” Cutcliffe said. “Football players first. I’m not going to recruit bad football players.”

Character also counts at Duke.

Once a player passes those two tests, then Cutcliffe will check out the grades.

“Obviously, there are kids we realize are not in our profile academically or character-wise, and we drop them,” Cutcliffe said. “We disregard their talent at that point in time. That’s just our approach to how we do it.”

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who said the school’s grade requirements are more stringent than the NCAA’s, has a similar approach to recruiting, and also operates within a limited recruiting pool. What the two coaches have done on the field in their first two seasons, though, has been entirely different. And it hasn’t mattered. Both have proven that with the right players in the right places, it’s possible to build a program with almost any scheme.

“I think there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat,” said Johnson, who has proven any doubters of his spread-option offense wrong with a 9-1 record and No. 7 BCS ranking. “I would venture to guess that in building a program there are a lot of things that are very similar, though, as far as discipline, accountability and those things. That has as much or more to do with building a program than the scheme.”

Cutcliffe and Johnson have both made noticeable improvements to their respective programs in a short amount of time, but they’ve gone about it with completely different offensive philosophies. Duke has the nation’s No. 11 passing offense, and has struggled to run the ball, depending instead heavily on the arm of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. That stems in part from the personnel Cutcliffe has to work with, but it’s also his forte, as he coached the Manning brothers during his time in the SEC. And Johnson’s success has been a product of his running game, which ranks second in the nation.

Georgia Tech has a chance to clinch the Coastal Division title on Saturday at Duke, but Cutcliffe’s team is just two wins shy of bowl eligibility and in the midst of its best season since 1994. A win over Georgia Tech on Saturday would keep the Blue Devils in the running for the Coastal Division title -- a scenario many outsiders would’ve scoffed at a year ago.

“When you are building a program, the most important thing is obviously first surrounding yourself with good people, which I’m sure we both have done,” Cutcliffe said of he and Johnson. “Then it comes to your approach. You know what you know. You work in an area of your expertise if you’re smart. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. If there were one, exact, right way, then I would assume we would all be doing it at all levels of football. That’s the beauty of the game. There are different schemes offensively, defensively and in the kicking game.”

And anyone watching Saturday’s game in Durham will see two vastly different styles.

“One of the things I think personally in building a program is the discipline and work ethic have to be established first and foremost,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s the approach we’re taking and as we recruit players who fit our schemes and what we do best, we’ll adjust to what we think we do best from a scheme standpoint.”

The same can be said at Georgia Tech, where Johnson is recruiting a different kind of player for a unique scheme. Both of them, though, seem to be working just fine. Only one of them, though, will work well enough to win on Saturday.