6 Degrees: Coach Cutcliffe’s Most Successful Quarterbacks
Welcome back to six degrees! Here’s how it works…every week, I’ll start with Northwestern’s opponent and follow my stream of consciousness until I get to something interesting and rankable. Then, I’ll rank the top six of that category which relates to the Wildcats’ opponent for the week.
This week: Duke.
The Blue Devils, just like Northwestern, sit at 2-0 heading into Saturday’s matchup, having outscored Tulane and North Carolina Central by a combined score of 92-7. David Cutcliffe endured five losing seasons in Durham before going 19-8 the last two seasons, reaching an ACC title game and instant-classic bowl game losses to Texas A&M and Arizona State. Before heading to Tobacco Road, the man known as “Coach Cut” gained a reputation as a quarterback guru. Here are the six most successful quarterbacks he’s ever coached…keep in mind success isn’t limited to the gridiron.
6. Brady Quinn
This seems like a strange choice, as Quinn wasn’t that successful in the NFL, but Cutcliffe’s only season in South Bend was the best season of Quinn’s college career. As a junior, he threw for 3,919 yards (a career-high) and 32 touchdowns in leading the Irish to nine wins and the Fiesta Bowl in Charlie Weis’ first season as head coach. Quinn’s NFL career has been well-documented, from his slide down the first round of the NFL Draft to his 12 starts with the Browns to eight starts with the Chiefs. He also spent time on the Broncos, Jets, and Rams, but never saw the field for those three teams. Today, Quinn works as an analyst for Fox Sports. He couldn’t have known in 2005 that his one season with Coach Cut would be the peak of his football career.
5. Tee Martin
In 1998, the final season of Cutcliffe’s first stint as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Martin replaced a well-known quarterback who occupies a higher spot on this list and led the Vols to a national title. He manged the game to perfection, throwing for 2,164 yards and 19 touchdowns (mostly to Peerless Price), preferring to let Travis Henry and Jamal Lewis run the ball down opponents’ throats. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Martin in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, immortalizing him as one of the “Brady 6.” Martin ran the ball once for the 2001 Steelers, threw 16 passes for the 2003 Raiders, then hung up the cleats. How is he more successful than Quinn? In addition to his national title, Martin continues to impact college football to this day. After two seasons as wide receivers coach under Joker Phillips at Kentucky, Martin left for the same position at USC, where he’s coached receivers in the Kiffin, Orgeron, and Sarkisian eras, having turned down an opportunity to coach the wideouts at his alma mater.
4. Heath Shuler
Shuler started under center for the 1992 and 1993 Volunteers and went 18-5-1 as a starter, throwing for 4,066 yards and 35 touchdowns over his two seasons. In 1993, he won SEC player of the year and finished second in the Heisman voting, showing enough promise that the Redskins selected him with the third pick of the 1994 NFL Draft. Shuler started for Washington during parts of the 1994 and 1995 season, throwing 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. New Orleans took a flyer on Shuler for the 1997 season, and he started nine games for the Saints (2 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) before coach Mike Ditka had seen enough. While his NFL career was less than stellar, Shuler did find success as a politician. He served three terms as a Democratic representative of North Carolina’s 11th district from 2007-2013 before hanging up his American Flag lapel.
3. Todd Helton
Helton saw time as Shuler’s backup in 1993 and played behind a highly-touted freshman in 1994. In total, he threw for 484 yards and four touchdowns in reserve duty, but made a tremendous impact on the baseball diamond. Helton quite football before the 1995 season, and that proved to be a good decision as he hit .407 for the Volunteer baseball team, smacking 20 homers and driving in 92. Colorado selected Helton with the 8th pick of the 1995 draft, and he played for the Rockies from 1997 until his retirement in 2013, amassing 2,519 hits, of which 592 were doubles and 369 were homeruns. He is the team’s all-time leader in all three of those categories.
2. Eli Manning
The best move of Cutcliffe’s six-year tenure as Ole Miss head coach was recruiting Manning to Oxford. Cutcliffe went 43-29 as the Rebels’ head coach, Manning went 24-13 as the team’s starting quarterback. In a decorated college career, Manning threw for 10,119 yards and 81 touchdowns, finishing third in the 2003 Heisman voting. He turned down a chance to be the face of the San Diego Chargers, choosing instead to be the face of the New York Giants, where he’s quarterbacked for the last 11 seasons, throwing for nearly 40,000 yards and 259 touchdowns, winning three interception titles and two Super Bowl MVPs. Not a bad career, except he always seems to be in his brother’s shadow. Speaking of which…
Eli’s older brother went 40-9 over four seasons in Knoxville, with Cutcliffe serving as offensive coordinator. Peyton threw for over 11,000 yards and 89 touchdowns, finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting three times, and won three bowl games, including a 1997 Citrus Bowl smackdown of the Northwestern Wildcats. Indianapolis selected Manning with the first pick of the 1998 NFL Draft, and unlike John Elway and his brother he agreed to play for the team which drafted him. Manning won an interception crown in his first year, but quickly rebounded to win 3 touchdown crowns, 4 MVPs, and a Super Bowl in 13 seasons with the Colts. After missing all of 2011 with a neck injury, Manning joined his former backup Helton in Denver, where he has played for the last three seasons and won his fourth touchdown title and fifth MVP in 2013.