A Difference Between Danny and Dave

One advantage to coaching football at Wake is that it doesn’t take long for the cream of the crop to rise to the top.

And by top, I mean the best that’s ever been.

Ever since Peahead Walker left over a contract squabble for an assistant’s position at Yale (of all places) and, shortly thereafter, Wake and six sister schools left the Southern Conference to form the ACC, there has been all of one Deacons coach who has managed to produce three winning seasons in a row.

He’s Jim Grobe, of course, who is also the only Wake coach since Peahead to coach the Deacons to more than one bowl game.

All of which reinforces a point I made repeatedly during my 25 seasons on the Deacon beat for the Winston-Salem Journal. All schools have bad years. Some have bad decades. But Wake can lay a compelling claim to having the worst century of any program in major-college football.

My go-to evidence comes from what Grobe inherited when he took over as head coach in 2001. At that time, all the traditional schools of the ACC had, over the course of their histories, won at least 50 percent of their football games.

Wake, conversely, had won 39 percent.

And what other program was bad enough to inspire a lament for losers by a classic rock band? Take it away, Steely Dan. . .

They got a name for the winners in the world,

I want a name when I lose,

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide,

Call me the Deacon Blues.

With a winning season in 2018 – which, to me sitting here on June 28 appears imminently do-able — Dave Clawson will join Grobe and Peahead on one of the shortest of college football’s short lists. He’ll do something that, until Grobe came along, just wasn’t done.

And, in my mind, he’ll deserve a statue at BB&T Field, right next to the one of Grobe that should already be smiling down on us.

Even during the first two ground-laying seasons of 3-9 and 3-9, I had a sense that Ron Wellman, the director of athletics, had made a second straight hire for the ages. Being around Clawson, and getting to know him, I could see he was bright as hell, driven, organized and extremely, extremely adverse to losing.

There is also a quality of Clawson that I wish I saw more from the other major-sport coach who was hired at Wake in 2014. Dave is personable.

There may be those who have followed me from the Journal to here who have concluded that I don’t like Danny Manning, Wake’s basketball coach. I like Danny fine. He’s an impressive man who has never done anything that has ever gotten back to me to embarrass himself, his family or Wake Forest University. Best I can tell, he has strong positive values and cares about the players he coaches.

I just wish I could have gotten to know him better. Of all the adjectives I might use to describe Manning, there’s guarded, reticent and, on certain days at certain times, aloof. But notice that personable is not among them.

It’s easy to see why Manning is not one to give much of himself away. A rising basketball star by the time he was 14, Danny Manning obviously had to ask a great deal of himself. But he never had to ask much from anybody else. He never had to sell himself.

But from the time Dave Clawson graduated from Williams College in 1989 and took his first assistant’s job at Albany, he has been selling himself – and doing it well. I don’t mean this as a knock. It’s who he is and it has served him well during his rise through the ranks.

One example was how he picked up early in our relationship how much I love music and how much it means to me. So he just happened to mention his ritual of slapping on the headphones and listening to classic rock from the 1980s whenever he piloted his riding lawnmower around his yard.

I had to admit that I was never much of a classic rock from the 1980s kind of guy, but we did find common ground in such artists as Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads. And I found this facet of his personality interesting, and got a couple of blogs out of it.

So I had to grin a little recently when I came across this glowing article on Clawson in Sports Illustrated. Andy Staples, the author, picked up on the fact that Clawson is a foodie, and quite a devoted foodie at that, and wrote a nice piece that gave the readers a better take on just who this Dave Clawson fellow is.

You reckon Dave made sure Staples knew just what kind of foodie he is? I do, and I don’t blame him one bit. Again, I’m not knocking Dave for his willingness, if not eagerness, to sell himself. It’s helped get him where he is today, and it’s helped get him one winning season away from joining the best that’s ever been at Wake.

It should go without saying that if Danny Manning were winning championships at Wake, or for that matter, finishing above 10th in the ACC, then it wouldn’t matter one whit how personable he might be.

But it’s my take that one major-sport coach at Wake is willing, perhaps even anxious to sell himself and he’s winning. There’s another who, publicly at least, would rather keep himself to himself and he’s not winning.

See a correlation?

I do.

Joke’s On Me

Frank: It isn’t right for a college to buy football players.

Wagstaff: It isn’t, eh? Well, I’ll nip that in the bud. How about coming along and having a nip yourself?

Frank: Anything further, Father?

Wagstaff: Anything further, Father? That can’t be right. Isn’t it ‘Anything Father, further?’ The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived. – HORSE FEATHERS, starring the Marx Brothers.

Humor is a funny thing. You either get the joke or you don’t.

Which is why I rarely watch contemporary sitcoms. From time to time I’ll give one a try, but humor requires a latitude I just can’t make myself extend to what I’m watching on today’s television.

If you enjoy Modern Family or The Big Bang or Bob’s Burgers, I envy you. I love a good belly laugh as much as the next mark, but, to me, nothing I’m seeing on the tube these days is even chuckle-worthy, much less chortle inducing.

Mulling my obvious and sad defect, it occurred to me that a person’s sense of humor can reveal much about the person. What it reveals first and foremost is the person’s age. Humor changes generation by generation, as I learned while raising kids. A joke or scene that wold have me rolling of the floor so often produced little more than a roll of the eyes from Nate or Rebecca.

We did find common ground, thankfully, with such treasures as Ghost Busters and Animal House and early episodes of The Simpsons, but the act of renting a movie could be fraught with peril.

What does my sense of humor say about me? Again, the first thing it says is I’m old. I try not to be a crusty old curmudgeon (could there be any other kind) but the effort from time to time overwhelms me.

From my aged beef point of view, the greatest comedy ever made is Blazing Saddles. I’ve watched it hundreds of times and I swear I still come unhinged every time Mongo tells us all he’s only a pawn in game of life. Or when Taggart confronts the William J. Le Petomane Toll Booth in the middle of the desert. Or when Lily Von Shtupp, asks Sheriff Bart “Tell me schatze, is it twue what they say about the way you people are. . . gifted?’’

The tragedy of this comedy, however, is that it could never be made today – which a part of me doesn’t understand. Sure I recognize that it’s outrageously politically incorrect, and I do recognize the need in these politically charged times to show all people of all persuasions the proper respect they deserve.

But in Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks, bless his delightfully demented soul, wielded satire laced with a certain word that is jarring to today’s sensibilities to absolutely shred bigotry in all its unsightly forms. He left no doubt with this classic just how stupid stupid can be.

So obviously I lean toward the absurd and I appreciate a good social commentary. But I also get off on word play, and total, unadulterated chaos. Which is where the Marx Brothers come in.

I love the Marx Brothers. We watched Horse Feathers just last night (a perfectly precedent statement on the unholy marriage between big-time football and institutions of higher learning) and I reveled in every pun and pratfall. Groucho can have me in stitches just by walking in a room.

While reflecting on just what my sense of humor says about me, I decided to draft a baseball team of my favorite comedians. Every time I did, I remembered a favorite I had left out, but eventually I came up with the following lineup. I’d be curious to hear from you on just who and what tickles your own personal funny bone.

Batting order
1. Richard Pryor CF
2. Charlie Chaplin SS
3. George Carlin 3B
4. John Belushi C
5. Robin Williams 1B
6. Bill Hicks DH
7. Eddie Murphy RF
8. Dan Aykroyd LF
9. Harpo Marx 2B

1. Groucho Marx
2. Steven Wright
3. Gilda Radner
4. Chico Marx
5. Andy Kaufman

Long relief – Lilly Tomlin
Set-up – Andy Kaufman
Set-up – Chris Rock
Closer – Steve Martin

Battling the Beast

So to those who might wonder why a man who is retired would need a vacation, an explanation is perhaps in order for the weeks since I last posted on MTOW.

Generally I resist making a public to-do about my health, knowing that so many – especially anyone as old as I – have problems far more pressing than mine. And as I’ve often acknowledged, I’m healthier at 65 than I deserve to be given my lifelong, headlong pursuit of the fruit off the vine.

Whatever pain and discomfort I might feel these days, I can honestly say I came by honestly.

But the reason I haven’t been writing is that I’m wrestling with this beast in my chest that rears up from time to time and lays me low for days at a time. It’s industrial-strength indigestion, gerd, acid reflux, a problem I’ve battled most of my life that has been getting the best of me these past few weeks.

The first time it hit me full-force, I was convinced it was the big one – the heart attack all people of my age of considerable girth who have lived life to the marrow all but come to expect. Turns out, it was a gas bubble burning a hole in my chest for a good 30-45 minutes before I was able to douse it with antacids and deep belches induced by carbonated soft drinks.

And yes, I’ve had the endoscopy, and yes I’ve had the colonoscopy, and yes I’m taking two different acid blockers and yes I’m sleeping these days with my head elevated. The endoscopy revealed Barrett’s syndrome, which my specialist assured me is usually only fatal when it deteriorates into something worse.

Two of the people I’m closest to have successfully battled esophagus cancer, so I’ve been getting the best of advice from the best of people.

One of the survivors mentioned, tactfully, that one prudent course of action would be to lose weight. So that’s been my overriding goal of the summer, to shed some of these pounds I’ve accumulated over the years.

My new scales bought just for the occasion revealed I’m down about 15 pounds, which is a good start, but hardly the target I’m shooting for.

A great advantage of retirement is that you can set up your days as you wish, without regard for assignments or deadlines. All my life I’ve heard how much wiser it is flip the normal routine, and eat your biggest meal at mid-day and then graze and nibble in the evening. So over the past week to 10 days, that’s what I’ve been doing.

If the coffee I’m tentatively sipping as I write this doesn’t rear up on me, then I can report that the beast, for the past few days, has been held at bay. I’m not ready to celebrate but I am, as the politicians say, cautiously optimistic.

But if you know me, you’ll know that I’ll find a way to have fun regardless of the circumstances. I know very little about soccer – my high school tucked deep in the mountains of North Carolina didn’t offer the sport – but I am really getting off of the color, pageantry and drama of the World Cup. (And yes I’m definitely in high dungeon over Sweden not getting a penalty kick against Germany). There’s something way cool about a world expending its excess energy on rooting for a favorite sports team instead of the killing of fellow human beings.

I would be mentioning how much I’ve enjoyed watching my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, if it weren’t for the horrendous slump that has befallen Joe and the Boys. Sure the Reds were hot, but yesterday’s loss in the fourth and final game of the sweep was as brutal as I’ve endured this season.

My bride Tybee is a teacher, and thus on vacation herself for the summer. We’re watching a lot TV of the best kind, the fourth season of The Wire (best drama series I’ve ever seen) and the early seasons of Downton Abbey. Tybee never started Downton Abby and I was ready to start again from scratch.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I have been able to muster up enough energy to make it down to Muddy Creek Cafe on Thursday nights for our weekly Open Mics. We had our fourth anniversary earlier this month, and the recent shows have been as memorable as any we’ve ever enjoyed.

The difference is I used to return to the hacienda and keep the good times roaring until the wee hours of the morning. Now I come home and go to bed.

All of which is to say that I’ve felt remiss for leaving my blog unattended these past few weeks and there’s few things in the world I hate worse than to be remiss. So there you have it, and hopefully, if the beast can be kept at bay, I’ll be back in days to come with My Take on Whatever.

Wake Left Outside Looking In

The program with the second-best record in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge wasn’t invited to participate in next season’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Word came down late last week that Wake will be left out when teams from the two power conferences square off again in the fall. The ACC has 15 teams, and the Big Ten only 14, so one team from the ACC had to be excluded.

And for the second time in the past six seasons, the program excluded was Wake.

The news got me to thinking about better times, when some of Wake’s best non-conference victories I ever saw came in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The ACC leads the challenge 12 victories to five (with two ties) in no small part because of the Deacons.

Other than Duke, which has won 17 and lost only two, no team has risen to the occasion more often than Wake. The Deacons have won 12 of 17, for a winning percentage of .706 that easily eclipses that of fellow-Big Four rivals North Carolina (.526) and N.C. State (.389).

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a more impressive non-conference Wake victory than on Dec. 4, 2002, when the Deacons walked into Wisconsin’s Kohl Center – where we had all been told no road team ever wins – and walked out with a 90-80 victory.

The performance signaled that Skip Prosser and company had more in store for the ACC that season than most people expected from a team that featured senior Josh Howard, sophomores Vytas Danelius, Jamaal Levy and Taron Downey and freshmen Justin Gray and Eric Williams.

Picked to finish sixth, the Deacons actually finished alone in first in the regular season for the first time since 1962.

Wake, along the way, also won at Michigan in 2000, at Iowa in 2007, at Nebraska in 2011 and at Rutgers in 2015.

The Deacons were actually 5-0 in the Challenge before traveling to Illinois as the top-ranked team in the nation (remember, we’re talking about better times) in 2004, where they lost to the fifth-ranked Illini 91-73. They then won three more in a row (making them 8-1) before losing at Purdue in 2009.

Even Jeff Bzdelik, at 2-1, had a winning record in the Challenge, though his one loss will be long remembered for his post-game comments. Wake lost to Nebraska 79-63, and afterward Bzdelik complained about the game being played on a Tuesday.

Something about Tuesday being Wake’s toughest academic day. Never mind the Huskers traveled the better part of 1,200 miles to beat the Deacons.

In case you’re wondering, the current coach, Danny Manning, is 2-2 in the Challenge, making him the only Wake coach to lose more than once. He lost at home to Minnesota his first season, won at Rutgers his second, lost at Northwestern and beat Illinois last season.

The snub is another indignity the Wake fan base has to suffer. The Deacons, before Ron Wellman hired Jeff Bzdelik in 2010, had one of the proudest programs in the ACC. It takes a strong program to reach post-season play 16 straight seasons (with 12 being appearances in the NCAA Tournament), as Wake did with Dave Odom and Prosser at the helm.

Now, in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge will be played without Wake.

I’ve seen many successful coaches need a season or three to get their programs up and running, and for a new coach at a new program not to be invited is regrettable, but it can be understandable.

But can anyone offer a reasonable excuse for a program being in such sad shape going into a coach’s fifth season that it’s not invited to play in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge? If so, I’d love to hear it.

Word also filtered out last week that Manning has hired his son, Evan, as director of player development. Evan was a walk-on at Kansas, from where he graduated in 2016, and he spent last season as a program assistant and team manager.

I’ve also heard some grumbling about Manning – facing such a critical off-season given the influx of at least six new scholarship players — spending the first half of June tending to his duties as assistant coach for the USA Basketball Men’s Under18 team.

My own take is that he should hire who he wants to hire and spend his summer the way he wants to spend it.

A coach should be judged by the bottom line, how many he wins and how many he loses.

Wake, under Manning, is 54-72 and 21-56 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat.

And come next fall, when the ACC-Big Ten Challenge cranks back home, Wake fans can reminisce about better times, when the Deacons were actually too good to be left out.