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?