Wake Turns to Nestor Once Again

A disclosure is in order at the beginning of this take on Wake basketball concerning the hire of Ernie Nestor.

Ernie is a good friend. We got to know each other pretty well during his first stint as Wake assistant coach for Carl Tacy from 1979 through 1985, and became even better friends when he returned to assist Dave Odom during the glory years from 1993 through 2001.

We’ve kept up over his vagabond seasons as a basketball coach, and I’ve always thought the world of Ernie. Of course that puts me in the vast majority of those who have crossed paths with him, and the prevailing reason his return to Wake is being celebrated by so many around the campus and the basketball program.

Ernie is warm, sharp, caring and decent, as well as one of the most interesting and engaging people I had the pleasure of getting to know during my four-plus decades as a working sportswriter. He has sat on benches at James Madison, Wake, California, George Mason, South Carolina, Elon, Penn State, Missouri and Navy, so he knows just a bit about how the game should be played – and coached.

And to see that he is being brought in to help right the ship, in my mind, is a most encouraging development for a program that has been capsized far too many years. Or at least it has the potential to be.

The release through the media relations department states that Ernie has been hired as Special Assistant to the Head Coach. Otherwise his job description is pretty much left up to the imagination.

But in calling around and checking I have confirmed that he won’t be one of the three full-fledged assistants the NCAA allows every Division I program, he won’t be giving individual instruction and he won’t be hitting the recruiting trail.

What that leaves is that Ernie has been brought in to coach the coaches, or at least do as much coaching as said coaches allow.

And though the delicate politics of the situation would preclude anyone from saying this – not head coach Danny Manning, not Athletics Director Ron Wellman, and certainly not Ernie Nestor himself – it has become apparent to many over these past four years that when it comes to directing an ACC basketball program, Danny Manning needs all the help he can get.

When I first saw Wake’s new slogan for the basketball program was #newbeginnings, I began to wonder if early signs of Alzheimer’s were setting in.

At my advanced age of 66, I reckon we have have to become concerned with such.

I was still working the beat for the Winston-Salem Journal when Manning was hired as head coach, and I could have sworn that was back in April of 2014. If this is a new beginning, then what happened to the past four seasons under the same coach coaching today?

Oh now I remember. The Deacons won 54 games, lost 72 and finished 12th, 13th, 10th and 14th in the ACC regular-season standings. To call a fifth straight season under the same coach a new beginning strains credulity, but hey, if whoever came up with the slogan can get away with it, then more power to them.

When Wellman replaced Jeff Bzdelik with Manning, I thought at the time that the move might work. Manning, after all, is a legendary name in basketball from his “Danny and the Miracles’’ NCAA Player of the Year days at Kansas through his 15 seasons in the NBA. His name and acclaim, I figured, should help him at least get in the living rooms of the caliber of recruits needed to win the ACC.

He was smart enough to start his coaching career on the ground floor back at his alma mater, and he showed potential in his new chosen field when his second team at Tulsa went on enough of a tear to win the Conference-USA Tournament and play in the NCAA Tournament.

But there was still that question about experience, and whether his elevation to a head job in the ACC in only his third season as a head coach would require more on-the-job training than any fan base – or administration for that matter – would or should be willing to abide.

Hey, history informs us that on-the-job training can work out. Dean Smith’s first head job was at North Carolina. Tony Bennett was head coach for only three seasons at Washington State when Virginia came calling.

The problem at Wake was that Manning, from all we could tell given the closed nature of the program, wasn’t showing growth as a coach. The mistakes he was making in 2014 were still being made in 2018.

He’s a proud man, and with pride comes stubbornness. Meanwhile one player after another was bolting the program for pastures green or otherwise, requiring Wake to depend on inexperienced talent season after disappointing season.

Those searching for eternal youth haven’t been checking out the Wake basketball roster.

So now somebody – and I would have to guess this is Wellman’s hand on the controls – has convinced Manning of the need to bring in an old head to help with X’s and O’s, game management, player development and the overall ins and outs of running a major-college basketball program.

A program that has gotten so much wrong over these past 10 years finally got something right. The Deacons needed a consultant to help the coaches, and they went out and got the perfect guy.

He’s perfect because he’s Wake to the marrow, and he’s perfect because his ego is, and always has been, completely in check.

If this works out, and Wake is a better team with Ernie Nestor lending his shoulder to the wheel, then the last person you will hear that from will be Ernie Nestor.

The season starts with Friday’s exhibition against Belmont Abbey, and I can’t tell you the last time I’ve felt this good about the direction of the Wake basketball program.

Karma 56, Louisville 35

On the karmic scale of 0-100, Wake Forest’s 56-35 victory at Louisville yesterday registered somewhere north of 250.

Even someone who trained themselves for four decades to not exult or despair over the outcome of an athletic event could take deep satisfaction in the way this one came down.

There was Bobby Petrino, as reptilian of a coach as I ever had the displeasure of crossing paths with, screaming at a team that had clearly given up on him, in front of a cavernous stadium with row after row of empty seats.

There was Lonnie Galloway, the former Wake assistant who conspired to cheat his old employer, standing on the Louisville sidelines wondering where he’ll be coaching next season.

There was Matt Colburn, the running back who had his scholarship offer from Louisville yanked two days before signing day, running over, around and through the dispirited Cardinal defense to three touchdowns and a career-best 243 rushing yards.

There was a Wake defense that had been summarily dismantled by Boston College, Notre Dame and Clemson reassembling at least well enough to keep the Deacons’ bowl hopes alive.

And making the spectacle all the more enjoyable was the opportunity to take it all in with an old friend. I call him an old friend, even though he’s only about half my age.

His name is Evan Lepler, and he was the play-by-play guy in yesterday’s Fox Sport Southeast telecast.

I was lucky enough to get to know Evan during his pass through Wake Forest a dozen or so years ago, and even had the pleasure of meeting his folks, Steve and Ramie of Sharon, Mass., on that historic day the Deacons played Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

Good folks.

I’ve closely followed Lepler’s rise through the ranks from the play-by-play announcer for the Salem Redbirds of the Carolina League, through his involvement with Ultimate Frisbee on to an ever-increasing number of assignments to major college football and basketball. A favorite saying of mine is that good things happen to good people, and the good things that have been happening to Evan Lepler these past couple of years include the marriage to his sweetheart Caleigh, and the arrival of the apple of their eyes, little miss Olivia Bennett.

Listen. Evan is a friend so I’m going to tell you he’s a good play-by-play regardless of his abilities. But thankfully I don’t have to deceive anyone by saying Evan is not only good, he’s getting better game by game.

That’s the way with smart people. They get better the more they do whatever they’ve chosen to do, and I fully expect Evan Lepler to be a heavyweight in his chosen field long before Olivia Bennett begins to consider colleges she might attend.

He’s clearly a pro, which is why anyone who didn’t know his background could have ever guessed he graduated from Wake in 2007. It would have been disappointing to hear him spend the telecast waving black and gold pom poms.

But by this point in his career, I have to believe he doesn’t live and die with the outcome of a sporting event. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and Saturday’s game might have been as close to that exception as Evan is going to experience this season.

Again, smart people get better the more they do what they’ve chosen to do. In that vein, Dave Clawson has spent 19 years getting better and better as a football coach.

As I’ve written before, coaches, like players, like everybody, have their good seasons and their bad seasons. Coming out of last week’s loss at Florida State, it was pretty apparent that Dave Clawson was having a bad season.

The argument could be made that he was a victim of his own success, that he had raised the expectations to a point that it was becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the masses. And there’s no disputing that the breaks have gone against the Deacons this season, what with the early suspension to Kendall Hinton and the epidemic of injuries that have ravaged critical positions on defense.

But here we are eight games into the season, and the Deacons have a fighting chance to win six games and play in a bowl for the third straight campaign. They gave themselves that chance by beating Louisville and improving to 4-4 with Syracuse (home), N.C. State (away), Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play.

Dave Clawson proved to me in his first four seasons at Wake that he’s a good coach, one of the best the school has ever been lucky enough to hire. And I remained convinced Dave Clawson is a good football coach – albeit one having a bad season — even when his team was giving up 41 points to BC, 56 to Notre Dame and 63 to Clemson.

But if he can somehow get this team to a bowl in this, of all seasons, then it would be one of the best performances from any coach I’ve every crossed paths with. If Wake plays in a bowl in 2018, the school should erect a statue to Dave Clawson.

If Wake plays in a bowl in 2018, he’ll be worth more to the school than said school could ever hope to pay him.

Speaking of schools paying football coaches, it’s going to be fun to see if Louisville digs deep enough to come up with the $14 million buyout it will take to get rid of Bobby Petrino.

On a day that Petrino was looking about as a bad as coach can look, two folks from Wake – one in the television booth and one directing the victory on the sidelines — were looking mighty, mighty good.

Never bet against karma.

All-Points-Bulletin Out for Kendall Hinton

I just think that Kendall Hinton is too good an athlete. He makes too many plays. If we don’t utilize Kendall Hinton, that’s a huge, huge mistake.’’Dave Clawson, Aug. 2016.

For three seasons, Coach Dave Clawson couldn’t say enough nice things about Kendall Hinton – no matter how hard he tried.

And he tried really hard. Trust me on this one. I was still riding the Wake beat for the Winston-Salem Journal at the time and was hearing, over and over again how dynamic, how explosive, how elusive one Kendall Hinton of Southern Durham High School really, really was.

Clawson was so high on Hinton that he named him the starter going into my last preseason camp of 2017, over another guy named John Wolford who, in the final game of the previous season, had directed a 34-26 bowl victory over Temple.

Fast forward through a season and a half, through Wolford’s ascent into the pantheon of all-time Wake quarterbacks and Hinton’s three-game suspension to start the 2018 campaign, all the way to Saturday’s trip to Tallahassee to play struggling Florida State. Or at least the Seminoles were struggling until they had the chance to play what’s left of Clawson’s fifth team at Wake.

I listened transfixed to Clawson’s post-game after FSU’s methodical 38-17 beat-down, and heard how the Deacons were down to one scholarship linebacker, Justin Strnad, and how hard converted safety Luke Masterson played, and how the offense continues to struggle in the hands of freshman quarterback Sam Hartman, who completed 22 of 46 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing an interception and getting sacked four times.

“He was very up-and-down,’’ Clawson said. “He really struggled. He made some really poor decisions in the pocket. We get a first-and-10 and get a re-set, and he takes a 12-yard sack. And we go for it on fourth down and he takes another sack and we give them the ball at midfield. And then third-down we go for it – obviously we go for it on third down – but nobody’s open and he just goes backwards

“So he made some really poor decisions in the pocket and they cost us a lot of yardage. This isn’t high-school football. You play defensive ends that are faster than you. He’s a true freshman quarterback and he competes and he plays hard, but he’s learning some lessons the hard way.’’

It was never the plan, Clawson went on to say, to play a freshman quarterback, which at least implies that the dynamic, explosive elusive Kendall Hinton screwed up Plan A by getting himself suspended for three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules.’’

Hinton was so elusive on Saturday that he wasn’t even in Tallahassee. Clawson prefers to talk about injuries after a game instead of before. Turns out Hinton turned his ankle during the off-week, an injury that went undisclosed – as undisclosed as Hinton’s reasons for missing the first three games – until Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal tweeted the news out to us civilians sometime during the second half.

So what, we’re left to wonder, is the story with the dynamic, explosive, elusive Kendall Hinton? We know he was moved to slot receiver following the suspension, but then heard he had been moved back to his time-tested role of back-up quarterback. There were even fleeting Kendall Hinton sightings against Notre Dame, Rice and Clemson, though he hardly looked like the answer while throwing incomplete on all five of his attempts against the Tigers.

I, for one, wondered if Clawson would take advantage of the off-week to work the dynamic, explosive, elusive Kendall Hinton back into the mix. But little did I know, and apparently little did anyone outside the program know, that the dynamic, explosive elusive Kendall Hinton had been added to the Deacons’ ever-burgeoning injury list.

Look, I have no idea if Clawson should turn to Hinton in an effort to save the season. I don’t go to practices anymore. But, one problem with trying to follow this team, is that nobody goes to practices anymore. Any information we get is spoon-fed to us civilians by Clawson and the players, when it’s disseminated at all.

It has become apparent that Clawson felt compelled to throw Hartman into the fray before Hartman was ready. Clawson as much as admitted that Saturday. Maybe the offensive game plan is so baked-in by now that attempting a dramatic overhaul at this stage would be folly. Maybe now that he’s in for a dime with Hartman, Clawson is in for the whole dollar.

But we also saw Clawson’s other option, Jamie Newman, on Saturday, and Newman hardly distinguished himself. The other scholarship quarterback, Tayvon Bowers, is a redshirt freshman who was beaten out by a freshman. Bowers has yet to see the field.

John Wolford started at quarterback for four seasons. That means Clawson and his staff had four seasons to recruit depth at football’s most critical positions. Seven games through his fifth season, Clawson does not have a quarterback who appears capable of winning games against upper-division ACC competition.

Or if he does, he’s not playing him.

As it stands today, your guess is as good as mine.

A Sweetheart of a Show

It’s a good thing that guitars, being inanimate and all, can’t read.

And I can only hope that no one mentions what I’m about to write in earshot of Buckshot, my vintage 1967 Gibson J-45. She’s a beautiful old girl, but she can be a bit jealous.

I love her sunburst hue just fine, and wouldn’t want her turning green on me.

But truth is I saw the guitar of my dreams last night while attending an unforgettable show at a fabulous venue, the DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center. My compadre, Lenox Rawlings and I made our way down to Durham to catch the 50th Anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo Tour, and anybody who knows me knows just how down my alley that kind of music has always been.

The billed stars were two of the original Byrds, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, along with Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. From the moment I heard McGuinn’s infamous 12-string Rickenbacker, I knew I was at the right place at the right time.

We loved every note of the show, one of the best I’ve seen.

By the end, however, I had concluded there were two more stars that weren’t on the bill and didn’t sing a note.

One was Gram Parsons, a special hero of mine whose inherent knowledge and reverence of country music convinced the Byrds in the first place to travel to Nashville and record a country album.

Gram’s rocky ride through life, tragically, ended in a low-budget hotel at Joshua Tree in September of 1973, at the tender age of 26. So he was there in spirit only last night, but his presence was pervasive.

As I written before, the Gram Parsons story is the great biopic yet to be done. I wrote a song that could serve as the theme, titled the Kid From Waycross, so hopefully somebody will get around to the project in time to make me rich and famous.

Joined the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo,

Was hanging around with the Stones in the south of France

Next thing you know,

And for the Kid

That was a long, long way from Waycross.

There have been two biographies of Gram that I know of. The first, Hickory Wind, written by Ben Fong-Torres in 1991, was not bad. The second, Twenty Thousand Roads, written by David N. Meyer in 2008, was much better.

Want to see the Kid in all his splendor?

Check out the cover,

Of the Flying Burrito Brothers,

Gilded Palace of Sin,

The Kid From Waycross.

I heartily recommend Twenty Thousand Roads for anyone interested in how that meld between country music and rock came down in the late 1960s (Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released in 1968) and early 1970s. That was along the same time the Band was in full swing and the Grateful Dead was putting out two of my favorite albums of all time, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.

I was late teens and early 20s.

I was single.

I was living in Chapel Hill.

And that was the soundtrack of those best of all possible days.

The other star was Marty Stuart’s bender guitar, which, like Buckshot, has a name. Marty calls him Clarence, in honor of the original owner, the inestimable Clarence White.

Clarence, like Gram, died way too young. He was only 29 in 1973 when a drunk driver slammed into him while he was loading an amplifier in the car following a show by The Kentucky Colonels, featuring Clarence and his brothers Roland and Eric.

I was never lucky enough to see Clarence White play, but those who did swear he was as good as it gets. His recordings bear that out. Thankfully Andy Griffith was prescient enough to capture the talents of Clarence and Roland on the Andy Griffth Show, the greatest show in the history of television.

And Gram wrote about him in the song, In My Hour of Darkness.

Another young man safely strummed his silver-stringed guitar

And he played for people everywhere, some say he was a star

But he was just a country boy, his simple songs confess,

And the music he had in him, so very few possess.

Clarence left behind a wife, two kids and one of the most famous guitars in history. What made Clarence, the bender guitar, so famous, was the amazing sound that came from the modifications made by Clarence, the guitarist, and a friend named Gene Parsons.

They were striving for a steel-guitar sound from an electric guitar, and accomplished that with mechanism that raised the B-string a whole step when downward pressure was applied to the strap. Marty bought Clarence, the bender guitar, from Clarence White’s widow, and last night those of us at DPAC had the great pleasure of hearing what he sounds like in the hands of a real guitar god.

Dozens of people had told me I just had to see Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives live, and all of them were right. Two people I’ve always considered the personification of music are David Hildago (of Los Lobos) and Buddy Miller. After last night, I’ve added Marty Stuart to that list.

And on the list of greatest guitars, I’ve finally seen one I might even trade Buckshot in for.

But let’s keep that just to ourselves.


Since the late 1970s, I’ve rarely listened to commercial radio. By the time the Saturday Night Fever disco craze had scrubbed the Top 40 clean of all its heart and soul – and it all became about your clothes, and what you have to put up your nose – I couldn’t find anything on the radio I found worth listening to.

But I’ve been lucky in life, in so many ways. And I’ve always had more than my share of musical benefactors, people who made sure they saw to my growth and development as a lifelong music lover and aspiring musician.

Looking back, so many of my benefactors weren’t actually musicians. My most important benefactor of all, my mother Frances Cooper Collins, was not a musician. But she was what I like to call a carrier. She was so totally infected by the love of good music (i.e., Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, Flatt and Scruggs, Mahalia Jackson) that she was highly contagious.

I’m sure you know folks like that.

You might even be a carrier yourself.

Two carriers who helped me through the lean times of the late 70s and 80s were Bruce Winkworth and Don Henchel. Both worked at the North Hills Record Bar in Raleigh, and both had well-tuned ears. A package would show up in the mail and it would contain a half-dozen or so burned cassettes of some bands or singer/songwriters that they were convinced I just had to hear.

And invariably, they were right.

Eventually the cassettes became CDs, but thankfully, they kept coming. Without benefactors like Bruce and Don (and later another buddy named Billy Armour) it would have taken me way too long to get hip to the really good music that’s out there if you know where to look – music that informed my own songwriting the deeper I got into it.

One day a CD from Bruce showed up titled Blaze Foley, Live at the Austin Outhouse. He cautioned me that it was a little ragged and unpolished, but he felt sure I’d like it.

And he felt right.

So I thought of Bruce yesterday when my compadre Lenox Rawlings and I made our way down to Aperture Cinema on Fourth Street in Winston to see the biopick about Blaze Foley titled, appropriately enough, Blaze It’s a movie getting some buzz, directed by Ethan Hawke and featuring cameos from such luminaries as Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do) and Hawke himself.

The title role was played by Ben Dickey, who I was unfamiliar with. And playing Townes Van Zandt was Charlie Sexton, known more for his musical and producing abilities than his acting chops.

I’m here to say I really like the movie. It’s not the kind of film my bride Tybee is apt to enjoy, because Tybee is one of those folks who gravitates more toward light upbeat movies that make her laugh. She’s a teacher who works hard, and when she sits down in front of a TV or movie screen she’s looking for escape and chuckles, not life’s lessons and tears.

There were some really funny scenes in Blaze, particularly when Blaze and Townes start telling the kind of stupid cornball jokes only a drunk cowboy singer could ever come up with. And some of the movie was happy and upbeat, especially when Blaze was living sans electricity or running water in a tree house with his true love Sybil (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development).

But I knew enough of Blaze Foley’s life story to know it would not end well. And of course, it didn’t.

The movie is mostly about that harsh, cruel and unforgiving hinterland on the edges of society – filled with addiction, rage, heartbreak and deep, deep sorrow – that the true artists among us go to find the kind of truth and level of consciousness essential to any art worth producing.

Blaze and Townes are incorrigible drunks. They snort cocaine and they screw over their friends. They’re totally unreliable and not good for anything other than raising hell and making music the way they themselves feel it has to be made.

Commercial? No way.

Authentic? All day and all night long.

Honest? As honest as it gets.

I was lucky enough to see Townes Van Zandt at the legendary Cats Cradle on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill circa 1978. I was drinking. Townes was drunk. But he was lucid enough to blow me away.

And I knew his story pretty well from having watched the documentary on his life, Be Here to Love Me a number of times. As he recounts in Blaze, Townes lived his life knowing that if one wanted to write songs and really do it the way it should be done, they had to be willing to blow off everything else – money, security, health, love and any semblance of a normal nourishing relationship.

That’s what the two of them spend most of the movie doing, blowing off everything but their music, everything but their art.

As grim as it sounds, the movie does have a heart. Blaze has a heart hidden deep in all that gruff, hairy, sodden, hidebound exterior. It certainly comes out in his music, most notably in the song If I Could Only Fly, famously covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.

And Lucinda Williams clearly saw into Blaze’s heart when she paid homage to him with the song Drunken Angel.

Blaze, by all accounts, could be a mean drunk. My sense is that Hawke and those he worked with softened Blaze’s persona some to give Ben Dickey (and the viewer) a break.

But I’m not a movie critic and never professed to be. I will say, however, that watching Blaze in a cozy, hip downtown cinema was a wonderful way for two retired sportswriters to spend an Autumn afternoon.

Will Clawson Adjust, Bye and Bye?

Dave Clawson is a football coach, and as such shouldn’t be expected to know the proper usage of the English language as well as, say, a retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business

And this particular retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business wouldn’t know the English language as well as I should without the direction of Terry Oberle, the best editor any sportswriter could ever hope to have.

Terry was the one who drilled incessantly into his staff how a team with a bye is one that advances in a tournament without having to play.

So Wake has no bye after Saturday’s 63-3 undressing by Clemson in front of a sea of orange at BB&T Field. The Deacons, thankfully for the sake of everyone save perhaps a prospective opponent, are simply off this coming Saturday.

Terry also warned against the use of decimated as a synonym of annihilated or destroyed. The word, as the first syllable suggests, comes from the understanding that any Roman legion guilty of cowardice or dishonor in battle would have one  of every 10 legionnaires yanked from the ranks and killed.

Unless precisely one of every 10 Wake players has been knocked out of action because of injury, the Deacons have not been decimated. They have been ravaged. They have been devastated. And they have been gutted.

They have not, technically speaking, been decimated.

But again, as a football coach, Dave Clawson can certainly be forgiven for the kind of linguistic mistakes that pretty much 98.3 percent of all those conversant in the English language make constantly. And for me to even point out his misuse could be seen as petty.

OK, those who feel that are right. It’s petty, and I own it.

Yet that still leaves me with the question of how willing are those who still care about Wake football to forgive Clawson for the much more consequential mistakes he has made with this, his fifth team in Winston-Salem.

The mistake that is becoming more and more apparent with every passing pasting was implementing a warp-speed, RPO offense without a defense capable of shouldering its share of the load. Making matters worse, he did so with a freshman quarterback not ready for prime-time Power Five football.

In losses to BC, Notre Dame and Clemson, Sam Hartman has completed 39 of 89 passes (44 percent) for 133 yards per game while throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2).

The Deacons, through six games, have run 511 plays, 30 more than any other ACC team. Their pace, along with the inability to sustain drives, has required the Wake defense to defend 451 plays. Among ACC teams, only BC (475 defensive plays) and FSU (455 defensive plays) have asked as much from their defenses.

The work load has also contributed heavily to the ever-lengthening disabled list, which going into the off week, appears longer on defense than the list of those available to play. And like me, you’ve probably noticed Clawson mentioning the epidemic of injuries more and more often as the losses pile up.

Spending four decades covering sports can make a man rather hard-bitten. Again I admit it. I own it. But every time I hear a football coach bellyache about injuries, I recall a conversation with my fast friend Ron Morris, who spent part of his career as sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Ron would have an opening on staff, and fly a candidate in for interviews. The first words the prospect would mention upon deplaning was how hot it was in Tallahassee.

To which Ron would reply, “Well, it’s July in Florida. So yeah, you’re right. It’s hot.’’

And that’s pretty much my answer to any football coach who complains about injuries. Well, football is a collision sport. So yeah, you’re right. Players get hurt.’’

Good teams overcome injuries through recruiting and development. Bad teams don’t.

Throughout fall camp and the first games, I kept wondering if Wake had enough players on defense who were, in the words of Clawson, playable. And that’s another reason to question his decision to run a warp-speed offense.

It’s hard to recall a team in more need of an off-week, which, coming from a sportswriter who rode the Wake beat for 25 years, is really saying something. And I go into the off-week curious as can be about what adjustments Clawson and his staff will make before returning to the field at Florida State on Oct. 20.

Clawson entered the season pretty much compelled to play Hartman. One quarterback candidate, Kendall Hinton, was suspended for the first three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules” and another, Jamie Newman, was hurt.

But now that he has two weeks to retool his offense, Clawson has some options. He can certainly insert the more experienced Hinton, and see what his speed and elusiveness might do to jump-start a stalled-out attack. And obviously he can down-shift on offense, and run fewer plays to give his defense a chance to catch its breath between three-and-outs.

Clawson is a good football coach. Other than the ill-fated season spent as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, he has proven it everywhere he has been – just as he proved it his first four seasons at Wake.

But good coaches have bad seasons, and thus far Clawson has had a bad season. He has already pulled one lever by dispatching his defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel, four games into the season. What other moves will he be willing to make, and will they make a difference?

To those questions, your guess is as good as mine. But I do feel comfortable making one prediction.

The identity of the starting quarterback for Wake will be as closely-guarded a secret as the nuclear code. If a coach is unwilling to reveal an injury to a back-up quarterback (Newman) going into a home game against an opponent as inept as Rice, he’s certainly not going to tip his hand as to who starts at FSU.

Where Did Cubs’ Mojo Go?

A word I use with increasing regularity these days is DONE.

That’s done, as in the last year or two I was working as a sportswriter, I was DONE. I endeavored to put in an honest day’s work, and I feel my experience and network of contacts and friends allowed me to, more often than not, do so. But long before I retired a year ago August, I was DONE.

That’s done, as in, my bride Tybee has been teaching elementary school pretty much all her adult life, she’s seen and dealt with it all, and now she’s DONE. She still loves the kids, she knows she spent her career doing what she should be doing, and she’s still a teacher any student or parent should be thankful to have. But each day it gets a little harder to haul her cart of books and papers and notebooks up the steps of our house at the end of another interminable day.

Trust me on this one. She’s DONE.

That’s done, as in even if my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs had somehow clawed past the Colorado Rockies in last night’s Wild Card game, as far as the 2018 season goes, they were long since DONE.

Slugger Kris Bryant, battling a bum shoulder that may well need off-season surgery, was clearly not the same Kris Bryant opposing pitchers had come to know and fear.

Shortstop Addison Russell was put on ice for an undetermined length of time while the accusations of domestic abuse hopefully get sorted out one way or another.

Closer Brandon Morrow, nursing a bone bruise in his pitching arm, had long since been shut down for the season.

Catcher Willson Contreras, such a beast in the first half of the season, had transformed before our very eyes into a patsy at the plate who never could frame pitches well enough to for his pitchers to get an honest strike.

The bats had gone so limp, in fact, that the Cubs managed all of two runs over the final 22 innings of the season. Even manager Joe Maddon was under the weather in the final game, watching his once mighty team stagger through 13 innings to the 2-1 collapse he had to see coming.

Again, even if they had somehow pulled it out, the Cubs appeared to be no threat to the Brewers or anyone else they might match up with along the way. The Cubs were clearly DONE.

We who pulled for the Cubs hoped like hell they would somehow pull a Muddy Waters (he of Windy City fame) and finally at long last Get Their Mojo Working. But the record will show that the Cubs Mojo had long since packed and gone, leaving the Cubs, indubitably DONE.

And that’s OK. It had better be, because that’s the story of life.

The fan who expects their team to win it all all the time is destined for heartbreak and sorrow. The best we can hope for really is that our team plays well enough to give us something to follow until the end. Not every season is going to be 2016. It took the Cubs 108 years to reign again over the baseball world, and I’m thankful I lived long enough to see it.

Besides, there’s always next season. Hope spring eternal, and all that.

One great hope I had from watching the game on ESPN2’s Statcast (which I really got off on) is that Major League Baseball will, sooner rather than later, turn to the electronic strike zone. And I’m not saying this as sour grapes. My own take was that the Cubs got at least as many calls go their way as the Rockies, and besides, as I stated at length earlier, the Cubs were already a dead team walking.

Home plate umpire Chris Guccione, the stat freaks on ESPN keep noting, is said to be a “Hitter’s Ump,’’ in that he calls fewer strikes than most his eagle-eyed brethren. To hear that really, really disturbs me.

The strike zone is the strike zone. It’s to be called, not interpreted.

And it pains me to see a pitcher make the perfect pitch – especially in a “High-Leverage Situation” – and it be called a ball. It pains me equally to see the batter take the cutter two inches off the plate, and be rung up for the final out.

The three-dimension strike zone they kept showing on ESPN was, to me at least, further evidence that the technology exists for lasers and cameras and monitors to do what the human eye simply cannot always do. As I’ve written before, a pitch from a Major League pitcher darts, slides, cuts and veers toward the plate at 95 miles an hour, and the umpire is expected to determine whether it dissected at any point on its path the strike zone.

This is no knock on Guccione, who, surprisingly, turned into a pitcher’s umpire on this particular occasion. He’s only a human being asked to do what humanly cannot be done.

In time, baseball will turn to the electronic strike zone. It’s inevitable. I just wish the powers that be would go along and make the move, for the benefit of all. It’ll then be a far better game, giving managers, and players and fans something other than balls and strikes to bitch about.

The pitcher who paints the corner will get the call. The batter who has the sand to take a pitch two inches off the plate, will get the call. Baseball will be a better game.

And when baseball finally does turn to the electronic strike zone, I hope it’s done right. Wire home plate in a way that it turns a bright scarlet – bright enough for everyone in the park to see – when the pitch catches the zone.

Doing so would certainly make the rest of the playoffs more fun to watch. And speaking of the rest of the playoffs, go Braves. I was around Brian Snitker enough during his lifetime in the Carolina League to get to know and like him, and he’s a great story.

So go Braves and go Yankees. Here’s hoping for an Atlanta/Big Apple series.

The Cubs may be DONE, but the 2018 season, thankfully, roars on.

Rice Shows Up Right on Time

Of all the characters I met over my four decades of writing sports, among the most colorful, and certainly one of the most profane, had to be the Frank Howard, the coach/philosopher who was Clemson football from the time he became head coach in 1940 until long after he retired in 1969.

He was still hanging around the program when I started making trips down I-85 in the early 70s, spinning stories that were at times nakedly racist, at times banal, and at times as dead-on insightful of the human condition as any words I’ve ever heard spoken.

Frank Howard was a man of his times, and as such, he could have never had lasted coaching more than a game or two in the 21st century. The reason he lasted back then was that the sportswriting community – of which I was, admittedly, a young convert – chose to scrub the N-bombs Howard dropped with such casual regularity from the transcripts of post-game and post-practice observations, as well as talks to civic groups so well-received throughout the upstate area of South Carolina.

Should I, as a 22-year-old neophyte in the business, have exposed Frank Howard for his racist language? Looking back, the answer is probably yes.

But that’s a rhetorical question I’ll leave for another post. On Saturday I was reminded of the words of wisdom Howard had for any fellow coach hoping to scratch out a living in the dog-eat-dog world of college football.

Find somebody you can beat, Howard would prescribe in his most red-dirt of all red-dirt Southern drawls, and play them every Saturday.

Wake found somebody it could beat Saturday. In Rice, the Deacons found a team pretty much any FBS college team could beat.

Anybody watching needed only a possession or two to see just how bad the Owls are. On Saturday, in front of a sparse gathering at BB&T Field, they were bad enough to be down 45 points by halftime to a team that had spent the previous two weeks getting knocked around its own home turf.

Dave Clawson is too smart a man to deny the obvious, and I was glad to see Conor O’Neill of my old shop the Winston-Salem Journal, lead with the caveat that provided all the context the reader might need.

Still, beating Rice 56-24 had to be fun for the Deacons and their fans, all of whom had been licking their wounds from the 41-34 cuffing by Boston College and the 56-27 drubbing by Notre Dame. But was the win just a sugar-high that will wear off long before Wake kicks off against No. 3 Clemson Saturday?

And just what did we learn from the fun and frivolity?

What I personally learned was that given enough time to stand in the pocket and survey the options available, freshman Sam Hartman certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback. Trouble was, BC and Notre Dame didn’t give Hartman enough time and Hartman, consequently, looked like the raw freshman he is.

But given the luxury of time Saturday, Hartman shredded Rice for 15 completions on 17 attempts for 241 yards and four touchdowns, while playing turnover-free football. As Conor pointed out in Monday’s follow story, Hartman’s quarterback efficiency rating of 284.96 is the best ever at Wake for any quarterback with at least 11 completions.

How close can Hartman come to performing at that level under the duress he is sure to face against Clemson? I’m sure that’s a question Clawson, offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and Hartman himself will be asking in the hours leading up to Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff at BB&T Field.

Saturday’s win also convinced me that Greg Dortch is far too great a weapon to allow to run free through the secondary. Notre Dame kept close tabs on Dortch, and held him to six catches for 56 yards and – most important – no touchdowns. Rice didn’t, and most likely couldn’t, and Dortch torched the Owls for 11 catches for 163 yards and – most important – four touchdowns.

Brent Venable is a good defensive coordinator, good enough in the eyes of Clemson to pay $11.6 million to lock him up for five years. He’s paid those big bucks to determine which opponents are most likely to make him and his defense look bad.

Greg Dortch will be a marked man again Saturday. I’m as curious as you to see how he and the Deacons will respond.

One question that was clearly not answered Saturday was what effect canning defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel four games into the season had on Wake’s performance. Clawson was not overjoyed to see Rice score three touchdowns in the second half, but he did express satisfaction with how the Deacons’ defense got lined up.

That may well not be enough against Clemson, but it will be a requisite for any semblance of success.

The Deacons emerged from September with a 3-2 record and a litany of questions remaining – most of which, I’m willing to predict, will be answered in October. Wake gets the second weekend off, and then will hit the road again for the first time since August to play at Florida State on Oct. 20 and at Louisville on Oct. 27.

Neither the Seminoles nor Cardinals appear to be the powerhouses they’ve been known to be, so maybe Wake can pick off one or the other and roll into November at 4-4 with Syracuse (home), N.C. State (away), Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play. That would leave the Deacons with at least a viable path to the six wins needed for a third-straight bowl.

But to beat Clemson, FSU or Louisville, Wake will have to play better football that it has played.

Dave Clawson, to his credit, knows this, as does anybody who has been paying attention this season.