Clawson Wills Deacons to a Bowl

Hiring decisions, like elections, have consequences.

Or so I seem to remember reading somewhere recently.

In the 12th game of Dave Clawson’s fifth season as head football coach at Wake, the Deacons overcame more than enough injuries to scuttle a lesser team, the loss of one quarterback to suspension and another to injury and the unsettling cashiering of a defensive coordinator a third of the way through the season to stomp Duke into the rain-soaked turf of Wallace Wade and become bowl eligible for the third-straight season.

Watching the Deacons saddle up running back Cade Carney and ride him to today’s 59-7 drubbing of an ancient rival brought to mind what I heard about how Clawson came to be hired at Wake, and how desperately he wanted the job.

As the story goes, Athletics Director Ron Wellman dispatched Mike Buddie, then his right-hand man, to Bowling Green to get a read on this guy named Clawson, who was fresh off coaching the Falcons to a MAC Championship.

Clawson sits Buddie (who today is director of athletics at Furman) down at his kitchen table and won’t let him leave until he had laid out in infinite detail the plan he had to make Wake a consistent winner in the ACC. The interview, as I recall hearing, lasted into the wee hours of the morning.

And when Wellman made the decision to hire Clawson over Pete Lembo of Ball State, Clawson could not get over his luck.

“I really wanted to be at Wake Forest,’’ Clawson said. “The second this job opened, I was dreaming that I was at a podium talking to all these reporters.

“I want to be here. This is a great place, and I think we can achieve great things.’’

Clawson arrived at Wake hungry, with something to prove. And what he has been proving these past five seasons is that Wellman followed one grand-slam hire in football – that of Jim Grobe – with a second straight.

Dave Clawson willed this team to a bowl in one of the great coaching performances I’ve witnessed in my 45 years as a sportswriter.

As I wrote earlier, commission the statue, and pay the man whatever is required to keep him. He’s earned every bit of it.

The Wake team that was getting hammered by Notre Dame (57-26), Clemson (63-3), Florida State (38-17) and Syracuse (41-24) had no business playing in a bowl. But Clawson would not settle for anything less, nor would he allow his team to settle for anything less.

So Wellman, the man most responsible for the demise of a once-proud basketball program, was prescient enough in another sport to hire the school’s two best football coaches since the advent of the ACC in 1953. How could one man get it so wrong, twice in a row, in one sport, and so right, twice in a row, in another?

The difference between Danny Manning and Dave Clawson could not be more obvious after a weekend in which Wake followed in a 24-hour whirl one of the worst losses ever in basketball with one of the best ever in football. The difference between Manning and Clawson is that one is hungry, the same one who has spent a life proving himself.

In 1988, Danny Manning was the best player in college basketball, the toast of the sport. He could have moved to Timbuktu after leading Kansas to the National Championship, never to be heard from again, and he would forever remain a legend.

In 1988, Dave Clawson was a defensive back for Williams College, a Division III school in Williamstown, Mass.

Over the subsequent 15 years, while Manning was making millions playing in the NBA, Clawson was clawing his way up the coaching ladder, from graduate assistant at Albany, to secondary, running backs and quarterbacks coach at Buffalo, to running backs coach at Lehigh, to offensive coordinator at Villanova, to head coach at Fordham, to head coach at Richmond – and following an ill-fated season spent as offensive coordinator at Tennessee – to head coach at Bowling Green.

He remained hungry, and he arrived at Wake hungry. If I had to guess, he’ll be hungry all his born days.

Nobody becomes as good at anything as Manning was at basketball without the requisite drive and determination. And Manning showed that in his rise through high schools and college, and he definitely showed that while overcoming one crippling injury after another to carve out an NBA career.

But when he decided to take up coaching, and returned to Kansas at the bottom rung, he did so because he wanted to. If you see hunger in Danny Manning, that makes one of us.

Dave Clawson doesn’t coach because he wants to. He was born to coach.

Dave Clawson doesn’t win because he wants to. Dave Clawson wins because he has to.

He’s too hungry to lose.

Realizing early in my life that I’m not management timber, I never had to make any hiring decisions. But if Ron Wellman were to ever ask me what he should look for in hiring a basketball coach at Wake, I’d say go with the hungriest coach he can find.

At Wake, nothing else will suffice.

8 thoughts on “Clawson Wills Deacons to a Bowl

    1. Everyone has to answer that for themselves. But for a fan of a charter member of the storied ACC, I could see how they would feel that way. Especially after eight years (going on nine) of irrelevance. All programs wax and wane to different degrees, and Wake has gone through its share of doldrums. But to ask fans to support year after year after year of ineptitude is a bit much to ask of anyone. Like I wrote earlier, I can remember when Wake was good in basketball, which means only that I’m old. And thanks JD for reading.

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  1. Dan, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your insights and continued dedication to Wake sports. I think you nailed it with this analysis, and I love that “the gloves are off” for you in this outlet. I hope that you continue to produce frank analysis and call for athletic department credibility, because WF has few candid voices with your kind of gravity through which we, as a fanbase, can focus our criticism. Keep up the good work!

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