Wake sports, or at least the two Wake sports that mean much of anything to the rank-and-file among us, were on full display Saturday, front-and-center for all America (and for that matter, all the world) to see.
And what all America (and for that matter, all the world) could see by tuning into ESPN and ESPN2 was two programs heading in decidedly different – some might say opposite – directions.
On the Mothership, we could see one of America’s scrappiest teams coached by one of America’s scappiest coaches, doing what needed to be done in a most heroic and improbable fashion to beat Memphis 37-34 in the Birmingham Bowl. To watch Dave Clawson will his team to an unprecedented third-straight bowl victory brought to mind the highest compliment one coach could ever bestow on another.
In the immortal words of Bum Phillips, Clawson “could take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.’’
I’ve always loved that quote (spoken in respect of Bear Bryant) because it reminded me so much of the way my Papaw Collins of Waynesville, N.C. used to talk – before he died.
And if that was all there was to see from Wake yesterday, it would have been a golden moment for the black and gold on national (international) television.
Sadly, any satisfaction (not to mention pride) in what is taking place at Wake sports-wise these days has to be tempered by what could be found just next door on the Deuce, where the Deacons’ basketball team was getting steamrolled by Tennessee 83-64.
There’s no shame in losing on the road to the No. 3 team in the nation, or at least there wouldn’t have been if the loss had not come in such a predictable and unequivocal fashion. But what those of us who switched over to the Deuce saw was what we’ve seen so many times before, with the Deacons melting right before our eyes.
As mentioned a number of times, I watch Wake basketball these days with a pad in my hand to chart the Deacons’ defensive stops.
And Wake was right there, trailing only 22-21 after Torry Johnson’s layup with 7:25 left in the first half.
That was before the soggy bottom of Wake bag broke open and the Volunteers scored on nine of their final 11 possessions of the first half and nine of their first 11 possessions of the second half. It’s along about that time that analyst Jimmy Dykes made a comment as astute as it was obvious.
“From Wake Forest, there’s not a lot of resistance right now on defense.’’
It’s a quote to be clipped and saved, for it sums up up so succinctly the Danny Manning era of Wake basketball. For the second half, Tennessee scored on 23 of the 34 times it brought the ball across half-court.
The difference in the state of the two programs can be boiled down to two words – hard and soft.
Clawson is a hard coach to beat. He played Memphis yesterday without his best player (Greg Dortch) and with a third quarterback (Jamie Newman) who was filling in for a second quarterback (Sam Hartman) who was filing in for a first quarterback (Kendall Hinton).
And he won when the guy filling in for Dortch (Alex Bachman) caught two clutch passes from the guy filling in for Hartman and Hinton in the final 75 seconds.
He won when his team kept playing hard enough to overcome an 18-point deficit.
He won because that’s what good coaches do.
Good coaches win.
By now anyone paying attention can see that as far as football coaches go, Dave Clawson is a keeper. The question now becomes how long can Wake keep him?
Meanwhile, over on the Deuce, the word that kept coming to mind was soft. If there’s a softer team than Wake playing in the ACC these days, I don’t know who it would be. And the Deacons just happened to be going up against one of the most physically mature teams in college basketball, and the results were not a pretty sight.
Olivier Sarr, the great hope in the middle, played as soft as he has been playing since showing up before last year, with just one field goal, two free throws and three rebounds to show for his 25 minutes. But we all knew that about Sarr long before yesterday.
What was particularly sobering was how soft Jaylen Hoard, the supposedly next great star, played for all the world to see. Hoard contributed three rebounds and seven points in 25 minutes while somehow managing not to get himself hurt down there amid the rough and tumble of major-college basketball.
Danny Manning got blown out of another game on national television because that’s what bad coaches do.
Bad coaches lose badly.
Ron Wellman, who calls the shots at Wake, is apparently willing to stick with his bet that a bad coach at sometime after four seasons will turn out to be a good coach. But by now, who can believe him?
And whereas Mike Norvell of Memphis was the latest to realize that Dave Clawson is not a coach to be tangled with, I’d imagine there’s no end to the number of basketball coaches who would relish taking on Danny Manning.
Take Brad Brownell of Clemson, for instance, who is 5-0 in his chances at beating Danny Manning in ACC play.
Can you imagine Dave Clawson being 0-5 against any ACC coach not named Dabo Swinney?
If so, that makes one of us.