A Prediction from Nostracountrydanus

Say you had a spare $100 burning a hole in your pocket, and were bent on placing a wager on the near future of Wake athletics.

Say you were presented with three scenarios, and by picking the right one you win the bet.

Scenario one – Both Dave Clawson and Danny Manning will be coaching at Wake next season.

Scenario two – One of the two will be at Wake, the other will be gone. You don’t even have to distinguish which is which.

Scenario three – Neither Dave Clawson nor Danny Manning will be coaching at Wake next season.

Recently eight folks with deep and long-lasting ties to Wake athletics had lunch in Winston-Salem, as they do every week the opportunity presents itself. Knowing the perfect focus group when I recognize one, I asked one of the attendees to present the three scenarios, and take a show of hands.

The vote was 1-7-0.

One said both Clawson and Manning will be back.

Seven predicted one would be gone, one would be back.

None predicted both will be gone.

Obviously no one knows what will happen tomorrow, much less in six months from now. No one can see through the murky future into events not yet transpired.

And not to come off as some ultra-prescient seer, a regular Nostracountrydanus so to speak, but here on this date, Nov. 18, 2019, I’m ready to buck what appears to be the conventional wisdom. It’s my bet – and obviously you can save this post and flog me with it if I’m wrong – that neither Clawson nor Manning will be at Wake next season.

Go ahead. I’m retired. My livelihood doesn’t depend on what or how much I know.

And I’ll admit right off the top that I’m no expert on the current state of Wake athletics. I retired two years ago, and haven’t attended a football or basketball game – let alone a practice – since.

Instead, my opinion is based on what I know of Wake athletics from the 40 years I covered it with the Winston-Salem Journal, and of the coaches I covered in my final four years on the beat.

Already I can hear the argument of how much has changed at Wake in the past few years – what with the television money rolling in — and how the facilities have been dramatically upgraded and how now head coaches at the school can live quite nicely on multi-million dollar contracts. There has been a dramatic change in Wake athletics in the 21st century, and it’s been almost all for the good. All that I will readily concede.

You could also make the point that this exercise is really about Clawson’s future at Wake. All Danny Manning has proven in his five-plus seasons as Wake’s head basketball coach (105-124) is that he is no ACC head basketball coach, and he’s proven it in every way, shape or form imaginable.

As if we needed more evidence we got it last night, when Wake lost at Charlotte by giving up one uncontested layup after another and not even bothering to foul during the final 7 ½ seconds of a two-point game.

And all that took place directly under the nose of the new athletics director, John Currie, sitting oh so conspicuously next to the bench taking copious notes. The message appeared loud and clear to me.

OK everybody, I know we’ve got a problem in basketball. Don’t worry, guys, I’m on it. Just give me time to clean up the mess I was left with and you’ll get your new coach.’’

So that leaves the question of why I suspect Clawson is in his final season at Wake.

It’s not because I have any problem with Wake being good in football. In fact, having covered a program that could make a legitimate claim as having the worst 20th century of any major college school, I think what Clawson has accomplished is an amazing, and highly entertaining development.

The one factor I feel that wasn’t taken into account among the focus group referenced earlier is ambition. Every coach I ever covered was an ambitious sort. I read few if any to be as ambitious as Dave Clawson.

For the record I got along pretty well with Clawson during my four years on the beat, and I trust he would tell you the same. I certainly admire and respect what he has done. He’s one hell of a college football coach. Getting last season’s team to a bowl, and winning it, might have been the most impressive accomplishment I’ve witnessed in all these seasons of observing Wake athletics.

But he also has a high opinion of himself, one he has earned and has ever right to have. And he can’t stand losing.

I thought about him on Saturday night as he was riding back from the 52-3 blowout at Clemson, where he played without two players the Deacons just knew they couldn’t play without this season – Justin Strnad and Sage Surratt. For 40 years I heard how miniscule the margin of error is at Wake, especially in November after the inevitable injuries have taken toll.

Still, knowing as much as I know of Clawson, I know how badly he hates losing to anybody 52-3. He also remembers better than you or I that it was 63-3 last season. And he knows that if he’s back next season, he’d better be ready for more of the same.

I also thought about Clawson in the final moments of the home game against Florida State – a game the Deacons actually won – when there were fewer Wake students in the stands than we get on a regular night at Open Mic. He’s smart enough to choose his words carefully, but if you don’t think fan support – or lack thereof – is used against Wake in the cut-throat recruiting battles then you don’t know anything about college athletics.

Clawson, to my mind, is destined to coach for a national championship. My bet is that it’s in his mind as well. And if so, can he expect to do it at Wake?

None of which is to say I’m convinced Clawson is desperate to leave. He shouldn’t be., He has it pretty good, a sweet payday with his family close at hand, and without the kind of pressure the coaches at larger, more established programs face.

He could stay at Wake until they get around to erecting his statue outside the stadium. At Wake, he has it made.

Opportunity, of course, is the unknown factor, and whether the director of athletics at an established power program could face the wrath of hiring a coach who has lost his last two games to Clemson by a combined scored of 115-6.

But what else I know about Dave Clawson is that nobody is better at selling himself. He sold himself when he targeted Wake as the school to lift him out of the Mid-American Conference, and my bet is that if he gets the interview at a next target school, he’ll successfully sell himself again.

He’s 52. I don’t have to look it up because we share the same birthday and I’m 15 years older.

By the time he’s 67, he won’t be sitting at a laptop predicting what someone else is going to do with his life. He’ll be making college football history.

And he won’t be doing it at Wake.

Again, this is written on Nov. 18, 2019. Save the post and flog me if I’m wrong.

I’m retired.

I can take it.

16 thoughts on “A Prediction from Nostracountrydanus

  1. You make a reasonable argument. The one thing that Wake cannot offer any football coach (or player) is a 70,000 seat stadium and a rabid fanbase. And that may be the most difficult thing for a Wake coach to overcome in recruiting high school players. He can sell a vision, an opportunity, a prestigious degree – but he can’t sell the game-day atmosphere that most other Power 5 teams enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I think the timeline is bold, your observations about not being in the same stratosphere as Clemson and the perpetually anemic student section and fan support feel like ominous ceilings , especially for a coach with seemingly limitless ambition like Clawson. I do wonder if his name not being floated regularly for openings by an agent means anything. I think your specific bet will come down to if the right opportunity presents itself this offseason, though your final prediction of his imminent departure and greatness elsewhere feels more likely than not. Football coaches are by nature itinerant and restless, and Clawson, who had never spent more than 5 years at a program before entering year 6 at Wake, does not seem at all immune. I think there is a deeper question to if Wake can ever rise above the vicious cycle of success causing coaches to venture to better programs–but if any coach provide insight to that, it’s him. All that being said, I hope your thoughtful prescience is wrong, but optimism and Wake football aren’t exactly a match made in heaven.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mark Prosser, Skip Prosser’s son, is in his 2nd year as HC at WCU, and it’s blatantly obvious to anyone with a decent understanding of college basketball that he already far exceeds the capabilities that Danny Manning brings to the table. The Catamounts were abysmal when he took over, and yet he damn near beat a loaded FSU team in Tallahassee Friday night with his newly assembled recruits. I expect Prosser to have a long and prosperous career coaching in the ACC, or some place similar. Ron Sanchez, the second year coach at UNCC, and protege of Tony Bennett, is another coach who will rise fast. Wake’s new AD John Currie better get to work on finding a new BB coach. Things will only get worse from here.

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  3. As much as it saddens me to think of Dave Clawson leaving, those of us with long memories recall another ambitious football coach who left after bringing the program out of the dumper. I speak of John Mackovic, WFU Class of 1965. Surely we’d reached Deacon nirvana with an alumnus as our successful coach! Nope. Great dream for John too.

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  4. If Clawson has designs at coaching at a big time program for a national championship, then he is going to have to develop an offensive strategy that is more diverse than the vanilla RPO he runs at Wake. There is too much defensive line talent around the country at the elite level for that to work. And it seems when it doesn’t work that there is no plan B.

    State was able to gain almost 300 yards against Clemson and our offense looked like a glorified HS team in that game.

    I hope he stays but understand if the lights are too bright elsewhere. I don’t think that his niche offense would translate without some major adjustments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you think the lackluster RPO is all Clawson can coach or is it Clawson’s estimation that the current offensive strategy is the best his personnel can execute? His offensive scheme seems to have varied quite a bit over his years at Wake.

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  5. Sadly, I think you’re right. Seeing DM go after this year will bring tremendous relief to a disheartened fan base. I don’t think Clawson will leave after this year unless we finish 9-3 and win our bowl game. That would put the absolute most favorable light on him with no guarantee that Wake can accomplish a similar result next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps Jim. Though I’m not sure winning the bowl game is a must. With his well-earned reputation as a smart, classy program builder, and now at Wake Forest no less, he’ll be a great catch for a school with a strong but recently tainted tradition. Mackovic had his Wake Forest accomplishments as the primary door-opener for the head coaching job at Texas. Dave also has his assistants to think about. My guess is many of them will get a huge increase at a school with a large, well-monied fan base.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Currie should be fired if he keeps Manning. He and Bob Wade are the two worst coaches I’ve seen in my fifty years watching ACC basketball.

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    2. Sadly, I think this is right. Assuming the guaranteed contract is the reason Manning wasn’t fired last year, it’s difficult to understand why another year would change the calculus unless some rich booster decides to foot the bill (plus a possible buyout and contract for the new coach).

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  6. Stay retired. You come across as a bitter old man. You should enjoy the unprecedented run with football.

    Your Clawson goes, 1-7-0 makes no sense. If Clawson did, unlikely, bolt, we would have the money to buy out Manning.

    Don’t go away mad. Just go away.

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    1. I’m already gone Dan, but as mentioned in the post, I am enjoying the unprecedented run with football.
      And if you think I’m bitter you obviously don’t know me. I have way too much joy in my life. But I do appreciate you reading.

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  7. Not that I think my perspective is needed, but you do not, to my eye, come across as bitter. I thoroughly enjoy reading your takes, which I think are fair and accurate.

    As to your point about Dave, I think you are spot on. The narrative I’ve been hearing (and have repeated, somewhat ignorantly hopeful) is that “he loves it here”. Truth is, I don’t know what he loves about Wake, but I am beginning to think he loves the opportunity to springboard ever higher in the ranks of college football coaches most.

    Whatever the case, and despite the fact that every passing chance encounter I’ve had with his has been greeted by a chilly arrogance, I am thankful for the dedication and effort he has put into making his opportunity at Wake one we can all be proud of and support. I hope he stays around for a while, but will wish him well if he has a chance to coach at a school with a higher ceiling.

    #

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  8. Yep. No way is Wake going to be able to keep Clawson for much longer. Frankly, I’m surprised we’ve kept him this long. The good news is that because Wake has made such significant strides in many of the things coaches care about (facilities big time, but also paying assistants’ salaries), Clawson behooves himself by waiting for the ideal situation before he jumps. Maybe that buys us another year (or two), which, assuming Clawson keeps recruiting the way he’s been , gives his successor a fighting chance to build on the momentum of the last four years.

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  9. Clawson is acutely aware of both the opportunities and limitations of his job and smart enough to know the history of the apex of WF football under his predecessor and the the slow decline that led to his hire. History can and should be a great teacher.

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