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 can take it.