Welcome Aboard

It would be terribly remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank all the folks who have found their way to My Take on Whatever these past few weeks.

And heaven forbid it be said that Country Dan Collins has ever even once in his 66 years on this planet been remiss. I shudder at the thought, wondering just how I could sleep at night.

So thanks from the bottom of my heart, and welcome aboard. To expand the circle means more fun for everybody.

Upon launching this blog a little more than year ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what I intended to do with it other than write about whatever interested me at the time I was writing it. But I had just retired after 40 years spent writing sports for the Winston-Salem Journal, and I did know I get off on writing too much to just stop.

And I don’t have the patience, discipline and focus to write all those novels I was so bent on writing “One of these days.’’ So I decided to go with the next-best thing.

One of my many close friends from our Thursday night gatherings for Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe is a wise soul named Nancy Burney Douglass. And in this case, NBD knew me better than I knew myself.

“Most people blog their way into a career in journalism,’’ she observed. “Well, you’re blogging your way out.’’

Bingo.

No singer-songwriter has been covered more than John Prine over our 4 ½ years of making music the way it’s meant to be made among friends down at Open Mic at Muddy Creek. And that’s a good thing. No complaints here.

On Prine’s latest offering, Tree of Forgiveness, there was a couplet that really hit home, off the tune Lonesome Friends of Science.

I live way down inside my head,

Well, long ago I made my bed.’’

John Prine and I share the same address, but I’m not so deep inside my head not to know what has driven so many of you my way. That would be the anguish and utter despair over the demise of a once-proud basketball program at Wake.

And some of you might even know I was on hand to chronicle so many of the golden moments in the history of Wake basketball, from the time I was assigned to the beat in 1992 until my retirement in August of 2017. There was a time when I was known to brag to anyone who would listen about having the best college basketball beat in America.

Sadly, those times are long gone, buried beneath the rubble of losses to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington, Presbyterian, Wofford, Delaware State, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Houston Baptist and – as recently as last night – a Richmond team so bad that Chris Mooney will have to hustle like hell to survive his 14th season as the Spiders’ head coach.

Losing at Richmond wouldn’t be so devastating except for three reasons. One, this is, again, a really, really bad Richmond team, bad enough to lose – AT HOME — to Longwood (63-58) and Hampton (86-66). Two, the loss was just so utterly predictable for a team so disjointed and hapless as to be a team in name only.

And three, and most important, the yet-one-more ignominious setback came in Danny Manning’s FIFTH season as head coach. Not his first, not his third, but his fifth, when he has had all the time any coach worth his mettle would need to rectify whatever problems were left over from the program-crippling hire of Jeff Bzdelik on that fateful day in April of 2010.

Along the way the link to My Take on Whatever surfaced on enough sites on social media – Demon Deacons Sports Nation on Facebook, DemonDeaconDigest and that mother lode of all Wake sites, Old Gold & Black Boards — that my number of hits exploded exponentially.

The number exploded from the 50 or so hits I was lucky to get on a good day to where two recent posts have roared past 2,000. I recognize that’s small potatoes in the greater blogosphere of the Interweb, but it’s one big fat spud for this old grizzled retiree sitting on his ever-widening behind in his cluttered den out in Oldtown.

And, again, it’s greatly appreciated, as are the comments flowing in from one and all.

What I hate, for you as well as me, is that I couldn’t be writing about the stirring success of a Wake program battling back from the doldrums into ACC and national contention. I hate that the hire of Danny Manning hasn’t worked out. I really do. He was a great player, and seems to be a decent man – though I have to admit I was never really given the opportunity to get to know him.

But an explanation I always had for those who found fault with my coverage of Wake sports came in three words. Cause and effect.

If Manning was 7-0 right now instead of 4-3 against one of the weakest schedules in school history, if Manning were 52-20 in the ACC instead of 20-52, if Manning had ever finished better than 10th in the regular season, if Manning had really followed through with his promise of making defense the strength his program would hang its hat on, then my thesaurus wouldn’t have enough nice words for me to write about the man.

Which leaves me having to write what’s going on, and what’s going on is Wake keeps losing season after soul-crushing season in basketball and those who have a say in the matter have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don’t care enough about their ever-dwindling core of fans to do anything about it.

And to me, that’s what’s really sad.

Lest you newbies get the wrong idea, my blog is not devoted exclusively to Wake sports. Again, I write about whatever interests me, and my interests are wide and varied.

My deepest passion is music, which has resulted in the aforementioned Open Mic sessions down at Muddy Creek Cafe. And although I have been writing sports forever – since my junior year of high school, going on 50 years ago — I’ve been writing songs even longer.

All my life I’ve threatened to record a CD of original songs, and I’m proud to say I am, at present, finally making good on that threat. I’ve enlisted a sharp young engineer, musician and recent graduate of Wake named Geoff Weber (He of the band Bad Cameo, hottest thing going) and we’re laying down tracks at his home studio that I’m increasingly excited about.

For those interested, I’ll keep you apprised of the progress, and make sure you have a chance to listen to how it comes out.

What I don’t want to do is spend all my retirement taking a metaphorical cudgel to Danny Manning’s kneecaps. Honest I don’t.

But if I didn’t write what was going on, what reason would anybody have to read anything I write? And if nobody read what I write, that would be sadder than Wake losing to Houston Baptist in basketball.

Well, almost.

Wake: A Program in Exile

By the time I retired from writing for daily newspapers in August of 2017, I had long since concluded that no story should ever be written about any coach in any sport at any time in the history of that sport without at least a fleeting reference the Grand Disclaimer of All-Time.

Which is:

A coach who wins often enough can do no wrong.

A coach who loses often enough can do no right.

If Wake was 75-58– and more to the point, 52-20 in ACC play – over Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons as head coach, it would matter little that Manning was hired after a run of six good weeks during his second season at Tulsa.

It would matter little that because of his guarded, some might say aloof nature, he has forged little to no connection with the media or fanbase.

It would matter little that he has yet to answer (that I’ve heard) any question asked him with any specificity or detail.

It would matter little that Manning at least appears to lack the fire in the belly of a Chris Mack or a Buzz Williams or a Jeff Capel or a Roy Williams or a Mike Kzyzewski or a Kevin Keatts or, for that matter, most any of his of his fellow coaching brethren.

And I don’t even think it would matter all that much that five players with eligibility remaining voted with their feet, by departing the program in search of greener pastures since last season.

But the cold hard facts of life for that ever-dwindling core of Wake fans who have yet to give up on the program are that Manning is not 74-56 and 20-52 in ACC play over his four-plus seasons as Wake’s head coach.

Manning, instead is, 58-75 and 20-52.

And because he loses and loses often, all the above questions and criticisms do matter, and they matter greatly.

And what matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach his team is losing at home to one of the worst teams in all of college basketball, Houston Baptist. What matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, his team is extended into the final minute to beat another of the worst teams in college basketball, Western Carolina.

Again, at home.

What matters even more is that during a three-day period when the rest of the ACC is either coming off, playing or getting ready to play games in the vaunted ACC/Big Ten Challenge on packages televised across the globe, Wake is playing at home against Western Carolina in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

As my man Evan Lepler mentioned during the play-by-play streaming on ACCN Extra, Wake was in exile from the ACC last night. Pitt, the only team picked to finish below Wake this season, was making a damn good showing in a 69-68 loss at 14th-ranked Iowa. N.C. State gave Wisconsin all it wanted at one of the toughest places to win in all of college basketball, the notorious Kohl Center. And Louisville was giving ACC foes a glimpse of what to expect under Mack by knocking off No. 9 Michigan State.

All while, once again, Wake is barely beating Western Carolina at home in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

Has there ever been a time when Wake’s ties to the ACC – at least in the flagship sport of basketball – felt more tenuous?

Looking for some explanation, some reasonable alibi or justification for what I had just watched on ACCN streaming, I checked out Manning’s post-game address on Les Johns’ Demon Deacon Digest. Since retirement I’ve gotten really good at wasting time.

Asked if he was surprised to to find himself in a game late after leading 21-3 early, Manning’s answer was “that’s college basketball.’’

Well that’s not college basketball as played at SMU, which beat Western Carolina by 33. That’s not college basketball as played by Jacksonville State, which beat Western Carolina by 31. That’s not college basketball as played at Arizona, which beat Houston Baptist by 30. That’s not college basketball as played at Wisconsin, which beat Houston Baptist by 37.

But it is college basketball as played at Wake in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.

The one rationalization Manning was quick to mention was the inexperience of his fifth team at Wake Forest.

“We’re a young team,’’ he said. And then he repeated it.

What he didn’t mention is that Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods had, among them, played a combined 247 games at Wake, and all had eligibility remaining. All were bragged on time and again by Manning during their career at Wake, and yet all chose to play this season elsewhere – Crawford in Israel, Moore in the G-Leage and Woods as a highly effective grad transfer at Ohio State.

Yes Wake is young, again. And there’s a reason Wake is young, again.

But is there any reason Danny Manning is still head basketball coach at Wake Forest?

If so, I’d love to hear it.

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.

Worst Loss Ever?

In the fifth game of Danny Manning’s fifth season as Wake’s head basketball coach, the Deacons committed 22 turnovers while forcing 10, yielded 16 offensive rebounds, didn’t make a field goal in the final 8:58 of regulation, blew a 14-point lead in the final eight minutes of regulation and lost at home to Houston Baptist in overtime, 93-91.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the one picked to finish 10th in the vaunted 13-team Southland Conference – ahead of such juggernauts as Nicholls, Northwestern State and Incarnate Word.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the one that was 1-2, having lost to Arizona by 30 and to Wisconsin by 37.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the program coming off a 6-25 season in which it won all of two games in the vaunted Southland Conference.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the program ranked 296 by KenPom – precisely 174 spots below the lowest-ranked ACC team, Pittsburgh.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the team that scored on 27 of the final 44 times it crossed half-court today in possession of the basketball. The one that spent the first half sizing up the Deacons, and the rest of the game taking the fight to them. The one that gave five players hailing from the state of North Carolina the homecoming of their lifetime.

The Houston Baptist that shouldn’t even be on the same court as an ACC team, much less beating one.

There are bad losses in basketball, and there are worse losses in basketball. Given when it came – in the fifth season under a coach that has already lost to Delaware State, Georgia Southern and Liberty – this one has to be at least in the conversation for worst loss in Wake basketball history.

Yeah, I remember Stetson, the team that knocked off Wake in the same season its coached got fired for losing too many games. But that loss came in Jeff Bzdelik’s first game as head coach at Wake.

Today’s loss came in Manning’s 131st game in charge of the Deacons’ basketball fortunes. And of those 131 games, the Deacons have won 57. In Manning’s 131st game in charge of the Deacons’ basketball fortunes, he calls timeout for the climatic play and the Deacons end up with a long, contested 3-pointer from Brandon Childress that clanked hard off the rim.

“We just wanted to spread the floor,” Manning explained. “We didn’t know the defense, what they were going to come out in. And for us, it’s just ball movement and be able to attack.

“And we were a little stagnant. And we didn’t move the ball and we didn’t get a paint touch. They wanted us to shoot long jump shots and we settled for it too many times.”

I can recall when Wake was good in basketball, which means only that I’m old.

And I’m beginning to wonder if I’m too old to ever again see a day when Wake is again a respected member of the ACC.

Hiring decisions, like elections, have consequences.

When Athletics Director Ron Wellman decided that Dino Gaudio was not the face he wanted of the Wake basketball program, he hired Bzdelik.

And when Bzdelik’s 51-76 record proved untenable, the same man, Wellman, hired Danny Manning fresh off his only two seasons as a head basketball coach at Tulsa.

Whit Babcock, the director of Virginia Tech, found himself in a similar predicament as Wellman going into the 2014-15 season, having watched his basketball program lose 41 of 63 games under coach James Johnson.

So Babcock’s solution was to hire Buzz Williams, and in the four-plus seasons since the Hokies have won 78 and lost 60, played in post-season three-straight seasons and in the NCAA Tournament two-straight seasons, are coming off a 21-12 campaign and are currently ranked No. 13 at 4-0 going into tomorrow’s game against St. Francis.

I defy anyone to name any historical advantage Virginia Tech has over Wake in basketball, but look at the gap between the two programs.

Babcock cared enough about the brand of basketball played by his school to fire a coach after two seasons when it became evident that coach was not the right man for the job.

If losing to Houston Baptist at home in the fifth game of your fifth season doesn’t prove you’re not the right man for the job, then I have to wonder what would. And I also have to wonder if Wake did at long last make a move, would the decision be left to the same man who hired Jeff Bzdelik and Danny Manning?

What’s that definition of insanity again?

Pitt Showed How It’s Done

The Wake faithful who showed up at BB&T Field today saw a team they came into the season hoping to see.

They saw a team with an imposing offensive line brawny and cohesive enough to impose its will on the opponent, especially as the game wore on and the defense wore down.

They saw a team with a resourceful defense that made the stops that had to be made.

They saw a team that bounced back from early-season stumbles to get better and better week by week.

They saw a team that stunned all the experts by marching inexorably to a division title and a berth in the ACC championship.

And they filed out of BB&T Field wishing if only it had been their team who showed all that and not the visiting Pitt Panthers.

The 34-13 setback to Pitt was all but in the cards going into this one. The Panthers were on a big-time roll and besides that, they’ve proven over the back half of the season to be pretty damn good. And Wake, for all the pluck it showed in the first half, appeared spent, done, kaput as the clock and Pitt rolled own.

If nothing else, what we saw today made last week’s upset of N.C. State appear all the more remarkable. But Pitt did what the Wolfpack was unable to do, which was wear the thread-bare Deacons’ defense to the nub by the midway point of the fourth quarter. And quarterback Jamie Newman was unable to do what he did a week ago, which was to stand in the pocket and make the throws that have to be made to pull off the kind of stunner Wake pulled last week.

The fans were undoubtedly grumbling when Dave Clawson chose to kick the field goal trailing 20-10 with 12 ½ minutes to go. But what I felt at the time proved to be the case.

It really didn’t matter. Nothing less than a Panther turnover was going to give Wake any chance whatsoever to be in the game at the end.

There’s no statistic in football – and may not be in all of sports – bigger than the turnover. A team can drive the ball 98 yards and fumble on the one, and have nothing other than field position to show for all those runs and passes and first downs.

If the Deacons were going to do anything really special this season they were going to have to win the turnover-margin, and perhaps even handily. I was happy to see that my guy Evan Lepler had the opportunity to stay at home and handle the play-by-play duties for the Fox Sports South telecast, and as he pointed out so astutely, a Wake team has never lost the turnover margin and made a bowl.

With the two interceptions Newman threw today, the Deacons are minus-9 on turnovers for the season. What really jumps out, though, is that Wake has now played 11 games while intercepting only four passes.

The secondary was a big-time question mark going into the season, and unfortunately for Clawson and his staff, that question has been answered.

So the Deacons have one more chance – next week at Duke – to win a sixth game and make a bowl for a third-straight season. All the countless hours they have put in since the end of last season – all the windsprints, all the off-season workouts, all the blood, sweat and tears left on the field – will come down to 60 minutes at Wallace Wade Stadium.

For Wake to even still have a chance at a bowl at this late stage is, to me, impressive. But to the Black and Gold faithful who made the final game at BB&T Field, that’s not anywhere near as impressive as that team from Pittsburgh that rolled to a Coastal Division title.

Congrats to Pat Narduzzi and his Panthers for a job well-done.

Black and Gold Path of Least Resistance

For all the comings and goings during Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons at Wake – and lately those going have been doing so at an alarming rate – one constant remains.

The Deacons can’t defend, or at least they can’t do so well enough collectively to be more than fodder to those good teams lucky enough to play them. Such was the case in Year One of Manning’s run at Wake, and such is the case at the start of Year Five.

Manning’s counterpart, Phil Martelli of St. Joe’s, had plenty of reason to feel good going into the Myrtle Beach Invitational. His daughter gave birth to Martelli’s grandson and his Hawks were afforded the Path of Least Resistance into the semifinals of the tournament.

A Path of Least Resistance is what Wake has been since the day Manning arrived, and that’s what the Deacons were again today in a demoralizing 89-69 thumping. Whether it’s advancing in a tournament or climbing one more step toward the top of the ACC standings, few teams provide less resistance than a Wake team coached by Danny Manning.

This one was more demoralizing than so many that came before because of all the optimism around the program going into the season.

You know #newbeginnings, and all that.

The Deacons did, after all, add highly-regarded freshmen Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright, Jr., and Manning and his staff were coming off a full season of coaching up promising sophomores Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr.

Yet over the first 10 minutes of the second half – while the Hawks were scoring on 14 of 20 possessions to blow a tie game wide open – the brand of basketball being played by the Deacons looked for all the world like the same old same old we’ve all been watching for the past four years.

We saw it all once again, hot shooters shooting wide-open shots, drivers driving straight-line to the basket for layups, cutters cutting off ball screens to find nobody between them and the basket.

Over my seasons since retirement, I watch Wake basketball with a pad in my hand, and tally how many possessions opponents get and how many times the Deacons stop them from scoring. Even with counting the three St. Joe’s possessions after both coaches emptied their bench – the Hawks scored on 38 of their 68 possessions.

They scored on 19 of 35 in the first half, and 19 of 33 in the second. But they made their greatest hay midway through the second half by scoring on seven straight possessions.

Not until the damage had already been done, and St. Joe’s was looking forward to its next game in the tournament, did Wake stop the Hawks twice in a row in the second half. And not until the coaches emptied the bench did the Deacons stop St. Joe’s more than twice in a row.

The season-opening 90-78 victory over North Carolina A&T was fun, in that we got to see Hoard and Mucius finally put their considerable athletic talents on display in a college setting, and had reason to wonder just how good Wright, Brown and Sarr might be. But alarm bells had to go off when the Aggies shot 46 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, while being forced into just eight turnovers.

Then comes today, when the Hawks shoot 52 percent from the floor and 53 percent from beyond the arc and score 89 points while committing just eight turnovers.

Hoard and Mucius are good offensive players, and they’re going to fill a high-light reel for the season. Brown looked good in the first half, before pulling his all-to-familiar disappearing act in the second.

But can the Deacons beat anybody good when their starting center, Sarr, plays 22 minutes and gets only one shot – a 3-pointer he drilled from the top of the key?

Throughout my career, I resisted making snap judgments, and I continue to do so today. It’s a long season, and all that. Nothing is static in life. Everything is dynamic, in a state of flux.

Maybe today was a case of early-season jitters, and maybe the Deacons will come out and romp through the next two games of the tournament. I’d like to think that’s the case, and might even succeed if what we saw today didn’t look so much like what we’ve all seen so many times before.

Commission the Statue

We had us another hot time in the old town of Bethania last night at our Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe.

As always, it was all kinds of people playing all kinds of music all kinds of ways having all kinds of fun doing so.

But as good a night as I had, I know one guy who had a better night. A much better night.

In fact it’s hard for me to remember a Wake football coach having a better night – at least not in the regular season — than Dave Clawson enjoyed last night about 100 miles east of Bethania at N.C. State.

Everybody knew going in that Wake never wins at N.C. State. Everybody knew Wake was too depleted on defense to hold the 14th-ranked Wolfpack to fewer than 50 points. Everybody knew there was no way Wake was going to walk into Carter-Finley Stadium with a quarterback who had never started a game and get out with anything less than a old-fashion tail-whipping.

Betting was never my thing during my years as a sportswriter, partly because I’m too tight to part with my money but mostly because I didn’t think that professionally it would be a good idea.

But if I had bet on last night’s game I would have lost bigly. I mean really hugely. Because, like pretty much everybody who wasn’t on the team bus from Winston-Salem to Raleigh, I thought there was no way Wake would win.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. Dave Clawson proved everybody wrong, and as a result the Deacons got back on that team bus and celebrated their most improbable 27-23 victory all the way back down I-40 to campus.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong in more ways than one. I thought it was wrong to fire Jay Sawvel, the defensive coordinator, three games into the season. My position, I thought, was confirmed when the Deacons continued to get shredded long after Sawvel was gone.

But to take a defense that had given up 177 points in its previous four games and coach it up to the point it could hold N.C. State to two touchdowns and three field goals was one of the inspired coaching performances I can remember. Making it all the more astounding was the fact Clawson had only five days to do it.

(And by the way, who was it that broke up Ryan Finley’s fourth-down pass late, a play that gave the Deacons a chance to win? It was none other than the much-maligned – by me and pretty much everybody – Ja’Sir Taylor. What a night.)

Dave Clawson proved me wrong for positing that he and his staff had squandered the four years that John Wolford started at quarterback without recruiting a quarterback good enough to either beat out or back up freshman Sam Hartman. I’ve said before that Jamie Newman, at 6-4, 230, certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback, but last night he also played like one when it mattered most, directing the two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that pulled out the victory.

Now I could grumble about how seldom any of us are told about the injuries on the Wake team, and how none of us knew the litany of injuries that had kept Jamie Newman sidelined. I could even suggest – admittedly without a shred of evidence to back it up – that maybe Clawson was starting the wrong guy all along, or, short of that, too slow to insert Newman for Hartman when the going got rough.

I could also point out that Clawson came around to the realization that I, like many others, had arrived at weeks earlier – that to protect his worn and tattered defense he needed to run fewer plays on offense. He freely acknowledged that the strategy last night was to downshift on offense.

But to cast any aspersions on the kind of victory Wake enjoyed last night at N.C. State would be small of me, and I don’t want to be like that. Dave Clawson pulled off one of the most amazing victories in the history of Wake football, and he deserves every bit of credit we can shower him with.

I admittedly get a big kick out of reading message-board chatter both for smiles and to gauge the mood and shifts of a fan base. As one would certainly expect, the Wolfpack fans howling on PackPride.com late into the night were all about firing everybody from Dave Doeren right down the ball boys.

But even when Wake was losing to BC, Florida State and Syracuse and giving up 63 points to Clemson, I was writing that Dave Clawson is a good football coach, and that Wake was lucky to have him. I was writing that he was a good football coach having a bad season.

Well Dave Clawson’s season got a whole lot better last night in Raleigh. The Deacons found another option at quarterback, beat a heated rival at a place where Wake never wins, all the while improving to 5-5 with games against Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play.

A couple of weeks ago, after the victory over Louisville, I wrote that if Dave Clawson can get a team to a bowl in this, of all, seasons, Wake should erect a statue to him and that he would be worth more to the school than said school could ever hope to pay him.

I knew all along he was a good football coach. But I never thought he was as good as what we saw last night.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. And it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit.