Two Programs Headed in Opposite Directions

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.

For Wake, Exam Break Time Well-Spent

Back when Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, a home victory over Davidson would be nothing to email or text home about.

Of course that was so long ago, folks were still writing letters.

Not really.

It just seems that way.

Many seasons have passed since Wake was a team to be reckoned with in the ACC, which made tonight’s 67-63 victory over Bob McKillop’s Wildcats its best effort of the season.

Yeah, I know Davidson was playing without its best player, Kellan Grady, a second-team All-Atlantic 10 guard averaging 19.4 points. But it’s always been my contention that a team plays with who’s available, no excuses. And I’ll remain consistent by saying Wake took a nice step tonight, Grady or no Grady.

Dave Odom always loved exam break, because it gave him a chance to go back to basics and correct all the mistakes from the season’s first brace of games. And it certainly appeared tonight that Danny Manning put the 11 days since the Deacons last played to good use.

The defense – the Deacons’ most glaring shortcoming over Manning’s four seasons – was really, really good tonight. Or at least it was until it wasn’t. The Wildcats closed the game by either scoring or getting fouled (or both) on their last seven possessions, and 10 of their last 11.

But over the first 36 minutes, while they were building a 14-point lead, the Deacons were downright suffocating on defense. By my count, Wake got 18 stops on Davidson’s 28 first-half possessions, and then came back out and stymied the Wildcats on 15 of their first 26 trips across half-court in the second half.

Davidson shot 37 percent from the floor for the game, made seven of 24 shots from beyond the arc and got to the line for only 12 attempts.

That’s a showing against a good team that Manning will take any time, if he can get it. The biggest reason he’s failed in his four-plus seasons to turn the program’s fortunes around is that he has got that kind of showing so few times.

The late-game largess has become so routine as to be predictable. But the Deacons were able to overcome their generosity tonight because they kept scoring themselves.

As I’ve mentioned, I watch games these days with a pad in hand, charting Wake’s defensive stops. But over the 11 days since the Deacons last played, I decided to also keep tabs on another problem that has saddled Wake in the early going.

After every loss, it seems, Manning has decried his team’s inability to get enough paint touches. Teams assemble these days during the first semester of summer school, back in May, so if six months later a team is not doing what the coach wants, then whose fault is that?

But for tonight I decided to also chart the possessions that Wake got the ball either to the basket, into the lane, into the key or in the short corner along the base line. All teams strive to break down the defense, because it opens up so many more ways (foul shots, follow shots, kick-out jumpers) to score.

Bad teams – and Wake would certainly qualify over most of Manning’s tenure – tend to settle for jump shots without making the defense work. We’ve all seen the Deacons lose games because they quit getting the ball inside, and we’ve all heard Manning grumble about it later.

My bet is that another major point of emphasis over the past 11 games has been to be more aggressive on offense and attack the defense more. If so, the concentration on that facet of the game paid off tonight.

Again, by my count, the Deacons got the ball inside on 28 of 34 first-half possessions, and on 29 of 37 possessions after halftime. The ball moved, and so did the players, allowing Wake to shoot 48 percent from the floor, get to the line for 20 attempts and mount a balance attack.

On a night no player took more than 12 attempts from the floor, Jaylen Hoard (16 points), Brandon Childress (16 points), Chaundee Brown (13 points), Torry Johnson (10 points) and Olivier Sarr (8 points on 4-of-5 shooting) all had offensive games they could feel good about.

Those who have found me at My Take on Whatever know I’ve been pretty critical of Manning and his inability to pull the once-proud Wake program from the doldrums of the Jeff Bzdelik years. And I’m not about to declare after one nice victory over Davidson in mid-December that the Deacons have turned the corner.

A much more telling test will come Saturday when Wake travels up I-40 to Knoxville to face Rick Barnes and his third-ranked Volunteers of Tennessee. If the Deacons show the same improvement at Thompson-Boling Arena, then I’ll begin to wonder if maybe Manning is finally building something worth watching at Wake.

Of course it’s been so long, it might be hard to recognize. But we’ll see, and we’ll all see together.

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.

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?

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.