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DeCock: Clawson, Wake Forest’s new coach, doing things his way

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com

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    There’s almost no reason to be optimistic about the Demon Deacons, from the overall lack of talent on the roster to the true freshman quarterback to the oddly difficult nonconference schedule. Maybe that’s actually good news for first-year coach Dave Clawson. If the Deacons can beat anyone beyond Gardner-Webb, he’ll be able to say Wake Forest overachieved. The forecast: 2-10 as the Demon Deacons hit bottom in Year 1.



WINSTON-SALEM Dave Clawson will make an opening statement.

When a television reporter tried to kick off the new Wake Forest coach’s first game-week news conference with a question Tuesday, Clawson quickly shut him down. Politely, but firmly. He would like to make an opening statement. Then he would take questions.

In short, Clawson will do things his way, thank you very much.

That way happens to be very different from his predecessor, the avuncular Jim Grobe, who over 13 years at Wake Forest cultivated a cozy, familial atmosphere that brought him an improbable ACC title before his regime ran out of steam.

Clawson is all business, meticulous, detail-obsessed. That isn’t automatically better or worse. Time will tell. But for Wake Forest, it’s all very different.

“When you get a new coaching staff, a lot of changes, I think guys have a pep in their step,” senior cornerback Kevin Johnson said. “Ultimately, we want to prove people wrong.”

After years where Wake Forest maintained course despite pressure for change, the change came quickly. A billboard on Interstate 40 trumpets Clawson and Danny Manning, who replaced the ill-fated Jeff Bzdelik as basketball coach. Bzdelik’s tenure was a disaster, Grobe’s anything but.

Grobe made everything look all too easy at a school that had long staggered in the football wilderness. While he waited for facilities that were promised but never delivered, Wake Forest’s early and unprecedented success inadvertently led him away from what got him there – the misdirection-based offense he brought with him from Air Force and Ohio, the determination bordering on fanaticism to redshirt freshmen.

After a 4-8 season last fall, Wake Forest and Grobe recognized the need for changes, and no sooner had Clawson taken over than a new indoor practice facility was funded.

That tops the list of what Clawson has going for him at this point, along with two quality cornerbacks in Johnson and Merrill Noel. Beyond that, there are more questions than answers everywhere else.

The Deacons not only have to run the Atlantic Division gauntlet of Florida State, Clemson and Louisville but face a sneaky-hard nonconference schedule, starting Thursday with a trip to Louisiana-Monroe, where former N.C. State quarterback Pete Thomas is the starter.

They’ll do it playing nine true freshmen extensively, including starting quarterback John Wolford, as good an indicator of the state of the program as any.

“Some of the freshmen are playing because they’re ready,” Clawson, 47, said. “In some cases, we have nobody else.”

In his first season as a college head coach, at Fordham in 1999, Clawson didn’t win a game, going 0-11. (At the very least, his first season at Wake Forest should be better than that, with Gardner-Webb as the home-opener opponent.)

Three years later, Fordham was 10-3 and in the Division I-AA playoffs. Success followed at Richmond and Bowling Green. He has won double-digit games at least once everywhere he has been.

Having been through this before, Clawson has no illusions about the task ahead.

“Do we have some challenges? Absolutely,” he said. “But we can only make ourselves as good as we can be. Our players have worked hard. They’ve invested a lot. But there’s very little margin for error in some areas.”

This is only the beginning for Clawson at Wake Forest. Wherever the Deacons go, they’ll get there doing things his way. For better or worse, it will unquestionably be different.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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