Clawson Brings Confidence to Wake Forest
By BJ Bennett
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Dave Clawson's charge is one of contention. It's a challenge for which he is ready.
With an undergraduate enrollment of less than 5,000 students, the smallest in major conference football, and a campus of just 340 acres, Wake Forest is a mere map dot compared to most of its pigskin-playing peers. Historically, the widely-respected academic institution simply hasn't had much gridiron success. The Demon Deacons, to date, have an all-time winning percentage of just under 41%.
Briefly, Jim Grobe changed the status quo. He led Wake Forest to 28 wins and an ACC Championship from 2006-2008, earning AP National Coach of the Year honors for his efforts. His eleven victories in 2006 stand as the most in school history, with the nine wins from 2007 ranking second. Five consecutive losing seasons ultimately followed, however, and Grobe resigned in December of 2013 after 13 years in Winston-Salem.
There was suddenly a head coaching vacancy at one of college football's most interesting programs. Given the landscape uncertainty in the game today, resources and expectations were obvious talking points. Some saw obstacles; Bowling Green's Dave Clawson saw opportunity.
"Everyone looks at us and says 'hey, they are the smallest school in the BCS'," he explained on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "I brag about that. I don't think there is a place in America where you can play this level of football and get this kind of attention in the classroom."
Clawson was hired after five seasons with the Falcons, winning the school's first conference championship since 1992 his final year. Prior to his time at Bowling Green, Clawson was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee and the head coach at Richmond and Fordham. He also had assistant stints with Villanova, Lehigh, Buffalo and Albany. Clawson has a career record of 90-80 overall.
In addition replacing Grobe, Clawson steps into a coaching lineage that, in succession, dates back to current Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, three-time ACC Coach of the Year Bill Dooley, former New York Jets head coach Al Groh and former Kansas City Chiefs head coach John Mackovic.
Step one for Clawson, a noted offensive guru, has been establishing a certain culture within the program. Though many are anxious to see if he can improve the production of a unit that averaged just 18.3 points per game last fall, Clawson has spent his first few months setting a tone that has across-the-board value and merit. Through hard work and persistence, the foundation is officially being put in place.
"We have standards in everything we do. That is on the field, off the field, in the weight room, in the conditioning program and we want those standards to be high because our goals here are very high," Clawson detailed. "We try to establish the standards and make the players live up to them. We reward the guys that do and there are definitely consequences for the guys that don't."
The Demon Deacons open the 2014 season with consecutive non-conference games against Louisiana-Monroe, Gardner-Webb, Utah State and Army before debuting in conference with back-to-back road games at Louisville and Florida State. Clawson takes over a team that must replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver, along with a first-team All-ACC defensive lineman. Initial progress will be measured a number of different ways.
"This is coach-speak, but we have to go out there and play hard and compete and we have to find a way to finish games," Clawson nodded.
The New York-native is ready to help push his players over that proverbial hump.
"A year ago we were 4-8, but the amount of games that we had an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter, but didn't, to me speaks a lot about strength and conditioning. We have to get stronger. We have to get our guys in the best shape they have ever been in," Clawson continued. "We have to get games to the fourth quarter and hopefully have the strength and conditioning level to find a way to win more of those games this year."
As summer approaches, off-season recruiting and pre-season preparations continue to be intertwined. Clawson has fully indoctrinated himself into his new position, a perspective he is proud to share with others. Wake Forest is in a division with the defending national champions, defending Orange Bowl champions and the 2013 Sugar Bowl champions. Clawson's charge is one of contention. It's a challenge for which he is ready.
"It's a very unique place, it's a very unique sell," Clawson concluded. "But I think it is a special place for people who truly want to be great student-athletes."
The rebuilding and rebranding process is underway.