Hiring new coaches is always a risky proposition, but in the case of Wake Forest, there might be more risks involved than most.
First and foremost, it is never easy to replace a legendary figure. Despite the recent dip the Deacs have made, Jim Grobe leaves behind enormous shoes to fill because of what he did over the course of 13 seasons.
He leaves behind a precedence of success, one that any coach must make his mission to try to match in a division stacked with front-runners Florida State and Clemson, rising Boston College and incoming Top 25 member Louisville.
Not only that, Grobe made a longtime commitment to the university and the community that is exceedingly rare in college football. Whoever is hired will not only be replacing a terrific head coach; he will be replacing a man who is loved and respected in Winston-Salem.
"If you’re a coach coming to Wake, you’ve got to know what you’re doing,” Wake receiver Michael Campanaro said. “You have to love it here, you have to want to be here. The biggest thing with Coach Grobe is after he had success here, he had SEC and big-time school offers to leave and he stayed at Wake. That’s the kind of mentality you have to have to take a guy like Jim Grobe’s spot. You’ve got to love it here and you’ve got to love Wake Forest. That’s what Coach Grobe was about.”
Secondly, Wake Forest presents unique challenges that are only found at a handful of schools across the country. The school is the smallest among all BCS conferences and has tough academic requirements that incoming student-athletes must meet. Missing on a handful of prospects at a school like Wake Forest means a potential setback in the entire program.
Grobe spoke to the difficulty on the recruiting trail during his farewell news conference Monday, saying, “You have to find the right guys. Wake Forest is an academic school and we're playing in a big-time league. You’ve got to find a guy who can leave Wake Forest with a degree and then you've got to find a guy that can play big-time college football.”
Third, seeing what has happened at Duke has raised the stakes at Wake Forest. It was the Deacs who showed a smaller, academically tough school could compete for and win an ACC title back in 2006. That essentially led Duke to re-evaluate its football program, spurring the Blue Devils on to the success they have found today.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, has taken a step back. Grobe and David Cutcliffe have proved you can win at these respective schools. The next coach will not only face pressure to replicate what Grobe did; he will face pressure to now catch up to Duke.
Grobe reiterated Monday that he believed it was time for a new focus and a new energy on campus. Campanaro said he would not be surprised if the Deacs decided to hire a young, up-and-coming coach, as is generally the case just about everywhere these days. A coach with an offensive background, given the struggles Wake Forest has had on that side of the ball in recent years, could even be a plus.
Despite what he has meant to Wake Forest football, Grobe said he does not want to have a say in choosing his replacement. But he did have some advice for the next man to roam the Wake Forest sidelines:
“No excuses. Pin your ears back, blow a couple snot bubbles and go to work.”