Q&A: Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson

New Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has been on the job for two weeks, spending just about all of his time trying to hire a staff and shore up his first recruiting class. He squeezed in a few minutes Monday for a quick interview, and discussed his philosophy, background and how to get Wake Forest back on the right track.

Here is a little of what he had to say.

Wake Forest has struggled trying to find an offensive identity in recent years. What do you feel the identity is going to be moving forward, and how does that impact recruiting?

DC: We know what we want to do on offense. We want to be balanced. We want to be able to run the football. We want to be a physical football team. That’s the system we’ve run at Bowling Green and to some degree, the things I’ve done for the 15 years before that. When you go out and you’re recruiting, you’re looking at guys to fit the system. One thing, my background is almost very untypical of a BCS head coach right now. I’m a coach who worked through the levels. A lot of guys, their whole career was spent at this level. I’ve been at places where you don’t necessarily recruit for a system, you recruit the very best players you can and then you to tweak your system to fit them. I don’t want to get away from doing that. We may want to look a certain way but if there’s a really good player we think can play in the ACC and help us win, we have to adjust our system to fit the player. My first year at Bowling Green, we threw the ball for 4,000 yards and Freddie Barnes had 155 catches and broke the all-time NCAA single-season mark. Now four years later we just produced the No. 1 single-season tailback mark in Bowling Green history. The thing we do well is adjust to our personnel.

How has working through the levels impacted your experiences as a head coach, and how will that help you at Wake?

DC: When you work through the levels, you have to be creative, you have to create advantages, you have to figure out what the formula to win is at a certain school. The formula to win at Bowling Green was different than the formula we won with at Richmond, which was different than the formula we won with at Fordham. Once you get to know the school and the recruiting areas, you have to design your system to take advantage of what your advantages are. That’s where your systems have to be flexible. To come in and say this is what we’re going to be on offense, and then recruit a player who’s a really talented player that maybe isn’t a perfect fit, you’ve got to be flexible in the system. Those are things we’ve had everywhere.

Does Duke’s recent success put more pressure on Wake Forest to get back to an ACC championship game?

DC: I look at it more from a national perspective. I think the success Stanford has had, the success Duke has had, the success Northwestern has had, the success Vanderbilt has had, if you say OK the top academic private schools in the country that play BCS football, we’re in that category. So if those schools can have great success why not Wake? To me, what Duke has done is encouraging at Wake. It’s not a detriment.

Encouraging how?

DC: They have a lot of the similar challenges we have. They’re a prestigious academic private school, and they’re playing in a league with a lot of bigger schools that may not have same the same academic standards, and they’ve figured out a formula to win. That’s the same challenge we have. We have to figure out our formula to win.

So what’s the biggest challenge then?

DC: I think it’s developing the fundamentals of the program we want to run. We’ve got to hire a great staff, we’ve got to finish out the recruiting class, we’ve got to build a foundation, we’ve got to find our niche in recruiting in terms of building relationships locally but developing relationships in secondary areas. Our staff has to learn the institution and find players that have a value system that fit what Wake Forest is. They’re out there. The challenge is finding those players and once we get them it’s recruit, retain, develop. I don’t know if that’s a unique challenge to us. It’s a challenge anywhere you go.

What’s your message going to be when you meet with the entire team after winter break?

DC: Creating expectations and creating standards in everything we do, how we work our offseason program, what we expect from them academically, what we expect from them off the field. They have a new head coach, they have a new program, and I think the players want to know what the expectations are. We’re going to have a leadership group and I’m excited to hear from the players, what they feel we need to do, the things we need to do as a program to make Wake Forest successful. We have smart kids here. I don’t want to come in here and make 18 changes if they don’t fit the institution. I don’t think you come into a place like this and overhaul everything and change until you learn about the school and learn about the players and figure out what works and why it worked and maybe which things can be tweaked to make it better.

You probably learned that along the way given all your experiences at the different places you’ve been.

DC: Yes, the hard way. I was 31 years old, the youngest Division I head coach in the country when I got the Fordham job in 1998. I thought it would be really cool to put black numbers on our jerseys. Well when the school president saw that, he said if they weren’t fixed there would be a new head football coach the next week. He couldn’t see the numbers, and I was told the president doesn’t like the uniforms and if he can’t see the numbers there might be a new football coach. You learn to go a little slower in terms of making some changes.