Dave Clawson aims to keep Wake Forest fresh through growing pains

To help him keep his players motivated during losing seasons, Dave Clawson has sought the advice of successful coaches who have had to endure tough times. Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Dave Clawson hates to admit it now, but his first team at Fordham stopped playing hard toward the end of the 1999 season. Football practices and games tend to become chores in the late months of winless campaigns, and the Rams' 0-11 record can speak to that.

But Clawson saw no signs of quitting last fall in his first Wake Forest team, the fourth rebuilding project he has undertaken as a head coach. To manufacture enthusiasm, and to continuously rejuvenate his players through tough seasons, Clawson has made a habit of seeking out advice from successful coaches whose early years weren't exactly covered in glory.

"When I was at Fordham and I'm 31 years old and we're 0-11, that's a lonely, empty feeling," Clawson said. "And so what you do is, OK, Mack Brown was 1-10, 1-10 [North Carolina in 1988 and '89]. Look what Gary Barnett [Northwestern] did. Lou Holtz that year was 0-11 [1999] at South Carolina. Talk to their coaches. What are they doing in their program? What are the things they're doing to develop morale? Greg Schiano at Rutgers. You can always learn, and there's different approaches to things."

Wake's 3-9 mark was hardly noteworthy, but Clawson was pleased with the Deacons' progress through the final month of the season, highlighted by a win over Virginia Tech. That lone ACC win is unlikely to have a carryover effect into 2014, Clawson said, but it was one of several signs of his players' resolve.

"Our players last year still practiced hard and got better," Clawson said. "John Wolford, if you break down his season, the last four games looked a lot different from the first eight. So to go through the year he did, to get hit as often as he did, and to still find a way to improve and get better the last four games, those are all really positive indicators for us."

Clawson said he can gather more from coaches who took over struggling programs and built them into winners. His history -- head-coaching stops at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green -- speaks to that. He equated his offseason idea-sharing with other coaches to that of coordinators visiting other schools to learn certain offensive or defensive techniques, just on a larger scale.

Everyone can see the Big Ten titles Northwestern won under Barnett, Clawson said, or the ACC contender UNC became under Brown. But what it took in the early years to get there is not always obvious to the outside eye.

"Because [Brown] had been the head coach at Appalachian State, because he had been the head coach at Tulane and he had been through that experience, you internally can weather the storm a little better when you've already had success as a head coach," Clawson said.

Not that Clawson's league-low six seniors are overlooking what's in front of them.

"There's going to be success at Wake Forest no doubt in the future," redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Chubb said. "It's just, like, right now it's our job to make that future 2015, not '17 or '18, but to make it right now."