In retrospect, what Jim Grobe did Monday should not have surprised us as much as it did. But nobody knew his decision to step down had been two years in the making. Nobody really knew just how badly the last two seasons had eaten away at him.
He brought Wake Forest unprecedented success, perhaps the greatest coach in program history. But in the end, Grobe realized he could not match himself any longer. He walked into athletic director Ron Wellman's office Monday morning and tendered his resignation.
The news stayed quiet, all the way up until a team meeting in the afternoon. Receiver Michael Campanaro later said in a phone interview the team was stunned when Grobe told them all he would no longer coach them. Grobe cried. Players cried. Grobe reiterated how much he loved them, and how much he loved the program.
When he was done talking, players gathered to give him a giant team hug. "It was emotional," Campanaro said. "Being a senior, it's tough for me just knowing we didn't have a successful year for him. I'm just happy I got to play for him for five years."
Grobe steps away after completing the greatest 13-year period in Wake Forest football history. Not only does he leave tied atop the record books for the most wins ever at the school, with 77. He also posted three times as many ACC wins as any other Wake Forest football coach. Grobe won 42 ACC games; Bill Dooley (1987-92) ranks second with 14.
What Grobe did in 2006 -- winning just the second ACC title in school history while taking his team to the Orange Bowl -- grows more impressive every day when you consider just how difficult it is to win, most especially at the smallest BCS program.
That season forever gives Grobe a spot in Wake Forest and ACC lore. The Deacs ended up making five bowl games under his watch, the same number Wake Forest had in its long football history before Grobe took over in 2000.
He won with dignity, and he won with class, and he won with players who made up for their lack of size with their unending work ethic and smarts. Grobe knew he had no margin for error every time his team lined up, so he made sure he had the most disciplined, best coached players on the field.
That strategy allowed him to find success where others before him failed. But Wake Forest has posted five straight losing seasons and made only one bowl game in that span (2011). His 2006 championship set the bar so high, Grobe could never come close to reaching it again, as much as he tried.
The last two losing seasons left him bitterly disappointed, because he expected his team to get back to the postseason. In fact, he believed his 2012 team would be a "slam dunk" to make a bowl.
Instead, Wake Forest lost too many close games, suffered through too many injuries, and could never win enough. Grobe accepted responsibility and decided to take one for the team, for the good of the team.
"This has been something that's been in my head for a couple years," Grobe said during a news conference in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Were we making enough strides in recruiting, developing facilities, building the program and doing the things we needed to do with me as the head football coach?
"These last couple years, the losses that we've had, especially all the close games we've had, start to beat you up a little bit. I got to the point where I felt like we were working as hard as we possibly could, and we weren't quite getting it done. I just feel like we're in a position right now where there needs to be new energy or focus."
It takes a strong man, one who can see past himself and his pride, to admit he might no longer be the right fit at a place where he fit for so long. But Grobe is not like any other coach. He is a man who built relationships with his players, his coaching staff, the administration, boosters, alumni, students, the dining hall staff and just about every single person associated with Wake Forest.
Grobe the man, moreso than Grobe the football coach, left an indelible impression everywhere. Most especially on the young men who played for him.
"Being around coach Grobe off the field is the biggest thing I'd take away from my years with him," Campanaro said. "He's preparing us for life after football, to be great people once we're out there in the world."
Grobe made his mark on Wake Forest football, but he also made his mark on college football. He showed how to win at a small school, how to win the right way, how to be a nice guy as opposed to an aloof CEO. Only a few head coaches fit that mold anymore.
Even fewer realize when they should step away. Whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision, Grobe says he made the decision. For that, Wake Forest and college football have lost.