Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2000: 1-10)
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Coach and programMany factors have contributed to Wake Forest’s ineptitude on the football field, but for the most part poor coaching has not been the problem.
Jim Caldwell proved overmatched during his eight years, as his 26-63 record would attest. And Chuck Mills was even worse, compiling an 11-43-1 mark from 1973-77.
But the three coaches between Mills and Caldwell were John Mackovic, Al Groh and Bill Dooley.
So why did Jim Grobe, born and raised in Huntington, W.Va., educated at Ferrum Junior College and the University of Virginia (Class of ‘75) and mentored in his chosen profession by coach Fisher DeBerry of the Air Force Academy, agree to accept such a challenge?
Apparently, some people just like challenges.
“Everybody keeps telling me it’s going to take awhile,’’ Grobe said. “And I’m not stupid. I know that’s a possibility. But that’s not the mentality we’ve got..’’
Athletics director Ron Wellman chose Grobe because of Grobe’s experience with downtrodden teams. When Grobe took over at Ohio University in 1994, the Bobcats were coming off an 0-11 season and were ranked last among the NCAA’s Division I-A teams.
In six seasons under Grobe, Ohio finished 2-8-1, 6-6, 5-6, 5-6 and 7-4. The Bobcats also finished with a winning conference record five straight seasons.
“Ohio University was one of the worst programs in the country when Jim went there,’’ Wellman said. “And for him to turn it around as quickly as he did, you certainly notice that as an administrator.’’
The question has often been asked of Wake Forest football, why even try? The obvious answer is that to protect their coveted membership in the ACC -- and be able to compete in one of the nation’s best basketball conference -- the Deacons must play football. That’s the catch.
Wellman is certainly not the man to tell that Wake Forest can never win in football.
“That’s bogus,’’ Wellman said. “That is just absolutely bogus. It can be done at Wake Forest and it will be done at Wake Forest. We aren’t that far away. We really aren’t."
OffenseGrobe, though steeped in option football from his days at Air Force and Ohio, has said he will tailor his scheme at Wake Forest to best utilize the existing talent. Throughout spring practices the Deacons operated mostly from a one-back set, but Grobe said the final decision on base formation wouldn’t be made until the summer months.
Anthony Young (6-3, 190) and James MacPherson (6-2, 197), the two thrown into the breach after C.J. Leak's massive knee injury (Leak has since transferred to Tennessee), continued their battle for the starting position through spring drills. Grobe said the final decision might not be made until a week or two before the Sept. 1 opener at East Carolina.
The Deacons experimented throughout the spring, but spent most of their time in a one-back set. The player who stands to be most affected is Ovie Mughelli, a 6-2, 248-pound junior fullback who is one of the most powerful players on the team. Striving to get Mughelli on the field as much as possible, Grobe actually had him line up at tight end in various formations.
The returning starter at tailback is Tarence Williams, a 5-10, 178-pound junior who gained 661 yards on 130 carries and led the Deacons with seven touchdowns.
The decision by Jimmy Caldwell, who would have been a senior, not to play for the man who succeeded his father has left the Deacons a bit thin in the wide receiving corps. But with senior Ira Williams (6-2, 206), junior Fabian Davis (5-11, 173) and senior Jax Langfried (5-8, 172) returning, the talent level isn’t dangerously low. Williams had 45 catches for 495 yards, Davis 33 for 596 and Langfried 10 for 114.
Grobe will build his first offensive line around two senior All-ACC candidates, center Vince Azzolina (6-4, 301) and guard Michael Collins (6-6, 318).
Defense and special teamsOne of Grobe’s first moves was to reduce the need for defensive linemen by 25 percent. Whereas his predecessor, Caldwell, ran a 4-3 defense, Grobe has already installed a 3-4. But instead of using his defensive linemen to occupy blockers and thus free up linebackers to make tackles, Grobe’s scheme requires the defensive linemen to make plays. At least that’s the plan.
Juniors Calvin Pace (6-6, 256) and Roderick Stephen (6-4, 242) emerged from spring drills as the starters at defensive end, but the Deacon defensive lineman with the most experience is senior Nate Bolling (6-4, 272).
One inside linebacker is Marquis Hopkins (6-2, 236), a senior who led the Deacons last season with 100 tackles. The two other leading candidates for playing time, sophomores Dion Williams (6-1, 235) and Kellen Brantley (6-3, 238), had 26 and 27, respectively.
Sophomore Quintin Williams (6-2, 185) has the ability to be a future star at cornerback.
There’s thunder in the foot of Tyler Ashe (5-11, 177), a senior place-kicker who has handled kickoffs for three straight seasons. But thunder is unpredictable, and accordingly, Ashe was anything but automatic last fall in his first season as the regular kicker.
Bottom lineBlessed with 19 returning starters, the Deacons will be one of the most experienced teams in the ACC. But how those veterans will respond to a new coaching staff will determine the fate of Grobe’s first season as Wake Forest’s head coach.
Grobe’s charge is to convince his players they can win, and then give them the direction and organization to do so. Down-to-earth, self-effacing, but demanding, Grobe has made a strong impression on everyone -- from media to fan base to players -- in his first months at Wake Forest. There’s a sense that he’s a man who knows what he’s doing -- and he’s got a full, well-acquainted staff on hand to help him get it done.
But ultimately the question is not whether Jim Grobe can turn Wake Forest into a consistent winner. The question is, can anybody?