Wake Forest's 2014 football season ended several weeks ago, and we've had some time to reflect on the 3-9 in which Wake Forest fans saw their team earn just one ACC win. Now is the time where college football writers from around the country look back at how every team performed, including coaches at new positions. One such evaluation came from Matt Brown of Sports on Earth, who took this opportunity to grade how every head coaching hire from the 2013 carousel cycle performed during the 2014 season. In his piece Brown does acknowledge that it probably takes at least three years to truly grade a hire, but he gave Dave Clawson a D+ for the 2014 season.
Brown's reasoning was as follows:
The 2014 season was quite a change for Clawson, who went from a solid offense with MAC champion Bowling Green to one of the most inept offenses in the country at Wake Forest in the ACC after the program fell during the end of Jim Grobe's tenure. While the Demon Deacons played solid defense, it didn't matter. They rank 127th in scoring, 127th in rushing, 109th in passing, 128th in yards per play and 126th in third-down conversions. They're 3-9, with two of their wins coming over Army (by three) and Gardner-Webb. The only thing that redeemed the season was a double-overtime win over Virginia Tech … in which neither team scored in regulation. Maybe we should have seen this all coming when the Demon Deacons' first play of the season was a delay of game penalty in a loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
Brown cites some damning statistics, including Wake Forest's woeful offensive numbers, and I agree with Brown that this season, on the surface, was quite poor. Going 3-9, including 1-7 in conference play, should not be acceptable. However, I do believe Brown is not quite seeing Clawson's process and is not properly including context in his evaluation.
This evaluation of Clawson's performance most notably ignores attrition at critical positions and what he inherited. For instance, he inherited a team that was not physically equipped to compete at the highest level. Clawson told ESPN's David Hale, "Our strength numbers were not anywhere close to what a Division I football team should be, let alone an ACC team. Those are things that take time. You’re not going to go from bad strength levels to good strength levels in six months."
Clawson inherited a team that lost a four-year starting quarterback, a starting running back, the school's all-time leader in receptions, three senior offensive linemen and an all-ACC nose tackle. When asked about Wake's rushing attack that was worst in the country, Clawson told ESPN's David Hale, "We’re starting a true freshman center, two sophomore guards, we graduated three seniors from last year’s offensive line. The starting tailback graduated. The second and third tailbacks left school before we got here. We’re playing a converted receiver, a converted tight end and a true freshman at tailback. Last year, when we got here, we did not have one tailback in the program. Not one."
In this quote Clawson also leaves out the fact that Wake Forest was starting a true freshman quarterback and went just 4-8 in the 2013 season. It's unreasonable to expect any coach to inherit that situation and win many games.
Clawson's vision for the program and process of building is one of no shortcuts, and that's why he opted to redshirt five freshmen offensive linemen this season. This includes Justin Herron and Ryan Anderson, who both would have played this year under a coach who did not have the program's long-term interest in mind. Defensively Rashawn Shaw and Zack Wary were both highly regarded prospects with SEC offers, but Clawson chose to redshirt them as well. Wake Forest currently has the 41st best recruiting class in the country according to 247's composite rankings. This would be the best finish in the school's history, and is another sign that there are positive things to come for the future of this program. Yet none of this was taking into consideration for Clawson's D+ grade.
Coach Clawson stated it best when he said, "You never finish the year 3-9 and say it was a good year. Our standards are higher and our expectations are higher, but if this is the effort and intensity we play with, as we get stronger and recruit talent, that’s a great foundation."
Like anything in life, context matters. Clawson has a strong track record of building programs the right way and with a vision. In his first season at Fordham, his team went 0-11. By his fourth year the team tied for 1st in the Patriot League and made it to the Division 1-AA Quarterfinals. At Richmond he went 0-8 in the Big South during his first year, but led the team to the FCS Semifinals in his fourth year. In his second year at Bowling Green, the team bottomed out and finished 2-10. By the fifth season he was hosting the MAC Championship trophy in Detroit. I don't know if the conference championship trend will continue at Wake Forest, but I do know that Clawson cares far more about where this program is in 2016 and beyond than where it was in 2014.
A D+ grade makes some sense for the 2014 season, but an incomplete is a more fair grade. What grade would you give Clawson?