Lost in the hoopla of the bowl victory over Temple and basketball picking up is the fact that Wake Forest still has a pretty big vacancy to fill in the defensive coordinator spot. Since Adam Scheier was fired as the Special Teams Coordinator, there is also a second coordinating spot open on the team, but this article will focus on possible replacements for the defensive coordinator position.
Some of these names are speculation, while others are on the list due to rumors or drops across articles over the past two weeks online. If there is a name out there that anybody has heard/come across that is not on here I would love to hear about it and can add them to the list.
It sounds like head coach Dave Clawson wants to get the DC in place in the next week or two (before recruiting weekends), so that will bring about a fairly quick interview process that has likely already begun.
Despite the notion that a Wake Forest coordinating job may not be a great career move, the Deacs ranked as the 22nd best defensive unit overall according to S&P+. While next year should see a bit of a dip with Marquel Lee, Brad Watson, and Ryan Janvion departing, the front seven should be strong again with Ejiofor returning, and Jesse Bates will continue to improve in the secondary. The DC spot seems to be a great landing spot for somebody looking to get their name back out there as the coach of a really good unit.
This article was prompted by discussion on the Defensive Coordinator position over at OGBoards.com, so I would invite (enter at your own peril) readers to check that thread out for more speculation on possible names.
It was pointed out from an interview done by Les Johns (excellent work as always) over at Demon Deacon Digest that Clawson was taking time to figure out which way he wanted to go and "what the market would bear". To me that indicates that he is looking to bring in somebody who is not already on the staff.
I somewhat assumed that we would promote internally and either go Clark Lea or Dave Cohen, whichever candidate did not wind up going with Mike Elko to Notre Dame. I still tend to believe one of those guys have the inside track, so I will list them as "co-favorites" right now for the job.
If Dave Clawson badly wants to keep Lea or Cohen, he would be smart to go ahead and name whoever he wants as DC, unless he is going to hire externally.
Here are the four guys that I think Wake Forest should look at to replace Mike Elko based on either familiarity with the program, knowledge of what it takes to recruit and win at Wake, or a good understanding of how to run a 4-2-5:
Dave Cohen (Wake Forest DL Coach)
Among potential hires that Wake could get, Cohen is probably my favorite (unless if Clawson can go out there and get a really good DC who is currently out of work) right now. He was a head coach at Hofstra University from 2006-2009 until the Pride dropped football. He led them to a 7-4 record in 2007 and was as finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award (top FCS coach in the nation). He has ties to Clawson dating back to 1989 at the University of Albany, where both learned under the tutelage of Bob Ford. He also worked with Clawson at Fordham, where he was the defensive coordinator there, as well asa the associate head coach. He moved again with Clawson to Delaware where he won the I-AA National Defensive Coordinator of the Year Award after a 15-1 season in 2003 en route to an FCS National Title Game appearance.
The only knock that I see with Cohen is the potential issue that stemmed from his firing at Rutgers as the defensive coordinator. Former cornerback Jevon Tyree accused Cohen of verbally abusing and physically threatening him. Cohen was fired shortly after for what former Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said was strictly a football decision, but I would guess that the off-field incident had something to do with it.
Cohen has done an excellent job with the defensive line the past three seasons, coaching Tylor Harris, Josh Banks, and Duke Ejiofor to All-ACC honors.
Clark Lea (Wake Forest LB Coach)
Lea joined the Wake Forest staff in 2016 after serving as the linebackers coach at Syracuse for three years. He coached linebackers this season for the Deacs, and worked with Mike Elko under Dave Clawson back in 2012 to help assemble the nation’s seventh-best pass defense at Bowling Green. My hunch is that Lea is a favorite to go with Elko to Notre Dame, but nothing has been announced on that front yet. Lea would be good for continuity purposes with the recruits here, and the style of play on the defensive side of the ball.
Jay Bateman (Army DC)
If Clawson chooses not to go the internal route, Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman would be a good option for our vacant spot as well. Aside from already knowing part of our game plans thanks to Elrod, he led Army to the 67th ranked defense in S&P+, and was a big part of the Black Knights 8-5 record in 2016. He was the defensive coordinator at Ball State from 2011-2013, so Clawson is no doubt familiar with him after facing him there and at Army the past two seasons. While Wake Forest can recruit a slightly better athlete than Army can for football, Bateman would understand the limitations of recruiting to a school like Wake Forest and could adjust accordingly. He ran a 3-4 at Army last year, and while Wake tends to go with a few different looks, including the 4-2-5 with a ROVER, Bateman seems like the type of coach who can adjust well to personnel and get the best out of what he has.
I highly doubt Wake is going to switch back to a 3-4 given the make-up of the roster and success with the 4-2-5 the past couple of years, so that is something to keep an eye on. This factor could very well rule out somebody like Bob Diaco as well, who has made his name under the 3-4 defense.
Tracy Claeys (Former Minnesota Coach)
A "hot" name right now for multiple reasons is former coach Tracy Claeys, who was fired earlier this week. He replaced former coach Jerry Kill after Kill stepped down unexpectedly in October of 2015. Claeys was named the interim head coach, but ultimately kept the job after a successful season. He led the Golden Gophers to an 11-8 record in a year and a half, including two bowl wins, but was fired somewhat out of the blue on Tuesday, due in now small part perhaps for the support that he showed on Twitter for his team’s "boycott" over the suspension and expulsion of 10 current football players embroiled in an ongoing sexual assault allegation.
Unlike Diaco and Bateman, who run 3-4 base defense, Claeys runs a 4-3 front and has a fair amount of experience in experimenting with the 4-2-5 look with the Golden Gopher DC Jay Sawvel over the past year.
It is pretty clear that Claeys will adapt to what he has to get his defense to perform as well as they can:
"The fastest guys we can put out there and the most of them, because it’s all about speed," Claeys said after Saturday’s spring practice. "Speed for coverage and speed for getting to the quarterback, but we can’t get seamed on the running game, so that is what we are playing around in.
"Maybe it will be two (defensive) tackles or one d-tackle and 10 others," Claeys said. "Whatever we can do to help us out."
Claeys has worked with Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who ran an havoc-inducing, 3-4 defense with the Super Bowl champions last season.
I’m not sure if Claeys is looking to get back as a defensive coordinator or a head coach, but we know he is happy to be out of the cold in Minnesota. Maybe Clawson should wait until after this weekend to bring him in for a campus visit.