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Published: Tuesday, 12/10/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Clawson left BG a better program

Despite losing coach to Wake Forrest, Falcons in good spot

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Last April, Bowling Green football coach Dave Clawson attended an all-sports banquet on campus and asked the guest speaker, a BGSU alum and baseball letterman, if he was free for breakfast the next morning. He was and it’s maybe the best $20 Clawson ever spent.

They broke bread again at lunch on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. The president and board of trustees at Wake Forest University joined them.

That guest speaker eight months ago was Ron Wellman, BGSU Class of 1970, who is the athletic director at Wake. Now Clawson is his head football coach.

Clawson had no apparent ulterior motive that day. Wellman wasn’t conducting interviews. He had a highly-regarded football coach in his employ. And his host wasn’t the hot coaching commodity he became during the past few weeks.

Clawson was the BG coach simply being hospitable to a BG grad who, professionally, lived in a similar world. It was brain-picking time.

Don’t for a minute think that day didn’t help lead to today. You don’t have to spend too much time with Dave Clawson to be impressed. The seed was probably planted by the time Wellman buttered his toast.

Clawson and Wake Forest is just about a perfect marriage. He is a highly-educated, articulate, coat-and-tie product of an elite, small, private college. He also is a builder of football programs, a savior of lost causes.

Dave Clawson, meet the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest plays in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference where you also find the likes of No. 1-ranked Florida State and Clemson and three other bowl-bound teams. With about 4,700 undergraduate students, all owning fairly robust SAT and ACT scores, it is the smallest school in any of the BCS conferences. The Deacons have won exactly one ACC title in 43 years.

The much-liked coach who just resigned, Jim Grobe, is the winningest in school history with a record of 77-82. After five straight losing seasons, even at a place with limited expectations, the classy Grobe realized he had run out of steam.

Dave Clawson, meet the Demon Deacons.

He has done this before. Fordham had lost for 12 straight years, but the youngest head coach in college football led the Rams to 19 wins in his last two years, the most in back-to-back seasons since 1918-19. He went from 3-8 to 9-4 at Richmond and left behind a Division I-AA national championship team.

And, at Bowling Green, well, at Bowling Green Clawson cleaned up an absolute mess created by academic sanctions and character issues.

He won his first year buoyed by a big senior class, but everybody knew the bottom would drop out. Midway through the 2010 season (BG would finish 2-10) I sat in his office and asked how it had come to this and how he planned to dig out from it.

Usually, a reporter gets coach-speak in return; work hard and recruit like crazy. What I got was a glimpse at a thick, color-coded binder that laid out the history of the previous four recruiting classes and plans for the next four, the whole numbers game, what positions would be targeted, how many players would be red-shirted, multiple depth charts, which current position players would be moved to fill gaping holes, academic reporting procedures, rules of conduct, etc.

I recognized it was an ambitious plan by a smart guy, but wondered if he could stick to it and survive. Sure enough, there were games late in that 2010 season and into the next when Clawson had barely more than 45 scholarship players, roughly half the FBS allotment, in uniform. And he took his lumps. But he never deviated from his plan.

When, last Friday, I saw him raise the Mid-American Conference championship trophy over his head following BG’s upset of Northern Illinois at Ford Field, I knew we were seeing the last of Dave Clawson in a bright orange shirt. I sensed Ron Wellman would be along shortly to look at that color-coded binder and find a perfect match for Wake.

So, what’s next for the Falcons?

In the short term, special teams coordinator Adam Scheier has been named interim coach for the upcoming Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. I’m told insiders were not surprised, although the rest of us may have been expecting defensive coordinator Mike Elko or offensive coordinator Warren Ruggerio.

While one or both may end up as continuity candidates, I’m guessing the message from athletic director Chris Kingston is that he intends to go outside the current staff for a new head coach.

He should not have trouble finding a decent pool because, as Clawson said late last Friday, he didn’t build one team, he built a program.

The Falcons should win and contend for a few years going forward. That was the plan. It’s in the binder.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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