Winston-Salem, NC - If press conferences carried the same weight games do Dave Clawson would have his first win as Wake Forest's head football coach.
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt, black and gold-striped tie and Demon Deacon pin on the left lapel of his coat Clawson looked the part … all-business, aware, confident, excited, professional, smooth and witty with his jaw set for the challenge before him and no sense of trepidation.
"I feel this is a great opportunity," Clawson said. "If you look at college football at a national scale there are a lot of great academic schools that play high-level football; Stanford, Northwestern has had a lot of success, Vanderbilt, that you can combine great academics and be a great football program."
"The academics cannot be an excuse to not succeed. To me it's a reason we will succeed. There is no reason that Wake Forest can't reach great heights as other great academic schools in this country have done. I can't wait to get out and sell Wake Forest football to recruits through North Carolina."
"I'm really excited to reconnect with the coaches in this state. This was a very big recruiting area for us when I was at Richmond. It's well-coached football. There's a lot of good players and throughout the southeast, so again really look forward to rolling up my sleeves, going to work and making the Demon Deacons champions once again."
Clawson, who comes to Wake by way of Bowling Green, where he was head coach for five seasons, took the same position with the Deacs Monday, Dec. 9 after guiding the Falcons to a 47-27 win over then No. 14 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Friday, Dec. 6, a 10-3 (7-1 MAC) record and a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl berth in his final campaign at the university.
In 14 years as a head coach at the collegiate level Clawson is 90-80, has four conference championship crowns (others came at Fordham in 2002 and Richmond in 2005 and 2007), three FCS Playoff appearances and three bowl appearances. Wake Forest has not made it to the post-season since 2011, and has not finished with an above .500 record since 2008.
The 46-year-old Youngstown, NY native's job-experience makes him a good for Wake with stints as a head coach at private schools like Fordham and Richmond and stops as an assistant coach Lehigh and Villanova have prepared him for the obstacles a coach at prestigious private academic institutions face.
"Number one, we wanted a head coach," Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman said. "We wanted someone who had been a head coach. Number two, we wanted someone who was a winner, had head-coaching experience, but was also a winner. Number three, we wanted someone who had been at a private institution."
"There are differences when you're at a private institution versus a public institution, and that experience we want, so we established that as a priority. And number four, we wanted someone who we believed would understand the values and standards and ideals of Wake Forest University. We found that man."
"We need a coach who's not only a winner we need a coach, who understands Wake Forest and understands the importance of the other areas of importance at Wake Forest and that is the academic area. If you look at his academic accomplishments they are equally impressive whether it be any metric that you use his metrics and results are outstanding whether it be the APR, the graduation rates, team GPA, all of them escalated dramatically under his tutelage. We have a winner leading our program now at Wake Forest University."
Clawson is not a Jim Grobe disciple, but said he stole from the former Demon Deacon head coach when he was at Richmond.
"He [Grobe] proved that Wake Forest can win at a very high level in the Atlantic Coast Conference," Clawson said.
"He did it with class. He did it with dignity. He was certainly one of the most respected coaches in the profession, and certainly replacing a man of his stature is a responsibility I don't take lightly. He's one of the truly class gentlemen in the coaching profession."
Clawson added he hopes to visit with Grobe soon.
He did not shy away from sharing his aspirations to rebuild Wake's football program, so it can again enjoy the spoils of success as it did from 2006-08 at the peak of the Grobe era.
"We will have standards in our program," Clawson said. "We will have standards inside the classroom, outside of the classroom and on the football field. I know if our players strive for those standards our vision is to win championships here. I think if you set your goal anything lower than being a champion then you're setting the standard too low, so our goal is to be champions."
"We know it's going to take a lot of work. We're going to have to get the right people on board whether it's our staff, our recruiting efforts, but I believe wholeheartedly that can be done at Wake Forest. We will work relentlessly to that goal until it's accomplished."
What will help to get the ball rolling in Clawson's rebuilding process will be for him to assemble a capable coaching staff that is well-equipped for the daunting road ahead.
"I would like to bring all three coordinators [Special teams coordinator Adam Scheier, offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and defensive coordinator [Mike Elko]," Clawson said.
"One [Scheier] of them may be a candidate for the head-coaching job there. I certainly want to support our staff if that's something he wants to pursue, but the plan is to get the offensive and defensive coordinator down here relatively quick to help with recruiting and then we'll start filling the staff from there."
Clawson said some of his assistants from Bowling Green will join him in Winston-Salem, and did not leave out the option of retaining coaches from Grobe's staff or looking elsewhere to fill his.
"The goal is to hire the very best staff that we can for Wake Forest University, so we can compete for ACC Championships wherever those coaches come from, but that will be a process and just be patient," Clawson said. "Probably the most important decisions that I make as a head coach are over the next two to three weeks of who we hire, who's going to recruit these young men, who's going to coach with them, who's going to mentor them. I'd rather take my time and get it right than rush it and make bad decisions."
"You want to hold on to the recruits, but to hire or retain a coach just because he's going to keep one recruit I think isn't long-term thinking. We have to hire the best coaches for Wake Forest that share the vision how we want to run this program, what we want this program to look like and if we do that that will attract the right players here, so we're going to try to hold on to the recruits we have. I'm sure their being recruited by other institutions right now. That's a battle we're going to have to fight in the next six weeks, but I won't let one recruit dictate who a staff member is."