Clemson is obviously building something special at the moment. Fans are enjoying the ride for the most part, albeit with absurd amounts of grumbling at the slightest setback.
The best way for the ascension to continue is for the status quo to remain around Clemson. In other words, it’s about keeping all factors constant so the Tigers know what they are dealing with in terms of the direct opposition.
Maintaining the division landscape, the conference landscape, and the landscape of the other programs on the schedule every season makes the day in, day out challenges of building a national powerhouse consistent because they are always the same. Whenever a direct competitor of Clemson’s makes changes, it has the potential to change the direction of the Tigers’ program as well.
That’s why Jim Grobe resigning at Wake Forest should matter to Clemson. Any time there is upheaval, it throws off the accepted balance of power—or at least, it has the potential to do so.
The Demon Deacons went a familiar route to find their next head coach. When Jim Grobe was hired away from Ohio, his record in six seasons at the helm was 33-33-1. Clawson comes from Bowling Green—also a MAC program—and has a mark of 31-31 at the school.
Grobe made a living coaching talent at lesser schools for a career. Other than a single year at Tennessee as Philip Fulmer’s last offensive coordinator in 2008, Clawson has done the same thing. He has made stops at Fordham and Richmond. His work with the Spiders is particularly interesting because he helped lay the foundation Mike London—Clawson’s successor—parlayed into the Virginia gig, which could come open next season if strides are not made.
For his career, Clawson is 90-80 overall and 0-2 in bowl games. His team was most recently seen upsetting Northern Illinois to win its first MAC Championship in more than two decades.
Although his background is on the offensive side of the ball, one might argue defense is the reason Clawson is at Wake Forest. After finishing worse than 75th in both scoring and total defense in his first three seasons at Bowling Green, the Falcons were ranked inside the top ten in those categories over the past two years.
Clawson’s offense, meanwhile, had been on a steady four-year decline until this season, when the unit finished in the top 30 in both scoring and total offense. High productivity on both sides of the ball led to the Falcons posting its first ten-win campaign since the 1990s. Not even Urban Meyer accomplished that feat in his time there.
It seems that Wake Forest plans to win with a coach whose strength is player development, a solid approach for a school of its caliber. As I have detailed in the past, Grobe’s teams were best when northern Florida and western North Carolina were aggressively mined for talented players. Clemson and others have effectively eliminated this advantage.
As far as the Tigers are concerned, there is reason to keep a watchful eye on Winston-Salem. But Grobe ascended in the Atlantic Coast Conference when there was a clear void. Both Clemson and Florida State were down, so the Demon Deacons were able to rise in the Atlantic Division a little while others fell a lot to claim the 2006 ACC title. Both the Tigers and the Seminoles sit in positions of lasting power atop the league, and other former heavyweights like Miami seem poised to join them.
As such, Wake Forest no longer appears to be a legitimate threat, assuming Clemson and Florida State don’t do anything to screw it up. On a given year, of course, Clawson could assemble a team potent enough to win games. His offensive system should look fairly similar to what Grobe and Steede Lobotzkie employed if he stays with what he has done in the past. What he has done with Bowling Green’s defense should get the rest of the conference’s attention, too.
But Clemson really has nothing special to worry about here as long as it continues to build and head in the right direction. Wake’s realistic ceiling is still below where Dabo Swinney has the Tigers.
So, in conclusion, be careful. But don’t be afraid.