December 13, 2004 WINSTON-SALEM Skip Prosser is a great guy. He's accessible, he's a great quote, and he appears to do things the right way.
Prosser deserves credit for coming to Wake Forest and energizing a sleepy program. But it's time to wonder about many of his in-game coaching decisions.
One of the things Jim Grobe did when he took over the Wake football program was to give the team's offense an identity. While some said it was a little too identifiable this season, opponents and the Wake players can count on the fact that the Demon Deacons are going to run the ball well in their zone blocking schemes. Grobe hasn't succeeded as much with the defense in this regard, but as his personnel builds, look for a "Grobe style" to emerge there as well.
Part of the way into his fourth season at Wake, Prosser still hasn't established a real on-court identity for his teams. Off the court, no problem. Prosser has his team loose and working together. He has the student body and alumni charged up. He has the arena rocking and the town talking. But on the court, Prosser often acts as if he's still not sure what he wants to do.
When he came to Wake Forest, many thought of him as a full-court pressing coach. But he's done very little of it since arriving. What Prosser has done on defense hasn't worked very well, either. In his first season, many wrote it off to the strange group of players. The defense in the second season was better, but last year was a disaster and this year is worse, so far. Prosser seems indecisive on what he's trying to do, and his players show it. Their half-court trap attempts seem to create more shot opportunities than turnovers for opponents.
Some veteran college basketball observers are wondering why Prosser doesn't press more, especially this season. This is his deepest team, and one of the quickest. Not all are great defenders, but what's to lose if you're going to let teams shoot well in the half-court anyway? If you can make up for defensive mistakes by creating a lot more transition baskets, then why not give it a shot?
The bottom line: On a team that is essentially the same as last season's, Prosser should not be trying out gimmick defenses in the opening game of the season. He went to a triangle-and-two against George Washington that he admitted the Deacons had practiced for only about 10 minutes. In the last year, Prosser should have been able to come up with something for Wake to hang its hat on defensively.
Offensively, it's much the same. On one hand, it appears that Prosser wants to play fast. He talks that way most of the time and exhorts his team to get the ball up the court. At the same time, Prosser spent much of last season saying that the offense started with Eric Williams in the middle. There hasn't been much of that talk this year, and everyone knows Wake doesn't play a slow, half-court game very well. The Deacs pass around the perimeter until someone can jack up a shot.
So does that mean Wake is pushing it at all costs? Well, that would mean that forward Vytas Danelius shouldn't be starting, but he is. The ability to adjust a style or a lineup is great, but it would work better if Prosser was coming off solid foundations that his players had mastered. Instead, observers already are wondering if this team has improved at all over last season. It's certainly not displaying different characteristics, which could mean a similar result.
Prosser is 10-20 against ranked teams at Wake, with seven of those wins coming at home. He hasn't beaten a ranked team in March. He hasn't taken Wake to the ACC championship game or past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Prosser seems to have few equals at energizing a program. But if his Xs and Os are inadequate, then he needs to find assistants who aren't like him, ones who will design some "signature" Wake Forest schemes. He and the rest of those in the program certainly will have a chance to prove themselves, since the team has several other big games before even getting into ACC play. But if Prosser can't figure out some basics for the Deacs by then, it will be a far bumpier ride than originally expected.
Offseason Focus: Quarterback Play
Grobe tried to clear up Wake Forest's quarterback picture down the stretch, but the competitor inside got the best of him.
Grobe obviously wanted to hand the job to redshirt freshman Ben Mauk, giving him the start in the final three games. But when Mauk didn't seize his chance, Grobe eventually wavered. Grasping at a chance to win, he brought junior Cory Randolph back into the picture. It didn't work, and now Grobe must address the issue again in the offseason.
If the coach had stuck with Mauk, the Deacons could have gone through the winter and into spring practice with a clear No. 1. But Grobe hasn't given up on Randolph.
"He'll be in a battle," Grobe said, "coming back in the winter and spring."
While Grobe understandably doesn't want to cut the legs out from under Randolph publicly, a "battle" is not really what this team needs. With a potentially strong season coming up, the starting quarterback job cannot be up for grabs. Wake needs one man, and it needs that man to develop into a leader, something neither QB can do in the current situation.
Running back Chris Barclay voiced the thoughts of many observers when asked about the situation before the Maryland game. Barclay said he had denied the problem earlier in the year but now had to face it.
"I think, in hindsight, that it was an issue all year," Barclay said. "I don't think it divided the team, just because the guys are both pretty similar in how they run the offense. But it's just that the consistency wasn't there. It's tough to substitute quarterbacks every other series. Quarterbacks need to be able to find their rhythm in a game, and be able to read coverages and actually see coverages."
Grobe seems to be leaning toward Mauk at the moment, although it sounds as if that's by default.
"The situation you really get into is that if you have an old guy and a young guy competing for the job, at some point, if there's not a lot of difference, then the young guy has the advantage because he's going to be around for a while," Grobe said. "That's not necessarily fair, but that's just life in football. If you're an older guy, you really have to assert yourself and make it a no-brainer that you're the guy."