September 11, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM Coaches do it all the time, and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe is no different. They lose key players, then they talk up their replacements, making it seem as if everything will be OK.
Sometimes the coaches are right. Sometimes they're just trying to pump up the confidence of the new players. Sometimes they're just deluding themselves.
Grobe remained positive about his secondary in August, despite the losses of safeties Josh Gattis (82 tackles, five interceptions) and Patrick Ghee (67 tackles, three interceptions) from the Demon Deacons' 2006 ACC champions.
Late in preseason camp, Grobe said: "We've got a bunch of guys back there right now competing and playing good. All of a sudden that secondary is starting to look pretty competitive back there."
Early into the season, though, the problems are huge as huge as the gaps in Wake's pass coverage.
While the return of the "real" Alphonso Smith at one corner has been a positive, the other corner spot was a huge issue through the first two games.
Kerry Major, a redshirt junior, took over when Kevin Patterson was moved to safety to fill those holes. Patterson had a solid sophomore campaign, with 44 tackles and two interceptions.
Major has been nothing but a target so far. Although he came up with an interception against Nebraska, he has been burnt often in the early going. Backup Marcus Williams, a redshirt freshman, hasn't been any better.
Grobe before the season: "Kerry Major's done some really, really good things. Marcus Williams has done some really, really good things."
Grobe into the season: "They played like inexperienced players. We weren't happy, but we were pleased that they competed really, really hard. They probably played a little too cautiously at times. They absolutely made some mistakes that hurt us."
The real problem, though, is depth. Grobe has few alternatives in the secondary right now, which makes it difficult for him to make any moves.
At cornerback, redshirt sophomores Channing Schofield and Brandon Ghee haven't emerged. It's not a good sign that Williams already has jumped ahead of them.
Ghee, a speed demon, is a particular disappointment, as he was expected to be an impact player. But Ghee hasn't played competitive football since the 2004 high school season, after redshirting and then missing last year with academic issues.
One option would be to move Patterson back to cornerback. But without depth at safety, that can't happen, either. Aaron Mason is the third safety and would move into a starting role. That's not bad, but it would leave a big gap behind the starters.
After the first game, at Boston College, Grobe said moving Patterson to corner was a hot topic.
"We talked about that a lot," Grobe said. "All last week we talked about it. We weren't going to make that move during the game. We talked about it (Sunday). We kind of need to see more out of Alex Frye. If Alex Frye became a more dependable practice player, then we could maybe, actually, in a game make those shifts.
"At safety, those guys are getting us lined up and making a lot of checks. There's a lot of responsibility out of those safeties. Those three can get us lined up. And safety's a pretty physical position. You'd hate to bump (Patterson) out (to cornerback) and have one of those safeties get dinged. Now with Alex not having been as consistent, he would have to be the guy."
Without reaching into the freshman class, the only safety available other than Frye is Jonathan Jones, a redshirt sophomore who played wide receiver until this spring.
Combine these issues with the inexperience at linebacker, and the defense faces some big challenges defending the pass this season.
SCHEDULE DIDN'T HELP HODGES
Grobe could be accused of spreading some of the same "hopeful optimism" with his quarterback situation. For two years, he has been very positive about backup Brett Hodges.
But Hodges has struggled this fall, after replacing the injured Riley Skinner. He's in that stage where he can see only the first part of the pass play. He stares at that first option, and if things break down, he's lost. That leads to ultra-conservative play-calling, which is not putting any pressure on defenses.
But perhaps the biggest difference with Skinner taking over last year, versus Hodges taking over this year, is the schedule.
Skinner had a chance to break in slowly. He didn't face a high-quality opponent until the sixth game (his fifth start). That allowed Wake to bring him along slowly. For example, he threw 21 passes total in his second and third starts.
Hodges got Boston College in his first appearance and Nebraska in his first start. Both are now in the Top 25.
Luckily for Wake, Skinner's injury doesn't appear to be long-term, so this problem probably won't last all season, unlike the secondary issue.
GAUDIO: CONTINUITY OVER CHANGE
The promotion of Dino Gaudio was not much of a surprise to those around the Wake Forest basketball program.
Wake athletic director Ron Wellman didn't create an atmosphere of speculation around the job. That led everyone to believe Gaudio would get it.
Because of the timing of Skip Prosser's death, Wellman would have had to take a coach from another program at an odd time of year, which would have caused a domino effect and might have ruffled feathers. In addition, Wellman had to consider the top-notch recruiting class that was just landed and what the reactions of the committed players might be.
Wellman chose continuity with Gaudio, who has been tied to Prosser in many ways since he was an assistant under Prosser at Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, W.Va.
"Dino has proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, tactician and overall coach," Wellman said. "His track record of developing student-athletes for success, both on the court and in life, is remarkable. I am confident that Dino will continue to move our basketball program forward, just as Skip Prosser did.
"The principles upon which Skip Prosser built this program, with an emphasis on academics, basketball and character, are the same principles that Dino embraces."
All of those things are true about Gaudio, with one possible exception: that key part about moving the basketball program forward.
The good: Prosser was grooming Gaudio in many ways, investing confidence in him to act like a head coach with the team.
The question: Gaudio was 68-124 in his two previous stints as a head coach, at Army and Loyola-Maryland. He gets an asterisk because those two programs are so poor, but it's not a glowing résumé.
The bad: Assistants often have trouble taking over their own programs, and Wake didn't get to add much new talent to their coaching staff.
Assistants are often the good guys with their players, so the players like them. The transition to the "bad cop" role, to whatever degree it's necessary, usually isn't easy with the same group of players.
In addition, Wellman had a chance to add a high level of talent and ideas a new head coach to a program that's been struggling lately.
Instead, the only new ideas will be added at the lowest levels. Mike Muse will move from director of operations to assistant coach. While Muse is well-respected and is from a basketball family, he is one year removed from a high school career, and he's never recruited at the college level.
Only time will tell whether continuity or change was the best route to take.