THE MEINEKE CAR CARE BOWL
Wake Forest (8-4) vs. UConn (9-3), Dec. 29, 1 p.m., ESPN
By David Glenn
December 18, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM What better statement about the current status of the Wake Forest program than to say that Jim Grobe is still the head coach.
In previous years, success like Grobe has had with the Demon Deacons would have meant that whoever was coaching Wake would have been on the first plane out of town. To be honest, Grobe's win in the Seattle Bowl in his second season at Wake would have sent most coaches scurrying for a better job, much less his third bowl appearance in seven seasons at a school that previously had been to only five in its history.
For many years, Wake football coaches have either been losers, or only temporary winners who packed their bags quickly and got out while the getting was good as good as it was ever going to get, in their eyes.
But Grobe is not most Wake football coaches. And Wake football is not Wake football anymore, thanks to him.
When Grobe recently turned down Arkansas, it spoke volumes about the coach and his happiness at Wake.
Arkansas is an SEC school with football tradition that offered at least twice what Grobe makes in Winston-Salem. It's the kind of job that any former Wake coach would have seemed silly to turn down, even in the judgment of most Deacons fans.
But Grobe stayed put. And it didn't really seem all that strange. One big reason was that he still can see a future at Wake, which other past Wake coaches couldn't.
"I think the bottom line is it's our players," Grobe said. "I just love this football team. I love these guys that we've got here. I think next year can be really special. We've got most of our guys back on defense. I think we've got the right mix offensively if we can stay healthy up front. With Sam (Swank), our special teams should be as good as they've ever been.
"I'm excited about not only next year's football team, I just like our kids. When all this stuff started running through the press, it kind of tugged at my heart a little bit, and I just felt like these guys needed me to be here."
Those around Grobe weren't surprised by that statement.
Grobe is a unique man whose values aren't like those of most college football coaches. He's spent a career outside of the limelight, coaching under Fisher DeBerry at Air Force, then taking over two of the nation's worst programs in Ohio and Wake Forest. It seems that he's developed a little love of being the underdog over his long career.
Grobe made a choice to possibly build a legacy at a school that worships him versus going to a school that chews up coaches and spits them out. He can do what he loves coach football without many issues that bring pressure and distraction at football factories.
"I do have a special relationship here at Wake Forest," Grobe said. "(Athletic director) Ron Wellman and I talked about that. The students were over here at the athletic center today, and that's heartwarming for an old football coach. It's nice to know that you're appreciated.
"It's certainly a place that I feel like, if I could stay here my entire career, I'd be blessed. We could not be treated any better. Nobody in the world could treat us any better than Ron Wellman and this university have treated us."
Wellman's commitment to football recently can't be debated.
Wake was a school that often acted like even it didn't believe football could ever succeed at Wake Forest. They kept the vaults closed. Background facilities became outdated. Groves Stadium had barely been touched sine it opened in 1968.
Wellman has changed all that. He's not only the one responsible for finding and hiring Grobe, but he's also the one who made it a priority to upgrade everything that touches the program. Gone are the old offices, the old practice surfaces and the old press and luxury suite boxes.
Winning brings money, and money can bring more talent and wins. The Deacons finally are in that cycle, for the first time in their history.
Grobe looks at his quarterback position and sees the outstanding Riley Skinner for two more seasons. He sees Skylar Jones lurking behind him, waiting to show his explosive speed.
Running back Brandon Pendergrass, a redshirt freshman, joins the talented Josh Adams, a sophomore, in the backfield. Fullback Richard Belton will be back to block for them.
On defense, Grobe will have some fifth-year (and sixth-year) seniors leading the way, such as cornerback Antonio Smith, safety Chip Vaughn, linebackers Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux, and defensive end Matt Robinson (who received a medical hardship to play a sixth season).
Holes? Sure, there are some. Gone on offense will be Kenny Moore, Wake's most versatile weapon. Finding more talent at wide receiver will be a goal, which is part of the reason Grobe took the redshirt off Jordan Williams this year.
Zac Selmon and John Tereshinski, who have played almost all of the downs at tight end for several years now, will be gone. Center Steve Justice, one of the nation's best linemen, will be gone. Grobe has been searching for a young lineman to step up, and he hasn't found one so far.
Defense has fewer questions. The line should be outstanding with Robinson, Boo Robinson and John Russell, although replacing Jeremy Thompson at the other end will be a challenge. Wake is loaded with young linebackers and returns all of its starters in the secondary.
Gone will be explosive return man Kevin Marion, but back will be Swank, one of the nation's top kickers.
It's a list of talent strong enough to keep a coach at home.
"As he looks and reviews other circumstances and comes up with the right decision which is to stay at Wake Forest obviously he believes in what we're doing and he believes in the future and he's excited about the future," said Wellman, who spent more than half a day talking to Grobe about staying after Arkansas got serious.
Still searching for a sign that Grobe is the right personality for Wake Forest? At his press conference, he made it clear that he did not use his job hunt as leverage no more years, no more money.
Well, sort of. He did ask for more money for his assistant coaches.
"I've always talked to Ron about trying to pay our assistants as much as we possibly can," Grobe said. "It's important we keep our assistant coaches happy. But that's like a broken record with Ron. He gets tired of hearing me saying that."
At this point, Wellman likely isn't tired of anything about Grobe.
LG Matthew Brim, LT Louis Frazier, OC Steve Justice, WR/PR Kenneth Moore, TE Zac Selmon, DT Zach Stukes, TE John Tereshinski, DE Jeremy Thompson
RB Micah Andrews, FB De'Angelo Bryant, WR/KR Kevin Marion, SS Aaron Mason
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
QB Riley Skinner 6-1/200 Jr.
RB Josh Adams 6-0/180 So.
WR Chip Brinkman 6-1/210 Sr.
RG Chris DeGeare 6-4/362 Sr.
RT Jeff Griffin 6-3/298 Jr.
DT Boo Robinson 6-2/326 Jr.
DE Matt Robinson 6-2/248 Sr.
LB Stanley Arnoux 6-1/245 Sr.
LB Aaron Curry 6-3/240 Sr.
LB Chantz McClinic 5-10/225 Sr.
SS Kevin Patterson 5-10/185 Sr.
FS Chip Vaughn 6-2/220 Sr.
CB Brandon Ghee 6-0/182 Jr.
CB Alphonso Smith 5-9/191 *Sr.
Special Teams (2)
PK Sam Swank 6-2/206 Sr.
P Sam Swank 6-2/206 Sr.
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
FB Rich Belton (2006 starter), OT Joe Birdsong, WR Demir Boldin, RB Kevin Harris, QB Brett Hodges, OG Barrett McMillin, TE Ben Wooster
DE Anthony Davis, FS Alex Frye, LB Hunter Haynes, DS Nick Jarvis, CB Kerry Major, LB Dominique Midgett, LB Mike Rinfrette, DT John Russell, CB Channing Schofield, LB Matt Woodlief
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 2-6 (7) 3-8 None
1999 3-5 (5) 7-5 Aloha Bowl (W)
2000 1-7 (8) 2-9 None
2001 3-5 (7) 6-5 None
2002 3-5 (7) 7-6 Seattle Bowl (W)
2003 3-5 (7) 5-7 None
2004 1-7 (10) 4-7 None
2005 3-5 (4A) 4-7 None
2006 6-2 (1A) 11-3 Orange Bowl (L)
2007 5-3 (2A) 8-4 Meineke Bowl
ACC: 30-50 (.375)
Overall: 57-61 (.483)
Team 2007 Record^
Boston College 10-3 (6-2)
Clemson 9-3 (5-3)
Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Virginia 9-3 (6-2)
Mississippi 3-9 (0-8)
Vanderbilt 5-7 (2-6)
Florida State 7-5 (4-4)
Maryland 6-6 (3-5)
Miami 5-7 (2-6)
N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
Baylor 3-9 (0-8)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.