December 4, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM Wake's early season results showed that perhaps the team's offense is worse than expected and the defense is better than expected.
Those issues should not be total surprises.
The Demon Deacons don't have many returning scorers. Despite the addition of James Johnson and his three-point abilities, they're still pressed to find easy baskets.
While defense has been an issue in the past, new coach Dino Gaudio has spent the majority of his time focusing on it. The players now speak of it first, and he's made playing time dependent on it.
But clearly the biggest issue raised in the early going was Wake's inside game. It was an obvious issue going into the season, but what's happened so far has been a bit of a surprise.
First, Jamie Skeen started off in the middle. That seemed a bit doomed from the start, as Skeen is really more of a three-point shooting power forward. Sure enough, Skeen looked out of place. In addition, Skeen's intensity has been questioned by Gaudio, sometimes severely in practices.
So it would seem that the door would be open for David Weaver, who saw a good bit of action last year behind Kyle Visser.
But instead, it was Chas McFarland who filled the void. Going into the season, McFarland would have seemed a longshot to fit in with a running attack. But no one has worked harder.
"With a young team, we just said, The guys that have practiced the hardest are the guys who are going to play,'" Gaudio said. "And (McFarland) had a couple of very good days of practice.
"I think trying to teach these guys lessons that are going to last them four years and get this program where we want it to be, we're just going to reward guys for hard play in practice. And he did that. He grabbed that spot."
It has been impressive to see McFarland, a seven-footer, diving for balls or pushing himself down the floor. His game against Iowa (15 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) was a revelation, even for those who had been watching him in practice.
But is he a real solution? McFarland is more mobile than he was last year, and he's always had a soft touch. He's still not strong enough, and he's not going to be athletic enough to match some big men.
McFarland, though, has shown that he can be effective, but since Skeen hasn't, the most important player in this equation actually may be Weaver. McFarland will need rest and is likely to find foul trouble. If Wake's only solution is to go very small with Skeen, it could make for a long year.
Weaver has the ability to run the floor, to block shots and to match up against athletic big men. The problem has been his intensity and focus, and his desire to go for the block.
Against USC-Upstate, in the sixth game of the season, Weaver finally showed some of that in 12 minutes off the bench. He had five points, four rebounds and two blocks.
If he can show the ability to focus on the defensive end, Wake actually may have two serviceable big men who can help battle in the middle.
GROBE HAPPY IN WINSTON-SALEM
Jim Grobe again is being mentioned with a number of job openings. That should not be a surprise to anyone at this point.
Few could say that Grobe is not one of the nation's top coaches right now. He's turned around two of the nation's worst football programs, Ohio and Wake Forest. More important, he's proved that he's not a flash in the pan, building consistency at Wake.
But is Grobe actually making himself a serious candidate?
Here are the facts. Grobe is 56. He has Wake in its second straight bowl and is one year removed from an Orange Bowl appearance.
He knows that this is probably the final window for movement in his career. So he's not going to completely avoid interest from other schools. It's clear that he had some contact with Nebraska, for example.
At the same time, he also knows that he has a good thing going at Wake. His contract situation is locked in, and he speaks of what once seemed like one of America's worst jobs in glowing terms.
"You never know what the future holds, but I think everybody knows how happy I am at Wake Forest," Grobe said. "That doesn't mean things don't happen in coaching, but I can't ask more from (athletic director) Ron Wellman. The fans could not be better to us. We couldn't have a better group of players. This is a wonderful place to be."
Wake has worked to improve football facilities at a rate unprecedented in the school's history. While recruiting also has been extremely difficult at Wake, better facilities and a winning program have changed some of that. Recruits are calling Wake. Season tickets are sold out.
"Once you're in the Orange Bowl, like we were last year, it's an unbelievable shot in the arm for a school like Wake Forest," Grobe said.
Grobe can look at his program and see success in the future. That's unlike other Wake coaches in the past, who knew they needed to try to get out while they could after a winning season.
It's also important to understand Grobe's personality. While he's certainly driven, he's not a bright-light seeker. He's spent his whole career in roles outside the limelight, including learning under Fisher DeBerry, probably one of the lowest-profile successful coaches in college football history.
Grobe also is smart enough to see that the world of college football is changing. No longer do a handful of schools dominate the landscape. Yet the pressure at many schools is still as high as ever to win.
For example, at Nebraska, Bill Callahan was forced out after one bad season. In the previous two, he went 17-9, went to the Big 12 championship game and appeared in two bowls.
His predecessor, Frank Solich, was pushed out after going to six straight bowl games, winning a national championship, winning at least nine games in five of six seasons, and going 58-19 overall.
In comparison, Grobe knows that he faces different expectations at Wake. While he's spoken this year about the increased pressure around the program, he understands that it's a totally different pressure than at Nebraska or Michigan. Grobe can slip back to 4-7 at Wake, and fans will give him a chance to get back on track.
That allows Grobe to build his program in ways that he wants, as opposed to reacting to booster pressure all the time. In college athletics, that's rare these days.
Besides, after a career of being the underdog to major programs while at Air Force, Ohio and Wake, perhaps Grobe really has developed a love for sticking it to established programs.
What does it all mean? Probably that the window for Grobe to leave Wake is very, very small. He's at a winning program in a BCS conference, which should eliminate almost any horizontal moves. Therefore, the job would have to be a perfect storm of variables.
"I think Wake Forest feels comfortable with our staff and with myself, and we feel comfortable at Wake Forest," Grobe said. "It's a good situation because it's unusual both sides are happy.
"But that's just the way it is here at Wake Forest."