A Quick Dave Clawson Primer

Here’s some background on Dave Clawson, the man who will be named Wake Forest’s next football coach.

So the big question – “who will be Wake’s next football coach?” – has already been answered. The Demon Deacons have called a press conference for today at 4:30 p.m. And the reports that started last night with CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman have since been confirmed multiple times. 

The hiring of Clawson wraps up a quick, targeted one-week search by Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman. Wellman also interviewed Ball State coach Pete Lembo

I’m on record as saying Lembo would have been a good fit at Wake Forest. He’s a proven winner as a head coach at Lehigh, Elon, and Ball State. He’s got some local connections through his time at Elon, and he’s shown he knows how to get the job done at a private school with strong academics – both Lehigh and Elon fit the mold here. Lembo also ran a high-powered, pass-happy offense. 

That said, I think Clawson is a worthy hire as well. Like Lembo, Clawson’s won as a head coach at multiple stops. This season, Clawson led Bowling Green to the MAC title, knocking off unbeaten Northern Illinois (Dave Doeren’s old stomping grounds) in the conference title game. 

Don’t be put off by Clawson’s 90-80 career record – he’s performed impressive rebuilding jobs at all three of his stops.

When Clawson became the head coach at Fordham in 1999, he took over a program that hadn’t had a winning season since 1988. He’d changed that by Year 3, going 7-4 in 2001. The next year the Rams went 10-3 and made the I-AA quarterfinals. After a nine-win season in 2003, Clawson moved on to Richmond.

There Clawson took over a program that had gone 9-24 in its three previous seasons. But he quickly got things back on track, winning nine games in his second season and 11 in his fourth and final one. The team he left behind in 2008 to become the offensive coordinator at Tennessee went on to win the FCS national title under Mike London.

Clawson’s one ill-fated season running Phillip Fulmer’s offense at Tennessee is the closest thing to a black mark on his resume. The Volunteers were horrid on offense that season and Fulmer was let go with three games left in the season. But it probably says something about Clawson’s already established reputation that he essentially bounced up from that debacle, landing the head coaching job at Bowling Green less than 12 days after departing Tennessee.

At Bowling Green, Clawson inherited a program that had known success under his predecessor, Gregg Brandon, but was trending in the opposite direction when Clawson took over. The Falcons bottomed out at 2-10 in Clawson’s second season (2010), but have since rebounded nicely, going from five wins in 2011, to eight in 2012 to 10 so far in 2013. 

In total, Clawson has 14 years as a college head coach at three stops. Combine his records from the first two years at each stop and you get a six-year total of 24-47. Clawson’s combined record in the other eight seasons – after he’d moved through the rebuilding phase – is 76-33. Not too shabby.

Also impressive is the fact that Clawson has compiled that extensive resume as a head coach and yet is only 46. So Wake gets the best of both worlds, a coach with plenty of experience and also with seemingly plenty of miles left on his coaching odometer.

There are, however, a few potential causes for concern. Though you can’t really judge him fairly off his one-year horror show at Tennessee, Clawson’s offenses also haven’t set the world on fire at Bowling Green either. This year has been by far the most prolific BGSU offense under Clawson, averaging 35.4 points per game, 27th-best in the nation. Before that though, the Falcons were 94th in scoring offense (22.9) in 2012, 63rd (26.5 ppg) in 2011, 99th (21.3 ppg) in 2010 and 55th (28.5 ppg) in 2009. Those aren’t numbers that will sit well with a Wake Forest fan base that had grown tired of the offensive struggles of Jim Grobe’s team in recent seasons. Still, you don’t get hired on as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee to replace David Cutcliffe if you don’t have a reputation as a top offensive mind. And again, the Falcons’ output this season was impressive.

Another issue: Can Clawson recruit at this level and in this locale? That year at Tennessee is the only season he’s spent at an FBS program. And other than there and Richmond, his coaching resume is filled with stops in the Northeast and the Midwest. 

Still, given the difficulties that come with the Wake job – small school, small alumni base, strong academics, and following in the footsteps of the greatest coach in the program’s history – landing a coach without a few question marks was going to be pretty much impossible. Given Clawson’s many positives, this looks like a strong hire for Ron Wellman and Wake Forest.