Clawson is known as a program-builder – and after five straight losing seasons, the Demon Deacons sure could use a few tweaks.
Clawson on Tuesday called it “truly a dream come true” to be introduced as Wake Forest’s coach.
“We have a winner,” athletic director Ron Wellman said of the 46-year-old Clawson, who led turnarounds at Fordham, Richmond and, most recently, Bowling Green.
Now he faces another one at Wake Forest.
“It all begins with getting the right people on board,” Clawson said. “It’s having a shared vision of what you want the program to look like. It’s getting players to buy into the commitment level it takes to become a good football team.
“It’s not, ‘snap the fingers’ and it happens,” he added. “You have to have players that buy into every aspect of the program.”
His hiring caps a weeklong search for Jim Grobe’s replacement. Grobe stepped down Dec. 2 after a 13-year stay that included the best three-year run in school history.
Clawson called Wake Forest “a special place” and says when the job came open last week, he hoped to be considered for it.
“Certainly in building the program at Richmond (in the mid-2000s), one of the people I stole from was coach Grobe,” Clawson said.
“He proved that Wake Forest can win at a very high level in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He did it with class. He did it with dignity. … Replacing a man of his stature is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.”
But the past five years have been mostly lean ones for the Demon Deacons, who have reached the postseason only once since reaching three straight bowl games from 2006-08.
“Our vision is to win championships here,” Clawson said. “I think if you set your goal anything lower than being a champion, then you’re setting the standard too low. … We know it’s going to take a lot of work. We have to get the right people on board … but I believe wholeheartedly that can be done at Wake Forest, and we will work relentlessly toward that goal until it is accomplished.”
Clawson will have to rebuild much of the roster. Most of the key players from this year’s 4-8 season – including quarterback Tanner Price, receiver Michael Campanaro and nose tackle Nikita Whitlock – were seniors.
Making things tougher, Wake Forest shares the Atlantic Division with No. 1 Florida State, which is headed to the BCS title game, plus No. 12 Clemson and starting next year, No. 18 Louisville, which replaces Big Ten-bound Maryland.
Plus, the Demon Deacons’ annual cross-division opponent is No. 22 Duke, which won the Coastal Division – and, coincidentally, Clawson was the successor to David Cutcliffe as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2008 when he left for Duke.
With a nod to Wake Forest’s unique method of celebrating big victories, he said “we look forward to rolling the quad many times here.”
Turnarounds seem to be Clawson’s specialty.
He rebuilt the FCS programs at Fordham and Richmond, earning Division I-AA national coach of the year awards at each of those schools.
Fordham won 22 games in the 10 years before he arrived, but in his fourth season he went 10-3 and reached the Division I-AA quarterfinals.
Then he took over the Spiders and Wellman said he “performed the same magic and quickly established Richmond as a national power,” reaching the postseason twice before leaving behind the core of the Spiders team that won the 2008 national title.
Most recently, he led Bowling Green (10-3) to an upset of previously unbeaten and then-No. 16 Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference championship game last week.
The win over the Huskies earned Bowling Green its third postseason appearance in his five years there, and his record with the Falcons was 32-31.
Clawson called it “gut-wrenching and heart-breaking to leave a group of players that I just fell in love with over the past five years.”
He will not coach the Falcons against Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Bowling Green elevated special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Adam Scheier to interim head coach.
Clawson said he would like to bring all three of his coordinators from Bowling Green to Wake Forest, but asked for patience as he assembled his staff.