Clawson puts down roots at Wake Forest

The much-traveled Demon Deacons coach has rebuilt programs time and again, but a new eight-year contract has him focused on building an ACC winner

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson talks with wide receivers Jaquarii Roberson, right, and Kendall Hinton, left, during a practice. (Walt Unks / Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

If Dave Clawson wasn’t a football coach, he’d probably be one of those handymen who go around flipping houses on HGTV.

That’s because he’s made a living out of taking over programs in disrepair, building them back up and then moving on to the next fixer-upper opportunity every four to five years.

It’s a career track that produced successful results at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green before arriving at Wake Forest, where he has breathed life back into the Deacons by leading them to bowl games in each of the past three years.

But just when it appeared time for Clawson to get antsy and make another move, the 52-year-old New York native decided to break his pattern and sign an eight-year contract extension that will keep him in Winston-Salem at least through the 2026 season.

“You work really hard to get to a place like Wake Forest,” Clawson said earlier this summer at the ACC’s Football Kickoff event in Charlotte. “And you want to enjoy it.”

One of the big reasons Clawson decided to make such a definitive commitment to the Deacons, despite a change in leadership from retiring athletic director Ron Wellman to successor Jon Currie, is because of the commitment school administrators have made to him and his program.

The most visible aspect of that support is a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility that has helped level the playing field between Wake Forest and its ACC rivals. Improvements have also been made to the team’s offices, meeting space and weight rooms, as well as BB&T Field.

Locking Clawson into an extended deal was just one more move designed to secure the long-term future of the program.

“It’s a two-part deal,” Clawson said. “The school has made a serious commitment to football if you look at our facilities. This isn’t the same old Wake Forest. It’s kind of neat that you can end up with a much better job and you don’t have to move anywhere. This is a much different job than the one I took in 2013.”

Wake is only 28-35 in its five years under Clawson, but that includes consecutive 3-9 records in his first two seasons after inheriting a program that had grown stagnant under former coach Jim Grobe.

Although the Deacons have gone on to win three straight bowl games for the first time in school history since then, Clawson is convinced they can still set their sights even higher. He often speaks — both publicly and among his team — about playing to win championships rather than simply doing enough to qualify for the postseason every year.

It’s why his players weren’t surprised when they found out their coach would be staying for the long haul rather than going elsewhere to begin a new challenge.

“My sophomore and junior years, I used to give him some trouble, like, ‘Hey, what if Notre Dame or some big-time school starts calling,’” senior linebacker Justin Strnad said. “But he honestly loves it here. His daughter goes to school at Davidson, his son is here. I truly believe he loves coming to work at Wake Forest every day. I think it would take a crazy offer to get him to leave.”

Physical amenities and a supportive administration aren’t the only factors that have led Clawson and his family to finally start putting down roots in Winston-Salem.

Strong recruiting efforts since his arrival have built talent base and depth the Deacons haven’t had since their ACC championship season of 2006.

That’s especially true on the offensive side of the ball, where Clawson is blessed with two experienced quarterbacks that have won games for him — newly named starter Jamie Newman and backup Sam Hartman — along with returning 1,000-yard rusher Cade Carney and proven receivers Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington.

Despite all that returning talent Wake was picked to finish next-to-last in the Atlantic Division, proving that there’s still work to be done in changing the perception of the program.

Not that such things matter to Clawson or his players.

“We’ve outperformed our projections since I’ve been at Wake,” Carney said. “If we have to keep out-performing our projections that’s fine because preseason (projections) don’t matter. It’s not really fuel to our fire. We already have enough motivation.”

It’s an attitude that comes straight from the top with a coach that has enough confidence in the program he has built to stick around and maintain it instead of starting over again somewhere else.

“If you ask the coaches in the league, I think they take us very seriously,” Clawson said. “Changing media perception takes longer. People were able to think of us in such a way for so long because even when there was success it was looked upon as a fluke. But now I think we have something sustainable.”