Dave Clawson on being away from family, ‘having a blast’ with Wake’s players

The Wake Forest coach has quarantined himself because his wife, a cancer survivor, is high-risk during the pandemic

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is preparing the Demon Deacons for the 2020 season. (Nell Redmond / AP Photo)

If college football is going to be played this season — and it appears as though the ACC is determined to do so despite COVID-19 outbreaks that have forced North Carolina, NC State and other schools into eliminating on-campus classes for the fall semester — sacrifices are going to have to be made.

Few, however, have made a more personal sacrifice than Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson.

Because his wife, Catherine, is a cancer survivor who is at a higher risk of complications from the coronavirus, Clawson has chosen to isolate himself from her and his family for the duration of the season.

“When I’m working, coaching 110 to 120 players and having a staff of 50, I don’t know how I could go home at night and honestly tell my wife I couldn’t have come in contact with (the virus),” he said in June. “I love coaching, but I love my wife more. There’s no way I’m going to do anything that would put her at risk.”

With preseason camp underway and the quarantine now in effect, Clawson took time out recently to provide an update on how he, his family and his Deacons are dealing with their unique situation:

What are the logistics of your living arrangements?

It’s still summer, so Catherine, Courtney and Eric are somewhere else and I’ve been able to stay at home. My daughter’s going to college, so she’s going to go back (to Davidson) for her senior year. When they come back to move her in, I will stay in a hotel. Then I was going to stay in a hotel or I was even looking about getting one of those sleeping pods and putting it in the office and sleeping there. And then my son’s school decided that they’re going to go online for the first 4-6 weeks, so my wife and son will stay out of town so I can stay at the house.

If at any point his school becomes live and in-person, then I’ll get that order for the sleeping pod back up or stay at a hotel. So we’re quarantining from each other. I was able to see her a little bit ago. I quarantined again, took a COVID test and saw them for a quick weekend. But over the last 5-6 weeks, I’ve probably seen them a total of 4-5 days.

How has that weighed on you?

It’s not fun. I mean, you get married to someone because you enjoy spending time with them. If you’re in a good marriage and you enjoy spending time with your wife, this is hard. But like I’ve said, we didn’t take this as a perspective of complaining or woe is us.

People in the military have to do this all the time, and they’re risking their life. You have medical professionals that every single day work with COVID patients and put their lives on the line. I think we’ve had 900 people in our country who are medical professionals that have died from COVID. I’m coaching football. We’ll be fine.

It’s not fun. It’s not an enjoyable aspect of it. But it’s the reality of the situation. It’s not a hard decision, it’s just an unfortunate circumstance of COVID. But we’ll get through it. It’s like not seeing your players. When you do get to spend time with them, I’ll probably appreciate it and enjoy it even more — even though I do enjoy it when I do on a daily basis.

For me, that’s been the worst and most challenging part of it. It’s been way harder than managing all the protocols we have. You go home at night and look forward to seeing your wife and your kids and to not have that, mentally it’s tough. But I was single the first six years I coached. You just dive completely into your job.

What have these first couple of weeks of preseason camp been like on the field?

I’m really grateful to our student-athletes. There’s been a great deal of sacrifice and discipline just to get to where we are right now.

My approach right now is that every day is a good day. Every day that our football team is together, where we are able to meet with them, feed them and have practice with them is a good day. So many times we take a long-term approach with our goals. I think right now the focus is just the daily goal of keeping our team safe, healthy, fed, keeping morale up and trying to get to the next day. So far we’ve been able to do that.

How confident are you that you will be able to play this season?

I think the ACC has handled this wisely in terms of delaying things. We’ll see where we are. I’ve told our team that I’m not 100% sure that we’re going to play. I don’t think anybody is. But based on everything they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made, I think it’s worth still trying to play. If we can manage this next segment of getting the students back and try to stay relatively COVID-free, we’ll have an opportunity to play games. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s going to be challenging and difficult.

How is the team handling the uncertainty?

We’re having a blast. I have probably enjoyed this last week or two as much as any time in my career. We’re very routine-oriented. We’ve missed spring and we’ve missed all of this stuff. The old adage is that you don’t appreciate something until you don’t have it. There’s an appreciation for being together, for having meetings and for having practice. The guys are enjoying it and it’s fun. I love being around them. This is probably as much as I’ve enjoyed coaching.

Has this been the biggest challenge of your coaching career?

This is certainly a unique and different challenge. I don’t feel at times like I’m a football coach. All I’m talking about is COVID, wearing a mask, hydrate and health. I go around the football field reminding them to stay 15 feet apart and to keep their mask on. The enjoyment comes from watching the players enjoy competing. We’re dealing with the pandemic.

If we can pull this off, how rewarding would that be? But we want to pull it off with minimal risk. If at any point, the medical people say we shouldn’t play, the risk level is too great, we will certainly accept that position. Right now we’re being told by our experts in the ACC that it is safe to continue to try to play.