GREENSBORO, Ga. -- Pinch me. Punch me. Knock some sense into me, because what I'm seeing right now doesn't compute. Who I'm seeing right now, rather. And what this particular person is wearing. Makes no sense at all.
|Jim Grobe is 45-39 at Wake Forest, including an appearance in the 2007 Orange Bowl. (Getty Images)|
Which means he's still coaching the Demon Deacons.
Part of me -- the bigger part -- applauds him. In a coaching era stained by soulless nomads like Bobby Petrino and born-again cheaters like Rick Neuheisel, Jim Grobe's loyalty to Wake Forest is unusual, remarkable and even a little bit inspirational.
But another part of me -- the louder part -- questions him. Why is he still here? Whatever he's making in annual salary, and it's rumored to be somewhere in the $1.1 million range, he could make a lot more somewhere else. Just this past offseason alone, Nebraska and Michigan seemed to like him. Arkansas seemed to love him. Those schools ended up hiring coaches at an average salary of $2.2 million, roughly double Grobe's suspected deal.
But it's not just the money. Even if he doesn't care about the cash, Grobe wants to win, and win big. He has won shockingly big at Wake Forest, with 20 wins and an ACC title over the past two years, but that hasn't been easy. If you're the football coach at Wake Forest, winning never is.
How brutal is the Wake Forest job? Put it this way: The Indianapolis Colts are committed to promoting assistant coach Jim Caldwell whenever Tony Dungy steps down, despite Caldwell's horrific career record of 26-63 at Wake Forest. Or this way: Al Groh got the New York Jets job in 2000, and the Virginia job in '01, despite going 26-40 at Wake Forest. Good coaches fail at Wake Forest. Everyone understands.
By Gregg Doyel
Speaking of strange sights ... what is David Cutcliffe doing at Duke?
The Wake Forest job is hard. Duke is impossible. And Cutcliffe wasn't desperate. Even though stupid Ole Miss fired him in 2004, he won bigger there than Tommy Tuberville. Before and after, Cutcliffe ran the offense at Tennessee.
This man has a large resume. Duke has a miniature football program. Why would he go there?
"When I heard the rumors, I was surprised," says Duke receiver Eron Riley. "Coach Cutcliffe, Tennessee ... I didn't know he'd want to leave that for Duke."
Rather than wait for something better -- which is to say, any other job in Division I-A -- Cutcliffe investigated the Duke opening. He spoke to school vice presidents and provosts. The president. The director of admissions. The director of athletics. Everywhere, he received assurances that Duke was tired of being Duke.
"They convinced me they were serious," he says.
Indeed, Cutcliffe estimates having tripled the budget of predecessors Carl Franks and Ted Roof, who were a combined 13-90. Cutcliffe has recreated much of his staff from Ole Miss, making hires from the likes of Alabama, Tennessee, the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints. He says: "We offered nine people jobs, and nine people said yes."
Plus he added four coaches in strength and conditioning, most of them after announcing during spring practice that Duke was "the fattest, softest football team I've ever seen."
Cutcliffe says he started laughing when he stopped practice to make that "fattest, softest" declaration.
"My coaches thought I'd gone nuts, but I was thrilled," he says. "I knew we could make an immediate impact through conditioning."
We'll see, but here's my guess: This was college football's best hire of the offseason.
Groh remembers watching Wake Forest two years ago in the Orange Bowl and his wife saying, "Nobody could appreciate more what they've accomplished." And she was right.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for what they've done at Wake Forest," Groh says.
Everyone does. But nobody expects it to continue. Nobody outside the program, anyway. At some schools, places like Texas and Southern California and Ohio State, you'd have to work awfully damn hard not to win. Imagine Jim Grobe at a place like that, or at a place like Michigan or Nebraska or even Arkansas.
For now, that's all we can do. Imagine it. And why? Because Grobe likes it where he is. Simple as that.
"I really and truly don't have one thing that I'm not happy about at Wake Forest," he says. "I told my staff I'd do anything I could to help them become a coordinator or a head coach (somewhere else), but if they're waiting for me to take the next job and leave, they might be disappointed."
Indeed, Grobe has it pretty good at Wake Forest. Don't get all up in arms, Deacons fans. I'm not trying to chase your man out the door, and I'm not overlooking the lengths the school has gone to improve that onetime joke of a job. Athletic director Ron Wellman -- as good in his job as Grobe is in his -- has overseen an ambitious facility expansion that put Field Turf onto BB&T Field, built a seven-story Deacon Tower above it, and renovated the team's Pruitt Football Center.
"And those are just three phases of a six-step project," Grobe says.
Additionally, Grobe has been given a 10-year contract, his staff salaries are now competitive within the ACC, and he has such recruiting freedom that he should build a second home in Jacksonville, Fla., which he mines for some of his best talent. Wake Forest isn't a bad job any more. It might even be a pretty good job.
But given its lofty academic standards, it'll never be a great job. Recruiting at Wake Forest is like visiting a seven-course buffet and being allowed to pick only from the salad bowl. Sure you'll survive, but everyone else in the restaurant is having a lot more fun.
This is why so many people are surprised when Grobe continues to win at Wake Forest, and then stay. Even his own players. The rumors this offseason were particularly thick, with media in Arkansas reporting Grobe had accepted the Razorbacks' job. When Grobe gathered his team for a meeting and told them the reports were untrue, they shouted, "Sooieeeee!"
"That was the best day in Wake Forest history," Wake Forest senior linebacker Aaron Curry says.
For now, perhaps. But with Grobe around, greater days are possible. Greater than 11 wins and the Orange Bowl in 2006. Greater than the nine wins last season, proving 2006 was no fluke. And Grobe wants greater days. He's greedy when it comes to that. This nice, humble man reveals his ruthless side when he practically warns his bosses at Wake Forest not to get complacent.
"What Ron Wellman has done for me is give me the chance to win," Grobe said, ticking off the improvements to his program's salaries, facilities and recruiting budget. "Now, going forward, we have to continue to do those things we've been doing. ... If I didn't feel we had the opportunity to be better every year, I'd move on."
Don't test him, Wake Forest. Just give the man what he wants.