Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe's 68-66 record, three bowl wins and lone top-25 finish in 11 seasons with the school won't wow many outsiders, but a quick glance at his coaching profile on the Demon Deacons' website and those numbers quickly gain some meaning.
"Grobe has taken the Deacons where no previous Wake Forest football coach has gone," the profile says. "He has led the Deacons to more bowl games, more eight-win seasons, and more bowl victories than any coach in school history. Grobe and the Deacons put together a three-year streak of winning seasons which had not been accomplished in over 50 years. The Deacons' 33 wins from 2006-09 are the most wins ever during a four-year period."
In short, Grobe has made an impact at the small Winston-Salem, N.C. school, which is why it's little surprise David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported on Friday that he could be a "back-up" candidate for Penn State in the event that its pursuits of its top choices fail to bear fruit.
Grobe, 59, is a Huntington, WV native and previously worked as head coach at Ohio for six seasons before making the jump to Wake Forest. In the time since, he's led the Deacons to an Atlantic Coast Conference title and was named national Coach of the Year by a number of publications in 2006 after posting an 11-3 record. Not bad at a school that boasts undergraduate enrollment just over 4,000 and plays against traditional powers Florida State, Boston College and Miami on a regular basis.
For some deeper perspective on Grobe's time in Winston-Salem, Martin Rickman of SB Nation's Wake Forest blog Blogger So Dear was kind enough to answer some questions for SB Nation Pittsburgh. Check out his responses below.
AB: Generally, how do Wake Forest fans feel about the job Jim Grobe has done? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?
MR: Jim Grobe is one of the most revered coaches in Wake Forest history, across all sports. He brought the Demon Deacons an ACC Championship and has turned the team from a cellar-dweller to a fixture in the bowl game schedule.
It’s not always pretty, and there is the sense that the way that Grobe coaches football games is playing not to lose rather than going for the jugular, but there’s a reason Coach Grobe is constantly named among the best coaches in the country, and is in the discussion for big programs. Last year was a down year, but if the Deacs keep at it on the recruiting trail, the ceiling is high.
AB: What has his team's offensive identity been at Wake Forest?
MR: The offensive identity has shifted to fit the personnel over the last few years. The Deacs ran an orbit offense that revolved around misdirection, sweeps and shotgun motion, while the passing attack focused on intermediate routes and bubble screens in the 2006 ACC title season, and that’s the identity most who casually follow Wake Forest assume the Deacs still have.
A few years later, Wake tried the I-formation and gave power running a shot. It didn’t work fabulously, as linemen were smaller and better in pass blocking schemes. That team switched back to the shotgun.
Now, there’s a mixture of shotgun and pistol, with some running game worked in.
AB: What has his team's defensive philosophy been with the Demon Deacons?
MR: It’s a bend-don’t-break with a focus on maximizing field position and being opportunistic. The corners give big cushions, the Deacs play a lot of zone in general, and like to drop linebackers in space.
AB: How would you rate Grobe's quarterback development at Wake Forest and why?
MR: I think Grobe has done a good job with quarterbacks. Riley Skinner was a four-year starter, and the winningest quarterback in Demon Deacon history. Tanner Price came in right after and looks to be even more talented. He has a big arm and makes throws in tight windows. The Deacs have more help on the way in the form of 2011 QB Kevin Sousa and 2012 dual-threat QB Tyler Cameron.
AB: What is Grobe's approach to recruiting and how would you rate his efforts?
MR: Grobe looks for Misfit Toys: guys who are coming off injuries, are a bit small, are athletes without a position or under-recruited. There was a high focus on North Carolina early, but he has since found a pipeline in Florida, with heavy emphasis on Texas and Georgia. Wake has done a terrific job. They get good players who get better throughout the program because of Grobe’s philosophy of redshirting and strength and conditioning. For a small program with a heavy emphasis on academics, what Jim Grobe has done with talent is downright remarkable.
AB: What kind of fit would you see Grobe being with the Big Ten? How do you think he would fare at that level?
MR: It would be a good one. Grobe’s a Midwest guy, he coached at Ohio University (and coached well). He’s hard-nosed. He fits right in there with Bielema, Pelini, Ferentz and those guys. I’m honestly a bit stunned Grobe hasn’t tried to get to the Big Ten earlier.
AB: How does Grobe handle off-field team issues (i.e. academics, legal issues, NCAA rules)?
MR: It’s a strict "no knothead" policy. Grobe doesn’t put up with a lot, and he has a short leash for off-field issues. He’ll give a guy second and third chances if he thinks they just made a mistake or an err in judgment, but character is very important to the Wake Forest team.
AB: Is Grobe prepared to become the face of a program in this kind of turmoil?
He’s repeatedly said he has one more big challenge left in him, and if there’s anyone to take a slow and steady process without cutting corners to rebuild Penn State’s legacy, Grobe is a good one. He will take his time, and change won’t happen overnight. But he will bring in his guys, while staying committed to being competitive.
Penn State won’t be the best team in America, but they’ll be respected again. And when Grobe was ready to retire, the program would be in great shape to take a big leap back into the national title conversation.
AB: Any general thoughts about Grobe and Penn State?
I shudder when I think about Wake without Grobe. As much as I get frustrated with his assistant coaches and his refusal to make big changes or take chances, he’s the best coach in Wake football history. It would be really hard to replace him. But you don’t turn down Penn State if you’re Jim Grobe.
It would be a terrific opportunity for a coach in the last years of his career, and the pairing is a good one. So, while I’d be sad to lose him, I would be proud of the time he’s spend here and look forward to seeing what he could do with the Nittany Lions.