Wake's Grobe named coach of the year
By Ralph D. Russo
NEW YORK — Jim Grobe held Wake Forest together after a couple of potentially devastating injuries, refused to let his players feel sorry for themselves and turned the perennially downtrodden Demon Deacons into champions.
For orchestrating one of the most surprising turnarounds in college football — and the best season in Wake Forest’s 105-year football history — Grobe was honored as The Associated Press Coach of the Year on Wednesday.
“I can’t put into words how satisfying it’s been,” Grobe said in a recent phone interview. “It’s just now that we’re starting to appreciate what we’ve done and to enjoy it a little bit.”
In his sixth season at Wake Forest, Grobe took the Demon Deacons (11-2) from worst to first in the Atlantic Coast Conference without their starting quarterback and top tailback. Wake Forest set a school record for victories and won the ACC for the first time in 36 years.
“This is one football team that appreciates the opportunity to go to a bowl game and especially appreciates the opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl,” Grobe said.
The 54-year-old Grobe beat out a strong group of contenders for coach of the year, receiving 39 of 65 votes from the AP Top 25 voters.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who took the once-laughable Scarlet Knights within a victory of the Bowl Championship Series, finished second with 12 votes.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops was third with six votes. Ohio State’s Jim Tressel received three votes. Arkansas’ Houston Nutt got two votes. Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino and first-year Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema each received one vote.
Any of those would have been worthy winners, but no coach got more out of his team than Grobe.
“The best thing he did this year was convincing us to believe in our program and to believe in him and the rest of his coaches,” linebacker Aaron Curry said. “He convinced us to believe in our system and the things we were going to do.”
The Demon Deacons were coming off three straight losing seasons, but had one of the most experienced rosters in the ACC with 18 returning starters.
“I thought we were going to be a better football team,” Grobe said. “In fact, I thought we had potential to be a pretty good football team.”
Great seasons, however, rarely start the way this one began for the Deacons.
In the opener against Syracuse, quarterback Ben Mauk broke his arm and was lost for the season. Two weeks later, tailback Micah Andrews injured his knee and was done for the year.
“The first thing you worry about is the mentality of your football team when you lose really good players, especially with season-ending injuries,” Grobe said. “Our focus was to try and not change our approach each week and the way we talked to the players.
“Having a little bit more of a mature football team than we’ve had in the past and having a coaching staff that’s been together for a while, we didn’t dwell on the negatives very long. We were forward-thinking pretty quick.”
While tending to the team’s state of mind, Grobe and his staff were also revamping the offense. Under Grobe, Wake Forest has been the best rushing team in the ACC. Without its two best runners, the focus shifted for the Deacons.
They scrapped the spread-option built around Mauk’s running and built a simpler plan around redshirt freshman Riley Skinner. Without Andrews, Grobe shifted receiver Kenneth Moore to running back and got other receivers involved in the running game.
“We kind of adopted a little bit of an old-school mentality — and we typically try to do that anyway — but I think even more so we began to emphasize the importance of taking care of the football,” Grobe said.
Wake Forest was outgained this season 312 yards per game to 301, but was plus-14 in turnover differential, had a strong kicking game and played tough red-zone defense.
The Demon Deacons became the first ACC team to ever go 6-0 on the road and clinched their first Bowl Championship Series berth with a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game.
“We had a team that was focused on trying to win football games, and not coming out of the game worried about their stats,” Grobe said.
Grobe, who had a winning record in his first two seasons at Wake Forest, is a hot commodity again and being mentioned as a possible candidate for high-profile jobs.
“I have no idea what the future holds,” he said, “but I could not be happier than I am at Wake Forest right now.”
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