WFU football coach Dave Clawson’s 2023 ACC Kickoff Q&A transcript

Charlotte, NC – Wake Forest Demon Deacons head football coach Dave Clawson took questions from the media on Tuesday at the ACC Kickoff. The full transcript is below:

Q. I wanted to ask you about Mitch and his best attribute, you think as he is going to be the full-team starter obviously? What do you like best about Mitch?

DAVE CLAWSON: When you talk about quarterbacks, they have to have more than one attribute. I think with Mitch there’s a very complete skill set.

He is extremely accurate. He has good arm strength. He is athletic. He has really good instincts, great work ethic, super teammate, and he is genuine.

You know, he’s ready to go, and I think what happened last year when he had to start the first game, that’s not anything that anybody wanted, but I think just having that experience of being the starter will help him this year. He’s smart. He knows doing it for one game and doing it for 12 consecutive games is a completely different challenge, but I think he’s ready to go. He just has a great work ethic.

Q. Every two years since 2016 you all have had exactly 15 wins. Seven wins, then eight, then seven, then eight, then 4-11. You had, I believe it was eight last year. Is that a level of consistency that you’re like, hey, this program is good here? Is there another level that you want to take it to? How do you go about accomplishing that with a team that’s losing quite a bit of production?

DAVE CLAWSON: Thanks for that stat. I never knew that, that it was 15 every two years. I think there’s two parts to the question.

The first is, yes, there is a level of consistency that we want to our program. I said this a few years ago that I hope we get to the point at Wake Forest that in our down years we’re still getting seven and eight wins and getting the bowls. Obviously two years ago in ’21 when we had 11 wins and played for the ACC Championship, that’s always the standard we would like to get to.

But the way that I approach it is that we want to maximize the ability of every team we have. So I think every football team kind of has a range of what they can accomplish, and our goal every year is to maximize that range. We’ll start figuring out in the next month during training camp what the range of this football team is.

I think we have a chance to have a really good team. We lost 11 starters, but we’re not young. A great example is at left tackle we lost a seventh-year player, Je’Vionte’ Nash. Well, Wake is going to be young again. The guy that’s starting left tackle for us now is a seventh-year senior, Spencer Clapp. We lost two six-year players on the O-line in Loic Nya and Sean MaGinn. Luke Petitbon in his fourth year is back.

So we have guys that maybe haven’t played a lot, but they’ve been in our program for three, four, five years, and now they’re having their opportunity to play.

There’s still a maturity of our team. We’re not as experienced, but we’ll get that experience, and I think we’ll be in really good shape.

Q. It feels like a lot of the talk about Wake Forest this offseason isn’t about the team, whether it’s people you’ve lost to the transfer portal, the NIL boogeyman coming to try and take some players away. You’re replacing a new wide receivers coach, cornerback coach. There’s not a whole lot of talk of what’s actually on the team. How do you keep the guys sort of focused on, hey, here’s who is in the room, here’s what we’re going to do and keep the focus back on them versus what’s not there?

DAVE CLAWSON: You know, this whole narrative, and really Sam Hartman went to Notre Dame. Rondell Bothroyd went to Oklahoma. Those guys spent five years in our program. They did everything right.

What’s not talked about is all the players who stayed. You don’t think these guys all had offers to go to other schools? We had six to eight players that were tampered with, that were given great NIL opportunities, and they all chose to stay.

I look at it as a positive. We had the second fewest players in the country going into the portal. So like most football teams in the country, yeah, we lost some guys in the portal. I’m more happy about all the guys that stayed.

That doesn’t make as good of a headline for a story, but our program has been based on, again, recruiting the right guys, retaining them, and graduating them.

We are still attempting to run a college football program at Wake Forest. We have a collective, and I’m sure all these guys are getting something. It’s not like we’re ignoring the new age of college football, but our program is still based on retention and graduation.

If you look at the amount of players who went into the portal, I would argue that we’re managing this as well as anybody in the country right now.

Q. Talk to me about the opening of the McCreary Football Complex and what it means to the program.

DAVE CLAWSON: It’s just another major step in developing a top-flight Power Five program. There’s this old narrative that somehow Wake Forest isn’t as committed to football as other Power Five schools. Again, that narrative from the 1950s to 2000, I wish it would go away.

In the last seven years we’ve invested more than $120 million in new facilities. We have a brand new indoor that we opened in ’16, the McCreary Fieldhouse. We have the Sutton Sports Performance Center. I would put our weight room, our meeting rooms, our day-to-day facilities up there with anybody in the country.

We just opened up close to a $40 million complex. It’s not a locker room, it’s a complex. Equipment room, locker room, dining facility, players’ lounge. So there is an institutional commitment to football.

I’ve been very fortunate to be the head coach at Wake Forest during a time that all this investment has been made, and I think the reason we’ve been successful is we are invested. We do care about football.

Our success on the field, it’s not a result of one coach or a handful of players. It’s a whole army of people that have sacrificed and allowed us to be in this position. So we’re grateful to Bob and all the other donors who allowed us to move into the facility, but if you have been following our program, it’s every two or three years we’re opening up another $20 million, $30 million, $40 million facility. So come visit us. Visit every other Power Five school, and I think when you look at our facilities, you’ll have a hard time saying Wake Forest isn’t committed to football.

Q. Going off what you said and what it is, you’re one of the longest-tenured coaches that we’re seeing in the ACC of over a decade at Wake. What’s kept you coming back, and what makes you keep believing in what’s being built there and just maybe go a little bit further about the fact that they’ve banked on you at Wake Forest and continued to extend and believe in your mission and your vision and your culture?

DAVE CLAWSON: First of all, I view myself as very fortunate. In this day and age in college football to be able to live in the same house with your family and your kids to be able to go to schools and be in the same place, I’m fortunate that Wake Forest has allowed me to do that, but I think I’m very philosophically aligned with the place.

The reason I got into coaching college football are all the things we do at Wake Forest. We recruit high-character young men that care about their schoolwork. They graduate. They have very exciting trajectories after Wake Forest, whether it be in the NFL or other professions.

I don’t have to fight my conscience going to work every day. That’s a great feeling as a football coach that when you go to work every day at a school that your value system aligns with the institution.

My family loves Winston-Salem, and we get good players, and we’re supported by our administration. I get to coach, I think, just outstanding young men that are extremely well-rounded.

We went to dinner last night, and the conversations we have with these guys, they’re adult conversations. I just love the caliber of student-athlete we get, the relationships we’re able to develop, and when we say we’re adding value to their lives in ways other than football, it’s not a cliche. That’s very cliche-ish, and everybody says it. We proactively do those things. So I go to bed every night believing that we’re doing these — we’re coaching football for the right reasons.

Now, having said that, you have to win, and if you don’t win, all those other things, you don’t get an opportunity to do it. We’re very driven by competitive success as well.

Q. This is your tenth year at Wake Forest, but it’s also four of your assistants’ tenth year at Wake Forest. Coach Higgins has been with the program for the entirety of your stay. How valuable is having that program and coaching stability for the guys who are less experienced and trusting them on the field this upcoming season?

DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, I say it all the time. The reason that we’ve had success as a program is that we’ve had continuity.

Our head strength coach, Chad Bari, has been with me 13 years. Warren Ruggiero and John Hunter 15 years. Nick Tabacca ten years. Dave Cohen, ten years.

If you are going to be a development program, which we are, I mean, we don’t get four and five-star recruits. Somehow we manage to win games because I think our coaches, our strength staff, our nutritionists, our trainers, we do a great job developing players. One of the reasons they develop is from day one when they come in Michael Jurgens, day one as a freshman, his offensive line coach, Nick Tabacca says this is how we get in a stance, this is how we pass set, this is how we zone block.

When you are in your program three, four, five, and in his case six years, and those things never change, you can get really, really good at them. I think that’s why we’ve had success is that we’ve had a great staff, and I’m fortunate that they’ve chosen to stay too.

So this job would not be nearly as good as it is or has been if we constantly had a revolving door with assistant coaches. Again, I credit our administration. It’s not like these guys, like our players, haven’t had opportunities to leave.

The school has stepped up and done things to keep them and allowed us to be successful.