Wake Forest Head Coach, Dave Clawson, highlights different components to developing program sustainability, some of which included fundamentals like talent, administrative support, and culture, as well as core beliefs and relationships.
Coach Clawson provided fellow coaches with insights about his experiences and beliefs surrounding program sustainability during his address at the 2020 AFCA Convention, which took place in Nashville, Tennessee.
Three Timeless Fundamentals
“What I think is timeless over 31 years of doing this are the tenets and the fundamentals of building a great and a sustainable football program,” said Clawson. “I think building a program is much different than coaching a team.”
The first key fundamental to any successful and sustainable program is consistent talent. This goes for players and coaches alike. Programs need players who can make plays, but they also need coaches who can teach fundamentals and maximize the effort and talent on display.
“That combination of good talent and coaches who are talented and can line kids up and teach them well and make them fundamentally sound, is the basis of every good football program,” said Coach Clawson.
The second key fundamental to a sustainable program is administrative alignment and support. At the collegiate level, administrative support should come from the Athletic Director, President, Provosts, and Deans.
“You cannot win, and you cannot be successful, and this would go for every level of college football, this would apply to every high school program, that if you do not have administrative alignment and support, it becomes really really hard to win,” said Clawson. “There has to be an institutional buy-in where people see the value of being a good football program.”
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The third key fundamental to creating sustainability is culture. This must be a consistent foundation for any program. Everything done on a daily basis should reflect the culture desired and created.
“Culture is that driving force and that driving engine, in your program, that everyday your players look forward to getting to the locker room, everyday your coaches look forward to going to work, everyday your strength coaches buy-in to the vision of your program,” said Coach Clawson.
A program’s core beliefs cannot flex. Coach Clawson shared that his core beliefs and values have been consistent and have not changed no matter where he has coached. Some of the core beliefs Coach Clawson shared include a love for football from players, coaches, and everyone involved in the program. Additionally, there is a strong belief in commitment to class attendance and graduation. Finally, there must be high character people who compose the football program.
Coach Clawson also discussed the importance of embracing challenges and turning reasons and excuses for why you can’t win into reasons why you can win
“Everywhere you go there’s going to be excuses of why you can’t compete and why you can’t win. Our whole thing is we have to completely change that dynamic,” said Clawson.
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He cited the small enrollment size and challenging academic rigor of Wake Forest as former excuses as to why the Demon Deacons couldn’t win. However, when he took over as head coach, he and his staff changed that dynamic by recruiting and attracting players who desire the smaller class size and academic challenge.
At Wake Forest, the blueprint is comprised of three simple words: recruit, retain, develop. This model is utilized for players and coaches as well as campus relationships and external relationships. Recruiting a buy-in from those involved or engaged in the program is essential for success. It is vital to recruit those who fit the program and can help further its success. Additionally, it is crucial to retain and keep those who are currently involved in the program. Devoting effort and time to recruit and develop should lead to a strong desire to continually retain and develop. Furthermore, it is necessary to develop those involved academically, spiritually, physically and relationally.
Another key aspect for advanced development is investment. Investing in relationships within the university and donors throughout the community has led to significant fundraising and new facilities. As the smallest undergrad institution and smallest alumni base in the Power 5, Wake Forest has recently built a new indoor practice facility, sports performance center, and nutrition center.
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“A lot of these people invested before we won and then once we started winning it just kept growing. But the key is we invested in these relationships as soon as we got there,” said Clawson.
During his speech, Clawson also offered “a little bit of shameless promotion” for what has been accomplished at Wake Forest in the recent years, calling it an honor to represent the players, staff, and administration.
Over the last four years, the Wake Forest football team has accomplished many feats unfamiliar to the Demon Deacons. Most notably, the Deacons have made four consecutive bowl appearances, for the first time in Wake Forest football history, winning the first three. Additionally, they have had four consecutive winning seasons, which is something that has not been done at Wake Forest since World War II, said Coach Clawson.
To watch Coach Clawson’s General Session speech, along with numerous other videos, please log in to your AFCA membership account and search through the AFCA Educational Library.